A starting lineup that includes a 33-year-old, a 34-year-old, a 35-year-old, and a 36-year-old?
A point guard who commands scant respect as a face-the-basket scoring threat and who is a subpar free throw shooter? A bench that does not have a single player whose job description on his income tax form reads "Drop-dead jump shooter"? In the abstract, such a team would be given little chance of being so much as a .500 team, let alone a championship contender.
Danny Ainge is in the same position Dave Gavitt was 21 years ago. He has a core of aging Hall of Famers, and they aren't going anywhere. His only hope is to build around them with young talent, young legs, and young enthusiasm. Good luck. The 1989-90 Celtics season ended in a shocking manner. Up, 2-0, against the Knicks, and coming off a historic Game 2 performance at home in which they scored a playoff-record 157 points, they lost Games 3 and 4 in New York before suffering a completely unanticipated defeat at home in Game 5. That was it. They lost to the younger Knicks in 1990, the younger Pistons in 1991, the younger Cavaliers in 1992, and the younger Hornets in 1993 before missing the playoffs in seven of the next eight years.
Oh, there were some good moments left, most of them having to do with Larry Bird, who was able to ignore a mounting string of injuries and turn back the clock with a golden performance every once in a while. But things went progressively downhill in a team sense, the Celtics winning 51 games in 1991-92, after which Bird retired; 48 games in 1992-93, after which Kevin McHale said bye-bye; and 32 games in 1993-94, after which Robert Parish set off on his farewell tour elsewhere.
Gavitt knew his toughest task would be managing the end of the (original) Big Three. But what were his options, really? Trade Larry? I don't think so. Trade Robert? And find another center half as good? Trade Kevin? Well, that was a possibility, but Gavitt could never bring himself to do it. Nope. Gavitt wound up staying the course. The Big Three simply faded away. So, too, did the entity known as the Boston Celtics. Is that a grim enough scenario for you?
Well, you'd better buckle up.
You're about to have a deja vu professional basketball experience.
Here are the current Big Three, still skilled, still exemplary in their work habits, still a fountain of basketball knowledge, still completely respected around the NBA for what they have accomplished. That's all very nice, and there will be some very nice retro experiences ahead, perhaps even enough of them to justify an emotional investment in the Celtics teams that lie ahead. But the Big Three are no longer the core of a championship team.
The frustrating thing about being an aging player is that some nights it's still there, and someone can be deluded into thinking nothing has changed. But it is not there with the regularity that made someone a star. Allen and Garnett each have reached that stage. As an example, two years ago, Allen went from setting a record for 3-pointers against the Lakers one night to an 0-fer the very next game. Last May, KG went from a killer 28-point, marauder-on-defense Game 3 against the Heat to Just Another Guy status in the remaining two games.
Let's be honest.
Who among us thought there even would be a Year 4 for this core group, let alone a Year 5? They all will take to their graves the knowledge that no other Celtics team played as consistently hard from start to finish as theirs did in 2007-08, and it's reasonable to assume that, if asked on their deathbeds to recall the final score of the final game against the Lakers, a smile will come across each and every one of the faces as they whisper, "131-92."