If you've watched any of the Celtics' playoff games this year, you've no doubt heard how old the team is and that this year's playoff run is the last gasp for the "Big Three," before the organization enters into rebuilding mode next season. It's just taken for granted that after their contracts expire at the end of this year that Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett will be moving on to greener pastures or into retirement and that the organization will plunge back into the mediocrity that plagued it prior to their arrival in 2007. Sure, it's possible. However with each playoff victory, the Celtics are not only extending their championship window for this season, they are opening the door for more championships in the years to come.
When Doc Rivers signed a five-year contract extension last May to remain in Boston through the 2015-2016 season (tying him to the team for a longer period of time than any of the players on the current roster sans rookie JaJuan Johnson), odds are he was given some assurances that he wouldn't be presiding over a rebuilding process. After all, why would he want to? He's already done that in Boston.
Rivers is widely acknowledged as being one of the top coaches in the game and is unquestionably one of the most liked. (In a Sports Illustrated NBA Players Poll taken in April, Rivers was named as the coach players would most like to play for.) He could have gotten any NBA job he wanted or simply returned to working as a television analyst but instead chose to remain in Boston. Maybe he just really likes clam chowder, but it's a stronger possibility that he's staying in The Hub because he likes something else -- winning.
No matter what happens down the stretch, the Celtics have proven with this year's deep playoff run that they still have what it takes to compete for the NBA championship, old or not. They have shown time and again that what their critics call age after losses and laud as experience in wins does count for something. Talent is important in the NBA, but guts, heart and desire count for something as well. Lucky for them, the Celtics have both.
The play of sixth-year point guard Rajon Rondo during the playoffs has been nothing short of a revelation. Rondo has been dynamic this postseason, averaging 17 points, two steals and nearly seven points and 12 assists per game. He is looking like the kind of player he has shown flashes of being before but never turned into, the kind of player that can lead a team and make those around him better, the kind of player that players who want rings would want to play with.
With only four players currently under contract for next season (Rondo, Johnson, Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley), the Celtics will have the roster space and the cap room to woo a top free agent over the summer or farther down the line as well as retain young pieces like Brandon Bass and Jeff Green. Coincidentally enough, the Celtics also have the 21st and 22nd overall picks in the 2012 NBA draft, selections that ever-crafty GM Danny Ainge can use in whatever manner he sees fit. As old as they might be now, next season the Celtics will be extremely young... if they want to be.
It is not out of the realm of possibility that not only will a rejuvenated Garnett choose to return to Boston for short money, but that Allen will stay as well. Both players have made enough money over the course of their careers that it shouldn't be a deciding factor and, as evidenced by this year's playoff run, they have just as good a chance of winning a ring in Boston as anywhere else.
If that were to happen, add it all up and what would you have? A team with a coach that players want to player for, an emerging franchise player that players want to play with and a roster with three future Hall of Famers. Oh yeah, the team is coming off a deep playoff run and has a ton of money to spend to make sure that run doesn't end. Sounds like the kind of situation a player who is serious about winning would want to be a part of.
As he showed when he made the deals that brought Garnett and Allen to Boston five years ago, Ainge thinks big and has no problem taking risks. It's unclear what his plan for the offseason is at this point, but whatever it is, it was good enough to get Rivers to stay around which means it's probably a doozy. He hasn't been able to put the plan into action yet because the Celtics keep winning. With Doc on the sidelines, Rondo running the team and Pierce, Garnett and Allen on the court, there's no reason to think that trend won't continue, both this year and beyond.
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