The last of the old guard has fallen in the NBA. First it was the Spurs. Then the Lakers. And now the Celtics have been dispatched as the younger, faster, and stronger in the NBA take their rightful place at the top of the heap.
It’s natural selection. Old lions only last so long in the pride before a younger challenger comes along and forces them to wander into the savanna for their final days.
Questions abound for each of these three formerly mighty teams. There have been whispers of overhauls, or at least a significant re-tooling, in San Antonio and Los Angeles. And even though the Celtics only have eight guys under contract, it seems the Celtics are about to make one more run with their core… starting with Doc Rivers.
“I’m leaning heavily toward coming back,” said Rivers in his postgame press conference. “I haven’t made that decision, but I can tell you I probably will. I’ve kind of come to that over the last couple of weeks. I’m a Celtic, and I love our guys.
“I want to win again here. I do. I’m competitive as hell, I have a competitive group. And so well see. But I can tell you that’s where I’m at today. Tomorrow I may change my mind, but that’s where I’m at today.”
Don’t think the Doc news isn’t huge? Take, for instance, the reaction from the future of the Celtics’ franchise, Rajon Rondo.
“Let me put this on the record: Doc already committed and said he was coming back to me,” Rondo said. “He can’t go back on his word. We just signed a contract about 10 minutes ago. Wyc [Grousbeck, the Celtic’s owner] was there.”
Take a look at the video. He’s happy that Doc said it. He’s basking in Doc’s impending return. And don’t think this is a small thing. Rajon Rondo can be a bit of an enigma. He’d be a great poker player because he’s almost impossible to read. So when he shows a little emotion about Doc coming back, that’s important.
With Doc apparently back in the fold, the next step in keeping the band together is Ray Allen picking up his $10 million option for next season, which seems likely.
“I haven’t come down yet from the game,” Allen said. “This has been my team. I don’t have any plans of going anywhere else.”
If the Celtics are really going to give the “Big 4 + a center” thing another try, they are going to need more young legs to run with them during the regular season. There is no way the Celtics are going to be able to play Ray Allen 36 minutes a game like they did this past season… or Paul Pierce 35 minutes… or KG 31 minutes. Those guys are all going to have to top out at 30 minutes a game between November and March. That means other guys are going to have to play big minutes.
There will definitely be a lot of turnover. Glen Davis wants to be a starter somewhere, so he’s probably gone. Delonte West and Nenad Krstic are unrestricted free agents. Jeff Green is a restricted free agent, so the Celtics will have to weigh whether the $5.9 million qualifying offer is worthwhile, and then see if they’ll be matching any offers.
And then there are the O’Neal boys. Will Shaq retire? Is Jermaine going to come back for the final year of his deal? Will the Celtics want him back?
The Celtics, like every team that is eliminated from the playoffs, have a lot of decision to make. But Doc’s decision seems to have sent the signal that the team will re-tool rather than rebuild… and give their aging superstars one more chance at another ring.