We were one win away from the NBA Finals! Yes, that's true. But the truth of that statement does not necessarily provide hope for a return trip next year, regardless of what Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen chose to do in free agency.
Not to take anything away from the Celtics inspired run in the second half of the year, but we have to keep in mind that Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard were missing from the postseason and Amare punched a fire extinguisher along the way. Sure, the Celtics had their share of injuries, but they were also relatively lucky to have Garnett playing like he was 5 years younger and both Pierce and Allen were healthy enough to contribute.
Obviously adding years to those tired and banged up legs isn't going to help any. If Kevin Garnett comes back and Danny Ainge decides to keep the gang together, we'll still have an uphill climb to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals, never mind the Finals.
We haven't even talked about the young, rising teams in the East either. The Knicks have a star studded lineup and if they ever learn to play well together, they could be a force. The Pacers keep getting better and might be just a few pieces away from being legit contenders.
Even at the back of the playoff seedings there are dangerous teams. The Magic, Sixers, and Hawks could all go in either direction depending on what they choose to do this offseason and the Wizards are loaded up for a playoff run for the first time since Gilbert Arenas was good.
The point isn't that the Celtics don't have a shot. Far from it. They can follow the Spurs model of adding young depth to the rotation and giving the older legs more time to heal and rest. They can try to retool on the fly and slowly transition to the next generation. Danny might even get creative and find a way to add an All Star in exchange for cap relief and a pick or two. There's no reason to count this team out for next year.
However, it is worth remembering that we can't count on another miraculous run to the ECFs.