Every fan deals with this kind of disappointment differently. Personally, I have to put it behind me and think to the future. The wounds are still fresh, the pain still lingers, but I'm still a diehard and the show must go on. So here's a quick look ahead to what we'll be talking about all offseason.
Domino Doc Rivers
The first domino (as it was last year) is Doc Rivers. Will he stay or will he go? Nobody would fault him for leaving. He's earned that. But like I said last night, you can't overstate how important he is to this team. Can you imagine Rondo breaking in a new coach? Can you think of anyone that would keep this often-times-bickering family together with tough love and just the right motivation? I can't and I hope I won't have to.
Thankfully all reports indicate that he's coming back. He's got an offer on the table from Danny and his family is once again supportive of his career. So that's good news.
Lawrence Frank, on the other hand, is already interviewing for head coaching jobs, so we might have to look for another new lead assistant (and perhaps coach in waiting if Doc doesn't agree to a long term deal). I wonder if Kevin McHale would accept a secondary role on the bench in order to work with KG again.
Who's Not Walking Through That Door?
Ray Allen has already predictably said that he'll pick up the $10M player option on his contract. Kevin Garnett has another year on his deal and Pierce and Rondo have multiple years. So the core is still under contract for next year. There's always an outside chance that Garnett might decide to retire, but if Doc is back and the team isn't blown up, I can't see that happening.
Then there's the rest of the free agents. Jeff Green (restricted), Glen Davis, Delonte West, and perhaps Nenad Krstic are of the most interest. Who we can afford will depend a lot on the new collective bargaining agreement as much as Danny's evaluation of each player's value to the team going forward. I'd expect something to be worked out with Jeff Green. Davis is much less likely. I'd like to see Delonte and Krstic back for another year off the bench but time will tell.
Even though he's under contract for next year, I would imagine that Shaq has played his last game in the NBA. I think Jermaine O'Neal - with a full offseason to heal - might just be our best option at center going into next year. Then again, it wouldn't shock me if he also retired. Just depends on how his body recovers from all the injuries and miles he's put on it. Update: He has said that he'll contemplate retirement for family reasons.
What's The Plan, Dan?
Say what you want about Danny Ainge, he's not shy. It took guts to trade for Ray Allen when KG wasn't in hand yet. It was risky to bring this group back for another couple of years (this last offseason). It was even riskier to shift gears mid season and trade a core piece (and family member) for a potential bridge-to-the-future guy.
I'll even take it a step further. Looking back to the pre-Big 3 days, he took a team that was an afterthought in the playoffs and traded Antoine Walker (at the time the team's 2nd best player). He will answer to no one but the owners and he will always have his eyes focused on raising banners. Like what he does or not, you have to credit him for boldness and forward thinking.
To that end, I wouldn't rule anything out. Could he trade Rondo (like say, with an expiring salary and picks for Chris Paul)? You bet he would. Would he trade both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (large expiring contracts) if he thought he could build a new championship core for the next few years? I wouldn't bet against it. On the other hand, like last offseason, he might decide that the best option he has is to reload around the current core and hope for health and better luck next year.
Lock 'Em Up?
As I've said before, the lockout might actually be a good thing for the Celtics. They could start the season a month or two late and give our old guys a longer time to recuperate. They always start strong and fade around the new year. Maybe we could roll right on through the playoffs in a shortened season. Ya never know.
Sadly we'll have to listen to lawyers and union reps and David Stern talk a lot this offseason. The implications will be felt for years to come. Will there be limitations on guaranteed contracts (ie. no more Vin Baker situations)? Will the cap continue to shrink? Will there be "franchise tags?" The team that reacts to the changes the fastest will have a big leg up on the rest of the league. Danny Ainge has actually positioned us pretty well salary wise - with lots of flexibility and not a lot on the payroll after next year.
The Missing Piece(s)
Can't believe I got this far down the article and still haven't even mentioned actually adding new players to the team. Clearly we have lots of needs but I think scoring will be a prime need going forward - regardless of position. Barring major changes to the CBA, there's not going to be much to work with in terms of cap space and our pick is going to be late in a weak draft, so my hopes aren't that high on those fronts. That leaves trades and sign-and-trades and who knows what could happen there?
To answer the question that's on everyone's mind - no, I don't think we have a chance at Dwight Howard. I just don't see the fit in terms of what Orlando will want. I'd rather focus on Chris Paul or Andre Iguodala but both of those guys would be long shots as well (unless their teams are truly desperate for salary dumps). So if we can't make a splash like that, I'm not sure if the team next year will look all that different in terms of the core. For their part (and for what it is worth) it sounds like the core players want to come back for one more run.
It is going to be an interesting offseason to say the least. Stick around, there's plenty to talk about.