The 2009-2010 Finals has now concluded with the Los Angelas Lakers prevailing in a ugly but highly entertaining Game 7 between the two premier franchises in NBA history. All the talk leading up to the Finals was it was the Big 3's last run at a title and the "old guys" would fade off into the sunset after this post-season, hoping to capture one more ring for the Green and White. In hindsight, I am actually a little befuddled by everyone's assumptions that the Celtics are now finished and primed to fade back into the pack. When you consider a few things, I see no reason to believe they won't be competing for a Finals spot again next year:
1) The emergence of Rajon Rondo
With Rajon Rondo now taking over as the leader of the team this year and directing the ship that is the Boston Celtics, there's no reason to think the Big 3 or any returning starters for that matter will have to take on an expanded workload. Led by one of the 2-3 best PG's in the game, another off-season of work and he should come back even better next year. He showed signs of improvement on his jumpshot this year even if it still isn't a reliable aspect of his game. He's already one of the best distributing and rebounding PG's in the league. As long as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, and maybe Ray Allen are playing with him at a high enough level, I see no reason to think the Celtics will fall flat on their faces next year.
2) The Competition in the East
When you look at the current state of the Eastern Conference, there is really only one other team who as of today is set in stone to contend with the Boston Celtics next year and that is the Orlando Magic, a team who the Celtics beat rather easily in the Eastern Conference Finals this year. With the uncertainty of LeBron James, there's no guarantee any other team will rise up to challenge the Celtics. Long odds are he leaves to go West. If he teams up with Wade in Miami (who's no guarantee to stay there), or goes to Chicago, then maybe you see a new contender emerge. Otherwise even if he returns to Cleveland, what makes anyone so sure they would fare any better against the Celtics or Magic this year? And then Joe Johnson is almost a certainty to leave Atlanta which makes it hard to consider them a contender anymore. Other free agents could also impact this upcoming season (Amar'e or Boozer potentially to Miami, Joe Johnson teaming up with an All-Star). But as of right now, outside Orlando, is there any team in as good shape as the Celtics going into next year?
3) The Regular Season means NOTHING to Them
As we've come to learn this year, the Celtics, like the Spurs of recent years, don't need homecourt to win the East. They don't need to win 60 games to establish themselves as title contenders. With the East being the weaker of the two conferences and a .500% record seeming about good enough to get you into the playoffs, the Celtics should be able to once again coast to a 45-46 win season, get as low as a 5-6 seed and still feel relatively good about their chances of making noise in the East. Now granted, if LeBron ended up somewhere like NY and didn't get a superstar to play with him, maybe the C's are good enough to get the 3-4 seed coasting through. They don't need to expand energy to make the playoffs in the East so another season of wear and tear on the body for guys like The Truth, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, etc, isn't as big a deal when you can rest guys sporadically throughout the season with the thought that, "we're still good enough to make the playoffs."
Now of course there are other factors that must be considered:
For one, the absence of Tom Thibodeau. How much will that hurt the Celtics in regards to their defensive play? Do they get worse, or do guys like KG and Perk keep the Celtics motivated on a night to night basis.
What does Doc Rivers decide to do? All indications are he will step down as coach in order to spend more time with his family. Where do the Celtics go from there? And will the new coach be able to stabalize an emotional team like the one they had this year and help them persevere through challenging moments that arise.
What will happen with Ray Allen, and other FA? Will Danny Ainge roll out the same team or does he want to start preparing for life after the Big 3? Will Ray Allen take enough of a pay decrease to stay in Boston where he says "he belongs."
So yes, the 2009-2010 Boston Celtics didn't deliver banner 18 and the hated Lakers are one banner closer to matching the Celtics all-time NBA record. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, etc. aren't in the exclsuive "multiple championship" ring of guys like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, Tom Heinshon, and of course the GOAT, Mr. William Russell, just yet.
But 2010 wasn't a burial year for the Big 3 and Green and White. As I see it, its just a blip on what should be an otherwise competitive and championship contending 2010-2011 season.