So now what?
The Boston Celtics are out of the playoffs in the second round, GM Danny Ainge is being blown up for the Kendrick Perkins trade, the Big Three are growing old in front of our eyes, Shaq is no doubt done, and all of the dreams of the 18th banner being placed up in the Garden rafters now seem about as substantial as cotton candy.
So now what?
It's not the easiest of questions, both given the recent history of the Celtics, and Ainge, too.
It was Ainge, remember, who is on record that he once told Red Auerbach that he should blow up the original Big Three back in the 1980s when it was becoming more and more apparent that age was becoming the Celtics' enemy, that the NBA was all about young legs.
It also was Ainge who had the savvy to put together this new Big Three, the one that not only won an NBA title and lost in Game 7 of another finals, but more importantly put the Celtics back on the radar screen.
There's no overestimating that.
This was never supposed to be about the long haul, not when they all were in their thirties.
This always was about the short term, and you know what?
We shouldn't forget that.
And, yes, this Celtics team was never as good after Perkins was dealt to the Oklahoma City in February. And yes, Jeff Green wasn't the player he was purported to be.
Yes, something got lost in the shuffle, even though for the first few months the Celtics arguably were the best team in the NBA, and that was without Perkins, who already had turned down one new contract offer and wanted the kind of money Ainge was not going to pay for a non-scoring big man coming off knee surgery.
Yes, Shaq got hurt and Jermaine O'Neal was never supposed be anything more than insurance anyway. Yes, that's the risk you take when you have aging players and then have to depend on them.
Or as Ainge recently said, "Father Time never loses."
And Ray Allen will be 36 next year, and Kevin Garnett will be 35, and Paul Pierce will be 34. And what aging stars do is tease you. A great game here, a great game there, but also too many times when you see the age on their game, too. The NBA is no country for old men. We saw that with Garnett in this postseason, times when he was great, more times when he wasn't. We have seen Pierce go from someone who used to get into the lane and get to the foul line almost at will to someone who takes fallaway jumpers, someone who has had to reinvent himself as a player.
That's not a knock on him.
That's just reality.
So now Ainge has three aging future Hall of Fame players, two of whom have one year left on their contracts, and he must overhaul the roster around them and prepare for the future.
So now what?
The news that Doc Rivers is going to be around is huge. Ainge calls him the best coach in the NBA. Who knows? But we know one thing: in his time here, through the good times and the bad, there has not been one player who has said a negative word in public about him. No insignificant thing in today's NBA.
But coaches don't win games in the NBA.
It's always been a players' league, and always will be.
But we know two things going forward. We know that Ainge is not afraid to pull the trigger. Since the days he came in here and traded away Antoine Walker, he's never been afraid of the big move, however controversial it might seem at the time. He always will roll the dice, like he did with Shaq this year, and if it blows up, he'll move on. That's a good thing.
We also know that the glory days are over for a while, that the torch is being passed in the NBA. The recent parallel demise of the Lakers tells us that. The rise of new stars and new teams like the Bulls and the Thunder tells us that. The emergence of the Heat tells us that. The old order is rapidly fading, new stars and new teams fast-breaking into the forefront, the nature of the game.
The Celtics have given us a great four years, complete with the 17th banner.
Now comes the price tag.