Trailing the New York Knicks 0-3 in their first-round playoff series, it appears the Boston Celtics' 2012-13 season may be heading for its earliest end during the Kevin Garnett era. No team has ever come back from a three-game deficit, and should that pattern hold true, Boston will have plenty of time to address the issues that faced the team during this up-and-down campaign.
It might actually prove to be a good thing. This Celtics team has no shortage of offseason issues it must address if it wants to return to contender status.
As the Celtics prepare for a do-or-die Game 4 in TD Garden, let's take a moment to look at the major areas of concern for this club when its 2012-13 season eventually comes to an end.
Will KG Be Around for 2013-14?
Hampered by injuries throughout the season, Garnett has not looked nearly as sharp against the Knicks as he did in the 2012 postseason. With his level of play dropping off somewhat and the physical toll building, there is speculation that the 37-year-old KG could be playing his final season in Boston.
Though Garnett's cryptic "last All-Star Game" comments were not meant to imply his retirement, it is entirely possible that Garnett, who is finishing the first year of a three-year deal, could hang up his high-tops after a campaign where he averaged 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists on 49.6 percent shooting from the floor in 29.7 minutes per game.
Unfortunately for Boston, Garnett has simply not been able to play well against New York's defense. KG is averaging just 10.7 points on 38.2 percent shooting in the three games, albeit with 12.3 rebounds per contest. However, he is simply not moving as well as usual and is not the defensive force he has been for the C's in the past.
Garnett is due to earn $24.4 million through the 2014-15 season, and that would be money the Celts could use to throw at a big man should he choose to retire. He is undoubtedly capable of playing a few more seasons, but not at a dominant level.
If Garnett chooses to retire, he leaves a Boston team with no true center on the roster and a frontcourt rotation consisting of Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger and Shavlik Randolph. They would need to make a run at a starting-caliber center in free agency unless they want to play small ball with Sully at the five.
Which Guards Will Be Dealt When Rondo Returns?
With Rajon Rondo expected to be at full strength in time for training camp, the Celtics will have a roster absolutely stacked with guards and simply not enough minutes to go around.
Rondo and Avery Bradley are the expected starters, and the bench will feature Jason Terry, Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee and potentially Terrence Williams and another guard in the draft.
Boston has plenty of needs in the frontcourt, and it would not be surprising to see them deal at least one of their guards in the pursuit of a young, athletic big man.
Jason Terry and Courtney Lee have both been disappointing in their debut season in green, averaging 10.1 points and 7.8 points on 43.4 and 46.4 percent shooting, respectively.
Terry struggled to consistently contribute all season, while Lee was a complete liability on offense. However, both are proven commodities who have succeeded on winning teams in the past, something that cannot be said of Crawford.
Crawford is a talented scorer and probably has the most upside of any of the reserve guards, but he also is a lackluster defender and a borderline horrendous decision-maker with the basketball. His 9.1 points per game came on just 41.5 percent shooting from the floor.
None of these players are really capable of logging extended minutes at point guard, something that became abundantly clear when Rondo went down. With other, more pressing areas of need, it simply doesn't make sense for the Celts to keep all three guards in town, even though none have particularly high trade values at the moment.
Is Jeff Green the Future at Small or Power Forward?
During his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Jeff Green primarily played as an undersized power forward alongside Kevin Durant, but once he was sent to Boston, he primarily played at small forward behind Pierce.
In the 2012-13 season, Green's breakout year with the Celtics, he spent time playing both positions circumstantially, logging time at the 4 when Kevin Garnett was out in an effective but very small lineup for Boston.
At the end of the regular season, Doc Rivers settled on a starting five consisting of Bradley, Pierce, Green, Bass and Garnett, with Pierce sliding over to the 2-guard spot, a position at which he has rarely started.
Pierce's career is winding down, and moving him more to shooting guard as a ball-handler not only gives the Celtics offense a different dimension but also saves him from heavy minutes guarding the likes of LeBron James, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.
After a season in which he posted 20.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game as a starter on 52.3 percent shooting from the floor and a blistering but unsustainable 51.9 percent from beyond the arc, it's clear that Green deserves to play consistent, heavy starter's minutes.
However, the Celtics will need to take a long look at their roster and determine which forward spot to pencil Green in for the 2013-14 campaign.
Who Do They Target in the Draft?
While this is far from a Celtics-specific issue, this draft is particularly important for Boston, as it clearly needs an injection of youth and could use some help at multiple positions.
Boston will have the 16th pick in the draft, its highest selection since 2007, which is ironically when they selected Green out of Georgetown. With a mid-first-round pick it should be able to find some solid value, but Danny Ainge and the front office need to figure out if they are going to target a big man or another guard to backup Rondo and Bradley.
The Celtics are in range to select someone like Duke's Mason Plumlee, Louisville's Gorgui Dieng or France's Rudy Gobert.
Dieng, whose stout defense helped Louisville to a national championship, seems like a logical fit given his size, athleticism and ability to hit mid-range jump shots like KG.
Gobert is raw but has tremendous length and potential if he is developed properly. These comments could easily be applied to 2012 first-round selection Fab Melo, who barely played in his rookie year.
It is difficult right now to project who the Celtics will select, but the answer to the next question should very much inform the team's draft selection.
Is It Time to Rebuild?
After a run to the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, Boston eschewed the notion of rebuilding by adding pieces around the core of KG, Pierce and Rondo to prepare for another championship run. However, a 41-40 regular season and a likely first-round playoff loss clearly shows that things did not go according to plan for Boston.
With that in mind, the Celtics need to address the issue of whether it even makes sense to try to contend once more, especially given that Pierce, Garnett and Terry are not going to be improving.
Though the Celtics are touted as a veteran team, they have some young pieces in Rondo, Bradley, Green, Sullinger and Bass that could potentially be the core of the team going forward. They would obviously be a few players and years away from contention, but, if the team were to enter rebuilding mode, they would have the benefit of some higher draft selections to work with.
The team has little salary cap flexibility currently, and that will continue to be the case unless something radical happens, like a Pierce trade or Garnett's retirement. This makes it unlikely that the team will be able to go out and sign a marquee free agent, like a Josh Smith or an Al Jefferson, outright.
With the possibility of a first-round exit looming, it's clear that Boston has slipped somewhat from its days as a perennial contender built on stout team defense and the craftiness of Pierce on offense.
It's a thought no Celtics fan wants to ponder, but this is going to be the offseason that Boston will have to decide on its direction going forward, and no offseason issue is more important than that.
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