This offseason, many people believed that the Celtics' window had closed enough that it was time to blow up the team and start rebuilding. Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Garnett had been struggling with injuries. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen had expiring contracts. Garnett, Allen and Pierce all seemed like they might be losing a step due to age. Many even felt that Doc Rivers was ready to retire.
I felt this line of thought was a little crazy, given that the Celtics came within one quarter of winning another championship last season. Apparently GM Danny Ainge agreed. Not only did he make the necessary moves to keep the band together for a couple more seasons, he even managed to make some improvements. While they lost Tony Allen, they replaced him with Marquis Daniels. Then they added much needed depth to their center position by acquiring the O'Neills: Shaq and Jermaine. The other key acquisition was two-way guard Delonte West. This would free them from depending on Nate Robinson to back up Rajon Rondo.
So far, so good. They have the best record in the Eastern Conference and they're 3-0 versus the second place Heat. When healthy, Shaq has been impressive. He adds another dimension to their offense, while giving them another big body on defense. Kevin Garnett has been relatively healthy and legitimately played his way back onto the All-Star team. Pierce and Allen seem not to have lost a step. Rondo and Glen Davis have continued to develop their games. Daniels was an excellent back up swingman until getting injured. Robinson brought a spark off the bench, although he's clearly not a true point guard.
Like the last couple years, the problem continues to be injuries. Daniels is gone for the season and even got traded as a result. Jermaine O'Neal and West have barely played. Shaq seems to miss every third game with some sort of strain or ache. Perkins finally made it back into the line-up only to be traded to the Thunder. This move was in large part due to the injury to Daniels. Ainge wanted Jeff Green to replace Daniels and picked up Nenad Kristic to help fill the sudden void at Center. With West finally healthy, Robinson seemed expendable, so he was included in the trade. Despite taking two starters from a good Thunder team to be back-ups for their championship caliber team, injuries are still threatening their depth. West is hurt again, leaving Rondo without a solid back up and Shaq has yet to play since Perkins was moved.
Despite these problems, the Cs should have one of the top two seeds in the East come play-off time. If Shaq and West are healthy by then, the Celtics will be hard to beat. They seem to be adding Troy Murphy and Sasha Pavlovic, which will help their depth, but I think West and Shaq's health will still be key. Most likely they will face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. This has been a good match up for them in the regular season. The addition of Mike Bibby to the Heat could shift the match up a little. In addition, I think the Heat will dare Rondo to shoot from the perimeter which often gives the Celts problems. If Rondo can step up and the Cs get/stay healthy, then they may get another shot at the Finals. If they get the Lakers again, they might second guess shipping Perkins, since he was a key part of their match up with the Lakers' length. Given the age of the Celtics' core players, this may be their last realistic shot at a title for awhile, but it seems like a very realistic shot.