Window of opportunity as good as shut
You want to know what lies in store for the Boston Celtics?
Come on. We’re Bostonians. We’re New Englanders. We know our history.
And history is about to repeat itself.
Danny Ainge is in the same position Dave Gavitt was 21 years ago. He has a core of aging Hall of Famers, and they aren’t going anywhere. His only hope is to build around them with young talent, young legs, and young enthusiasm. Good luck.
The 1989-90 Celtics season ended in a shocking manner. Up, 2-0, against the Knicks, and coming off a historic Game 2 performance at home in which they scored a playoff-record 157 points, they lost Games 3 and 4 in New York before suffering a completely unanticipated defeat at home in Game 5. That was it. Season over.
Oh, there were some good moments left, most of them having to do with Larry Bird, who was able to ignore a mounting string of injuries and turn back the clock with a golden performance every once in a while. But things went progressively downhill in a team sense, the Celtics winning 51 games in 1991-92, after which Bird retired; 48 games in 1992-93, after which Kevin McHale said bye-bye; and 32 games in 1993-94, after which Robert Parish set off on his farewell tour elsewhere.
Want more? They won 35 in 1994-95, stumbling into the playoffs despite that undistinguished record before closing out the Garden in a dignified manner by giving the up-and-coming Magic (and their young star Shaquille O’Neal) a tough go. They won 33 in 1995-96.
All this was a prelude to the humiliating 15-67 year in 1996-97, which led to the lottery and to Tim . . . er, do we have to go any farther?
From the day he assumed the presidency of the Celtics, Gavitt knew his toughest task would be managing the end of the (original) Big Three. But what were his options, really? Trade Larry? I don’t think so. Trade Robert? And find another center half as good? Trade Kevin? Well, that was a possibility, but Gavitt could never bring himself to do it.
Nope. Gavitt wound up staying the course. The Big Three simply faded away. So, too, did the entity known as the Boston Celtics.
Is that a grim enough scenario for you?
Well, you’d better buckle up. You’re about to have a deja vu professional basketball experience.
Here are the current Big Three, still skilled, still exemplary in their work habits, still a fountain of basketball knowledge, still completely respected around the NBA for what they have accomplished. That’s all very nice, and there will be some very nice retro experiences ahead, perhaps even enough of them to justify an emotional investment in the Celtics teams that lie ahead. But the Big Three are no longer the core of a championship team.
The cold facts: Ray Allen starts next season at 36. Kevin Garnett turns 35 next week. Paul Pierce turns 34 in October.
They are all still viable players, as we have seen. But nothing can change the fact that they will be less and less viable as time goes on. None of them will ever be his old All-Star/Hall-of-Fame self, night after night after night.
“I don’t think we ever got great games from our Big Three every [game],’’ said Doc Rivers after Game 5. “And to go against those two guys [i.e. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James], they were super.’’
No, Doc, of course you didn’t have any games in which each of the Big Three was his old self, because that is precisely what happens to most aging players. Some nights they have it, some nights they don’t. That’s the reality.
None of them are going anywhere. Pierce will retire as the first hallowed Celtics lifer since McHale. He deserves that. Garnett is contracted for another year. Allen is likewise contracted through next year.
Now, Allen is still highly tradable. Some team might regard him as the final piece of a championship puzzle, and, properly managed, he can still be a major offensive threat. But Allen insists he doesn’t want to go anywhere, and part of the reason, I am sure, is that he has a son with diabetes, and where better to be on this Earth in that case but in Boston, home of the Joslin Diabetes Center?
Danny Ainge is tough and pragmatic, but he could not possibly be heartless enough to send Ray away under this circumstance. Thus we all will enjoy Ray’s services for another year.
The Big Three will remain as the core. Rajon Rondo will continue to improve his outside shot incrementally, and he will be his mercurial self.
Beyond that, who knows? The Celtics can’t go through the Shaq scenario again. Jermaine O’Neal will probably be here. Nenad Krstic might benefit from a training camp with this team. Any way you slice it, however, the center position will not be a major asset.
Glen Davis is a free agent. For two-thirds of the season, he was a major plus. But something is wrong. Something is troubling him. He put on weight and he lost his game and his confidence. The guy on display in the playoffs, with very few exceptions (New York 4 and Miami 5), was someone who wouldn’t even be drafted. And history teaches us that someone with his body type seldom lasts in the NBA.
Think about it: Leonard Gray, Lonnie Shelton, Oliver Miller, the late Robert “Tractor’’ Traylor, John “Hot Plate’’ Williams . . . all of them hefty, all of them skilled, and all of them short-lived. The only man approaching that body type who had a great NBA career was Westley Unseld, and if he hadn’t gotten up around three bills in the end (he was about 240 coming out of Louisville), he might have lasted a few more years.
We have seen the last of Big Baby in a Celtics uniform.
Doc endorsed Jeff Green the other night, but Green must be signed, as must Delonte West, whose strong play in the Miami series almost guaranteed his return.
Doc said the team needs to “add on,’’ and that’s Ainge’s job. Perhaps he’ll fool us, but I don’t see any great additions coming here. What you saw against Miami is essentially what you’re going to get.
It’s great to hear that Doc wants to be back, but is that really wise? He says he loves his guys, but he’d better get used to winning fewer and fewer games. The Celtics will plummet, just as they did two decades ago.
At this juncture, it’s wise to remember that when the Big Three were put together, it was a universal assumption that there was a three-year window in which to win a title. They got it done in Year 1, and have kept a nice thing going into Year 4. But the young turks in Miami, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Memphis, and a few more places are storming the palace.
What it all adds up to is that, henceforth, making the playoffs will be an accomplishment. Championship No. 18 is nowhere in sight.