By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 23 2011 9:46AM
It's the last ride of the Big Three.
Four years after joining forces to win their first NBA championship, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are very likely playing their last season together. The contracts of Allen, 36, and Garnett, 35, expire next summer, when team president Danny Ainge might be looking to turn the page.
On the surface, the aging Celtics' core looks like it doesn't have enough to win another title, having lost in the conference semifinals in five games to the Miami Heat last May. But the Celtics didn't fall short because of Allen, Garnett or Pierce.
The Celtics' starters were just fine last season. Their four All-Stars -- Allen, Garnett, Pierce and Rajon Rondo -- were the best four-man combination in the league, with Boston outscoring its opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions when the four were on the floor together.
But things got ugly when Doc Rivers went to his bench last season. The Celtics were awful offensively when they didn't have all four stars on the floor, scoring less than a point per possession.
The ugliness was due in part to both injury and continuity issues. The Celtics' best reserve (at least offensively) was Delonte West, who played only 24 games and was healthy for only four of those. The bench also underwent an overhaul at the trade deadline. Yet Pierce says the team's depth problem went beyond all that.
"I thought a year ago, we had a lot of immaturity with our bench roster," Pierce said on media day. "They brought inconsistent play with them."
This season, the quality of the Celtics' depth is even more critical, thanks to a compressed schedule that features a brutal, eight-game, 13-day road trip in March. Allen, Garnett and Pierce will not only need more help, they'll also need more rest.
But when the lockout ended, the Celtics had no cap space and exactly one player on their bench. That was Avery Bradley, who played just 31 games as a rookie last season and wasn't even on the active list in the playoffs. So Ainge had to make something out of nothing.
Ainge struck out on deals for Chris Paul and David West, but used his Bird rights on Glen Davis to acquire Brandon Bass from the Orlando Magic in a clever sign-and-trade deal. Bass isn't as mobile a defender as Davis, but he's a better shooter. He also comes cheaper and with less baggage.
Ainge used a trade exception to acquire back-up point guard Keyon Dooling from Milwaukee. He used the mini mid-level exception on free agent big man Chris Wilcox, who had a quietly productive season in Detroit last year. And he also brought back Marquis Daniels on a minimum deal.
"I think these guys are a lot more experienced, bring a lot more professionalism on a day-to-day basis," Pierce said of the new additions.
Experience and professionalism are nice, but what the Celtics need most from their new second unit is offense. That's why the loss of West (to Dallas) may hurt more than the effects of a compressed season. Dooling has evolved into a solid 3-point shooter over the years, but he's not nearly as dynamic as West offensively.
The Celtics took another hit when Jeff Green's preseason physical revealed an aortic aneurysm that will require surgery and force Green to miss the entire season. Ainge had signed the restricted free agent to the one-year qualifying offer, allowing the Celtics to retain their 2012 cap space, but also bringing back the player who has the most potential to give them a lift off the bench.
Green isn't a go-to guy by any means, and his scoring efficiency is merely average. But he's only 25 years old with the ability to score inside and out. And his absence leaves only Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic to back up Allen and Pierce.
1. Hope that Rondo uses trade rumors as motivation, not as a distraction. And hope that he isn't afraid to go to the foul line.
2. Keep the starters fresh. If there's a team that will need to sacrifice regular-season wins for long-term benefits, this is it.
3. Take care of the ball. The Celtics' shooting numbers were fine, but they had the seventh-worst turnover ratio last season.
1. Doc Rivers wants his team to rebound better, but that will require a change in philosophy (regarding offensive boards) on his part.
2. The Celtics were a top-10 defensive rebounding team, but ranked 30th in offensive rebounding percentage last season.
3. Over the last four seasons, the Celtics were an incredible 94-14 in games played before Christmas. No such games this season.
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LAST YEAR: 56-26, 1st in Atlantic
FINISH: Lost in Eastern Conference semifinals
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
RAJON RONDO, POINT GUARD
11.2 APG | 2.25 SPG | 10.6 PPG
Arguably the most valuable member of the Celtics, Rondo's passing and defense remain well above average. But it's his shooting and scoring that give fans concern.
RAY ALLEN, SHOOTING GUARD
16.5 PPG | 44% 3PT | 3.4 RPG
All-time leading 3-point shooter in NBA history was at his best last season, shooting a career-high 44 percent from the land of trey. No signs of slowing down for the workout warrior Allen.
PAUL PIERCE, SMALL FORWARD
18.9 PPG | 5.4 RPG | 1 SPG
The go-to scorer on a championship contender, Pierce scores 19.5 ppg when Boston wins ... and 17.4 when it loses. As he scores, so goes the Celtics.
KEVIN GARNETT, POWER FORWARD
14.9 PPG | 8.9 RPG | 1.34 SPG
The Big Ticket isn't the scorer he once was, though he shot 53 percent from the field last season. His presence is immesurable and as long as he's healthy, the Celtics have a shot.
JERMAINE O'NEAL, CENTER
5.4 PPG | 3.7 RPG | 0.5 APG
O'Neal's durability will always be a question and his offensive skills have really diminished, but he can still protect the rim.
|Brandon Bass||6-8||250||F||A better shooter and rebounder than Glen Davis, at a bargain price.|
|Keyon Dooling||6-3||195||g||A solid 3-point shooter (38 percent) over the last three years.|
|Marquis Daniels||6-6||200||G-F||Missed the last 33 games of last season after bruising his spinal cord.|
ADDED: G E'Twaun Moore, F/C JaJuan Johnson, G/F Marquis Daniels, F/C Chris Wilcox, C Greg Stiemsma, G Keyon Dooling, F Brandon Bass
LOST: C Nenad Krstic, F/C Glen Davis, G Von Wafer, G Delonte West, F Jeff Green (heart condition), C Shaquille O'Neal (retirement), G Carlos Arroyo, F Troy Murphy
DOC RIVERS, COACH
The Celtics have three stars in their 30s and will play 66 games in 123 days. It's up to Rivers to keep his stars fresh while keeping his team near the top of the standings. He's done it before, but this will be his toughest challenge since the Big Three came together.
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