May 11, 2011, 10:47 PM EST
The time has now passed. The window has closed.
Make no mistake, the Celtics are still a good team. Bring them back next year and they will win 50-plus games and put up a fight in the playoffs. But they are not a great team. Nor will they be again with this group. Boston fought valiantly in Game 5 in Miami; they showed the resolve of a champion. Kevin Garnett was a lion.
Except, the future showed itself in the final minutes, when Miami pulled away. Miami was better, more athletic, more aggressive. The Celtics are not championship-caliber any longer. And this group will not be again.
Don’t get caught up in the “if Rajon Rondo were healthy,” “if Shaq were healthy/if we hadn’t traded Perkins,” “if this one shot had fallen” line of thinking. It’s a fool’s gold future to think that tweaks are all that is needed to get another banner with this group.
Next season, Ray Allen will be 36 years old, Kevin Garnett 35, Paul Pierce 34. If you can keep them healthy until the playoffs, you still know that you’re best players are going to be less athletic, less mobile, easier to defend and not able to defend as well.
The Heat will get better — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are just starting to figure out how to play off each other in these playoffs, how to work as a unit. And their supporting cast will only get better (they are starting Mike Bibby, and have you seen him?).
Pretty much the same story in Chicago. The Bulls will get better and maybe find another good scoring option besides league MVP Derrick Rose.
It’s time, Boston. The window has closed.
The Celtics’ Big Three are all under contract for next season (technically, Allen has a $10 million option, but he will pick it up). Coach Doc Rivers is talking about coming back rather than spending a year hanging out at Mike Krzyzewski’s practices to watch his son play for Duke.
He should walk now. For Boston, it’s time to think about moving one or more of the Big Three to bring in quality, younger parts to start rebuilding around Rondo. Younger shooters, younger big men. You have to welcome Rivers back if he wants to do it, but you need to think about who is next and who can take this team into the future (that could be Rivers, but does he want to is another question).
The best teams rebuild too early rather than too late. The hated Lakers did it moving Shaq to get Lamar Odom and parts that eventually became Pau Gasol. (Which was kind of a steal at the time, but that Marc Gasol guy turns out was good.) Better too soon than too late.
The Celtics would be wise to follow that path, despite what their hearts tell them. General manager Danny Ainge has shown a willingness to make that choice (even if the Kendrick Perkins trade was ill-advised — the right idea but bad execution).
It’s not clear right now what the path is to another title (it’s clouded by a new collective bargaining agreement in the offing), but it is not clinging to the past. It’s time to start walking down the road to the future. The time for the Big Three is done, it’s time to break them up. Time for the Celtics to move on to their next iteration. To build for another title with another core.
It’s sad to do. But it’s time.
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