Future Is Bright Despite Somber Night

BOSTON – Everyone who watched Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals watched the end of the Boston Celtics’ season. They also may have witnessed the end of an era.

Paul Pierce, Doc Rivers

Emotions ran high when Doc Rivers pulled the Big Four off of the floor with 28.3 seconds left in Game 7.

J. Meric/NBAE/Getty

Boston has been ruled by the Big Three era, which has recently morphed into the Big Four era, for the past five years. The core group of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo has led the team to a championship, two NBA Finals appearances, three Eastern Conference Finals appearances and five Atlantic Division titles. The accolades are plentiful, but Saturday’s loss delivers the frightening realization that we may never see this group play another minute of basketball together.

“We'll find that out later,” an emotional Doc Rivers said, referring to the possible end of the foursome’s era. “I just want to stick with this group if it's a couple more days, a couple more weeks, or whatever. I just want to stick with them.”

Unfortunately, the facts tell us that Rivers may not be able to stick with them for very long. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will become free agents in 21 days and will no longer be employed by the Boston Celtics. They will be free to test the market and sign their next contract with any team they’d like, if they indeed choose to continue their Hall-of-Fame careers.

We all knew this moment was going to arrive at some point. Contracts run out, careers come to an end, and organizations must move on. The is old habit for the Celtics, as they’ve been forced to put illustrious careers from legends like Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and others in the rearview mirror.

We cannot, however, throw dirt on this group just yet. Many have made that mistake before by believing that the Big Three Plus One had played their last game together. Pierce and Allen were free agents in the summer of 2010, but they both came back. Rumors have swirled for years that these players were on their way to other teams via trades, but those trades never happened.

At the end of the day, fate has led this group through five full seasons together, and there’s a very real possibility that it could continue into the future if the cards fall correctly.

“It's hard to say what can happen, what may happen,” said Ray Allen. “But the four of us know how to play basketball. We know how to win games.”

The Celtics have won quite a few games over the past five seasons and they don’t plan on having that trend change as we move toward the 2012-13 season. Danny Ainge and the Celtics’ front office have positioned this organization for the future, and the future begins right now.

First of all, we know that Rondo is here for the long haul. He has grown exponentially over the past couple of seasons and truly turned himself into one of the best point guards in the league. If you don’t believe that fact, let his playoff averages of 17.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG and 12.0 APG sink into your head. And don’t forget the fact that he recorded four – yes, four – triple-doubles in the 2012 postseason.

Rondo isn’t going anywhere, and neither are Pierce or Rivers. They, too, remain under contract and are seemingly prepared to keep this train rolling for the foreseeable future.

With that trio locked up and the possibility of Garnett and Allen returning under new contracts, the future looks bright for the Celtics. We also must remember that Ainge and Co. plan on reshaping the rest of this roster via other avenues as well.

The first step arrives on Thursday, June 28, when Boston is expected to have a very busy draft night. It owns two first-round picks, Nos. 21 and 22, and a third pick in the second round at No. 51. This draft is considered to be deep with quality players, so it wouldn’t be a far fetch to say that the C’s could add some rotational players to their team that night.

Additionally, with Garnett and Allen’s hefty contracts coming off of the books, the Celtics will be major players in free agency thanks to a heaping of salary cap space. This organization owns a rich history, has been praised for its professional nature, and has Rivers, one of the most respected coaches in the game, on its sideline. Those factors will force every NBA free agent out there to take a long, hard look in Boston’s direction beginning on July 1.

Two of those players will be Garnett and Allen. It’s possible that an era ended Saturday night in Miami, but a new one is ready to begin. And who knows, maybe it will be ushered in with those four familiar faces still donning green and white.