The Boston Celtics were eliminated from the 2012 playoffs on Saturday night in a 101-88 loss to the Miami Heat. But for this incarnation of the Celtics it means more than the end of a single season.
Of the 15 players currently under contract with the Boston Celtics, only Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, and JaJuan Johnson are under contract for next season. The Celtics have extended a qualifying offer to Greg Stiemsma and Brandon Bass has a player option.
That means that Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Jermaine O'Neal, Keyon Dooling, Mickael Pietrus, Sasha Pavlovic and Marquis Daniels all may not be back next year.
Garnett, Allen, and O'Neal all started at least 20 games for the Celtics and the group of players not under contract played 102:30 of the 240 total man-minutes for the Celtics in game seven against the Heat.
Much of what made the Celtics the Celtics may not be back again next season, but that doesn't mean it is the end of the run for a team that has won at least one playoff series in each of the last five seasons. It just means the Celtics are going to have to be creative.
Boston General Manager Danny Ainge has Rondo and Pierce under contract for the next two seasons. That pair, plus the rest of the Celtics under contract, cost $34.5 million, giving Boston at least $19.5 million to fill out their roster.
If Ainge can convince Bass to come back, something that is not out of the realm of possibility, the Celtics have starters at point guard, small forward and power forward, with Bradley and Stiemsma coming off the bench.
That is enough to add one star and fill out the remainder of their roster; the question is which players might be available for them to get.
With the roster they have coming back, the Celtics' most obvious need is up front. They could place offer sheets on restricted free agents like Roy Hibbert or Brook Lopez, but those would likely be matched. If they want a center, then Chris Kaman or Marcus Camby look like the best options. The Celtics could also, and possibly should, look into keeping Garnett to fill that spot.
Garnett showed during the playoffs that he still has some mileage left on him and he could be a very attractive option for Boston at the right price and number of years.
At shooting guard, the Celtics are similarly in trouble. O.J. Mayo and Eric Gordon are both restricted free agents, and offers can be made on them, but they likely would be matched by the Hornets and Grizzlies.
That leaves players like Landry Field, Carlos Delfino and Nick Young as the top available players. The Celtics also have the option of bringing back Allen at this spot, as with Garnett, assuming the money is right.
The Celtics could also try to bring their roster back and then look to trade some of them for players who are supposedly available like Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum.
Ainge shocked the basketball world when he added Allen and Garnett to the Celtics five years ago, and for the first time since that offseason his skills are going to be put to the test this year as he attempts to resurrect the Celtics again.