The Boston Celtics fell last night to the Heat and ended what many believe will be The Big Three's last chance at a championship.

Celtics future in doubt

If you live in Boston you know the Celtics were on life support in February and fans were demanding that General Manager Danny Ainge administer last rites and then bury the very players who won a championship for the town back in 2008.  The sports talk shows were ablaze with comparisons of Ainge making the identical mistake his predecessor, the legendary Red Auerbach, made when he allowed the 80's version of The Big Three (Bird, McHale and Parish) to hang around until the 90's when they were but shadows of their former selves. 

Doc Rivers and Rajon RondoOn the morning of February 23rd of this year, the C's had lost 7 of their last 8 and awoke to a record of 15-17 in this strike shortened season.  Everyone could see the writing on the wall but Danny.  And yet it was Danny Ainge, a member in good standing of those remarkable Celtics teams during the Bird era, who insisted on many occasions that Red made a mistake by not parceling the aging veterans away in order to build something, anything resembling a championship contender that would propel Boston throughout the 90's and beyond. 

But as they say, a funny thing happened.  The Celtics proved the naysayers and the Ainge detractors wrong.  The Green went on a furious run and wound up in the Eastern Conference finals.  They even took the series with the Miami Heat to seven games, a place nobody except the men inside the Celtics locker room, thought they would ever be. The C's had a seven point lead at the half and the impossible suddenly seemed highly probable.  They were running on empty against a club that had plenty of gas in the tank and ultimately Boston's 30-somethings withered against the younger, more powerful legs of the 20-somethings clad in the white and red of Miami. 

So what now Danny?  You were right and everybody else was wrong.  You didn't succumb to the public pressure that said blow it up and start from scratch.  But now it's different.  Now you have to do something.  Contracts are up and will you let Kevin Garnett walk away, knowing he is still a viable, if not top tier player?  Do you let the NBA's most prolific three point shooter in Ray Allen just pack up and leave or do you bring back the future Hall of Famer for one more shot at greatness?  Is Paul Pierce still The Truth in Boston or would trading him be the answer to a rebuilding project that must start now?

The Celtics will have back to back 1st round picks this season (Nos. 21 & 22) and they will probably stay put at those spots due to the depth of this year's draft.  Their backcourt is solid as last year's 1st round pick Avery Bradley didn't just step up to the plate when Ray Allen went down with an injury, he ate everything on the table.  Therefore, Boston has no worries in their backcourt with the talented young tandem in Bradley and Rondo which is exactly why the Celtics will allow Allen to move on and spend that cap money elsewhere. 

Paul Pierce is firmly entrenched as a Celtic for the foreseeable future.  His only downside is his age but a 34 year old Paul Pierce is better than a younger though less talented option and the NBA is littered with those.  The Celtics don't have a bona fide center unless they come to terms with Garnett and make certain he is on board as a number five for the rest of his career in Boston.  That leaves a vacancy at power forward which is a bit easier to find than a bona fide center.  Kris Humphries is an unrestricted free agent and might be a nice fit but Brandon Bass certainly proved to be a pleasant surprise for the Celtics and will most likely be back next season.

Depth is a huge issue for the Celtics.  They are not only lacking it, they may just need it more than most because of the age of their superstars, Pierce and Garnett.  When Mickael Pietrus, a player the Celts signed a day before the season began, is your 6th man in the most important game of the season then you have a problem.  The Celtics will have to use free agency and the draft to shore up those glaring deficiencies.

So where does this leave Danny Ainge?  It looks to me like the Celtics GM will bring back Garnett as the Celtics man in the middle for the next two years, watch Ray Allen walk out the door and keep his fingers crossed that he gets lucky in the draft.  Celtics fans may question aloud how this team is supposed to contend again with a team that is not only another year older but with no appreciable depth up front.  Danny Ainge could fairly rebut, "What are my options?" 

There are no quick fixes in the NBA, if there were then everyone would be contending for a title.  Danny Ainge once remarked he did not blame the Celtics when they traded him, a piece of two championship teams, for a young center named Joe Kleine who went on to an unremarkable career with Boston and remained a journeyman until he retired.  Ainge has always looked at basketball as a business and emotions would not preclude him from doing what's necessary to enhance their storied tradition.  Yet it is precisely that same cold, calculating mentality that steeled him from the public outcry when the team was at its nadir this winter to deal Garnett, Pierce and Allen for a bucket of balls and a few wristbands. 

Boston is lucky to have a savvy GM and a charismatic head coach.  They attract talent and make Boston a place that virtually every free agent at least considers.  It wasn't always that way as it's ugly racial history turned black athletes off for decades.  But Ainge must now make some very important decisions regarding the future of the Celtics.  The franchise is at a crossroads and he now realizes it's not as easy as he once thought to dismantle a group of legends.  Just ask Red.