Back to the future: the Celtics' eight-year championship window

Jared Wickerham

Put away the Kleenex, people. This isn't over.

I'm not even sure why we're even talking about this. To all Celtics bloggers and beat writers, stop writing the obituaries. Enough with the eulogies already. If anything, you're playing right into Kenyon Martin's hands.

I know we're all a little emotional after Game 6's roller coaster ride and even more exhausted from a season of hope and promise that lead to frustration then hope again and then back to frustration. This has been a brutal seven months. You could see it on Doc's face during his press conference, hear it in Pierce's and Garnett's post game comments, and read it across the Twitterverse.

We're all a little tired of digging holes and filling them back up just enough so that our heads are just high enough to breath.

But why all the tearful goodbyes, Dan? Why all the doom and gloom, Jackie Mac? Why all the fond farewells, Trags? One of the few voices of reason that I've heard so far comes from SI's Chris Mannix on WEEI this morning:

"I would do exactly what Danny's been doing to this point," added Mannix. "If you can trade one of them and get a lot in return, get something that you know is going to help reboot your franchise, do it. If not, hold onto them and just play this thing out, wait for their contracts to expire and play with the flexibility then."

Mannix noted that the avenues to upgrading the Celtics roster are limited this offseason, particularly in terms of free agents.

"It's not like there are a lot of great free agents out there this summer that can be difference-makers. There's Chris Paul. There's Dwight Howard. But neither one of those guys is coming to Boston at this moment," said Mannix. "Pierce and Garnett, despite their age, despite the fact that they've slowed down, obviously, at this point in their careers, they're still capable players.

"You can't tell me that if Boston had [Rajon] Rondo and [Jared] Sullinger and got something from Darko Milicic this year, that Boston wouldn't be beating New York right now and moving on. I firmly believe that. I don't think the Knicks are as good as advertised, and I think the Celtics with those players would have moved on. And they probably would have been a great candidate to move on in the second round as well," he said. "I think Danny should keep doing what he's doing. I think you go out there, you shop Pierce, you shop Garnett, you see if you get a Bledsoe-Jordan type of offer for them that you can pull the trigger on and that Garnett would [willingly] accept. Barring that, you bring these guys back. You hope Rondo is healthy. You add to your roster with good draft picks, which Danny's been pretty good at over the last couple years, and you add some minor free agents, like they've done with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee and going back a way, James Posey."

Mannix is in the minority, but I don't get it. People are talking with finality about how the Celtics stretched a three-year plan with the Big Three into six and that the era is over, but let's not forget that last summer, Danny constructed this team to push the window open to include Years 7 & 8 by re-signing KG to a hometown discounted contract. This wasn't a championship or bust year. Along with Garnett, Ainge also locked in several affordable role players like Bass, Lee, and Terry.

Danny constructed this team to push the window open to include Years 7 & 8

Nothing has changed since then.

Now, there's the issue of Pierce and Garnett and the will-they-or-won't-they-retire cloud that will hang over the franchise for the rest of the summer. And even if they do decide to return (and yes, it'll be a mutual decision because I can't see one coming back without the other), it'll still be up to Danny and ownership on whether or not they'll be in Celtic uniforms in 2014. Maybe I'm not being sensitive enough to ownership's desire to stay out of the luxury tax multiplier, but to me, it's a no brainer.

Greg Dickerson's tweet in the wee hours after Friday's loss scared a lot of us, but we need to take it with a grain of salt. We don't know who he's sourcing and the decision is ultimately Danny's to make and even though Danny has a reputation of being ruthlessly cutthroat when it comes to trading beloved players, he can't forget how effective PP was after Rondo went down. Giving up Perk for Green always had its upside and his comments about flipping Bird and McHale make sense in hindsight, but cutting ties with The Truth now makes little basketball sense.

He certainly struggled against the Knicks and their trapping defense in the first round, but in the 34 games after Rondo's injury, #34 averaged 18.3 points on 45.9% shooting, 7.1 rebounds, and 6.1 assists with three triple doubles. Factor those numbers in with The Captain's leadership and I think that's worth the $15 million, no?

And then there's Garnett. Even though he was fairly non-committal about his return next season--only making it pretty clear that his future is intertwined with Pierce's--it sounds like he's coming back for another year. Why else would he talk about the team's need to add a few pieces to make them contenders again? Garnett is as prideful as he is loyal and my gut tells me that he doesn't walk away from another season with Rondo and a chance at another championship.

He knows what Mannix knows. This team was specifically put together with Rondo in mind and it would be surprising to see KG hang 'em up without giving this team a chance. Rondo's return as the best pure point guard in the league is the rising tide that lifts all boats. Terry, Bradley, and Bass suffered without a PG to create easy shots for them and Rondo is the best at doing that. Couple that with Green emerging as a scoring threat and Garnett can expend more energy on defense and rebounding. He averaged almost 14 rebounds a game against the Knicks and led Boston's team defense by holding New York to 41% shooting and 87.7 PPG.

There is thinking that if PP and KG decide to return, their time together will be short lived; they'll be shopped this summer and if not shipped out before training camp, shopped even harder before next year's trade deadline. You can't fault Danny for that. That's his gig and if Golden State, Dallas, New Jersey, Atlanta, or Los Angeles hit him up again, he'll take their calls again. Every potential deal that has come across the table has included young talent (Harrison Barnes, Josh Smith, MarShon Brooks, Eric Bledsoe, etc.) and a draft pick that would potentially speed up the rebuilding process. That's certainly better than the lunatic fringe's idea of tanking next year in order to secure a lottery pick for a loaded 2014 draft class. What should convince those people from taking a step back from the ledge is the thought of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green walking away in 2015 if the franchise becomes a reclamation project.

For Danny, it's a matter of mindset when it comes to re-evaluating the roster. For years, he's been trying to surround his veterans with role players and young talent, but maybe it's time to flip the equation and consider rounding out his young nucleus with experienced vets. Surprise, surprise. We already have that. "Paul Pierce is your 2014 Sixth Man Of The Year." I can live with that. Player-coach Garnett plays 5 and 5 rather than 5-5-5. Fine by me. Younger teams that are in the hunt for a championship always add savvy vets to round out their rotation. Miami picked up Benedict Allen. Derek Fisher is in his second stint with OKC and playing well. Memphis flipped former franchise player Rudy Gay for grizzled Tayshaun Prince. For Boston, they already have a cupboard stocked with old man moxie.

Injuries derailed the season, but so many questions were answered in the positive this season that I can't imagine them not running it back next year with the same crew. Going into 2013, there were questions with whether or not Jeff Green was worth $36 million a year removed from heart surgery. He clearly proved the doubters wrong in the second half of the season and by leading the team in scoring against the Knicks. People wondered if Jared Sullinger below-the-rim game would translate in the NBA. Before his injury, he was leading the team in rebounding and carved a niche in the rotation. Coming back from double shoulder surgery, fans questioned whether Avery Bradley would come back and be effective. Although he struggled at times with his offense (mainly due to playing out of position and not having Rondo on the floor), AB proved that he's still a game changer defensively. We also added a viable back up point guard in Terrence Williams and added another cheap scorer in Jordan Crawford.

Those may just be silver linings from a miserable season, but the fact that these three future core players succeeded at or above expectations can not be overlooked. Whatever enthusiasm fans and bloggers had for this team at the beginning of training camp seven months ago should be tripled now because we're going to be better.

There are fixes to made along the fringes of the roster for sure. We're overloaded in the back court while the front court could use D-League all rookie first-teamer Fab Melo, a serviceable center in the draft, and maybe a big on the free agent market or via trade. There are no doubt decisions to be made in the off-season, but they should be along the lines of "can Zaza Pachulia or Andray Blatche co-exist with Kevin Garnett," not what will life be like in a post-KG, post-PP era.

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