Doc Rivers is headed from pro basketball to the amateur game, and he may not be coming back.
Ray Allen could end up elsewhere and Rasheed Wallace appears gone for sure.
Although Kevin Garnett would like to have everybody back, next season’s Boston Celtics could look quite different from the team that nearly won the 2010 NBA championship.
The Celtics fell short of their second title in three years, blowing a 13-point lead and losing 83-79 to the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday in Game 7 of the NBA finals. Tears flowed in the locker room and Rivers struggled with his emotions in his press conference after the Celtics watched an 18th championship slip through their fingers.
“It’s a difficult time right now,” Garnett said.
It won’t get much easier in the summer, when tough decisions must be made.
Rivers, who did a masterful job managing the minutes of Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce late in the season — even when it meant losing games — has talked of walking away from coaching so he can spend more time with his children.
He’ll take his time before deciding.
“I’m going to wait,” he said. “I’m going to go and watch my kids play AAU basketball, and I’m going to wait for a little bit.”
Allen will be a free agent and could draw interest if he’s willing to accept a significant pay cut from the more than $19 million he made this season. The Celtics considered trading him during the season, but they’ll be given the chance to keep him now if they want him.
“I’ll deal with that when the time comes, but it’s obvious that I don’t want to be anywhere else,” Allen said.
The Celtics already are faced with one major loss. Assistant coach Tom Thibodeau, the architect of their terrific defense, is leaving to become the Chicago Bulls’ coach.
Rivers said after Game 7 that Wallace could retire, which Garnett seemed to confirm in his postgame remarks.
Despite a brilliant start to the season, it appeared the Celtics would have to face these decisions much earlier. They were a .500 team over the second half of the season, with injuries to Garnett and Pierce a demonstration of the risks involved in relying on older players.
Boston finished with only the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference, dismissed as a true title contender after home losses to woeful New Jersey and Washington. But the Celtics started playing the defense that won them the 2008 title once the postseason began, and they knocked off top-seeded Cleveland and No. 2 Orlando to reach the finals.
“These guys, they really are champions,” general manager Danny Ainge said. “They played hard. They really stepped it up when they needed to.”
Rajon Rondo emerged as a star during the postseason, making the Celtics a team with a productive fast break despite its age. Yet even if the Celtics do stay together, they’ll have even more doubters next season.
Garnett lacks the explosiveness he had before knee surgery last year, though Rivers expects him to be better next season because he’ll be further recovered from the procedure. Starting center Kendrick Perkins sprained knee ligaments in Boston’s Game 6 loss and it’s unknown when he’ll be back, or how long it will take him to return to top form.
Without those injuries, perhaps Boston would be going for a fourth straight championship next season. The Celtics never had a real chance to defend their ‘08 title because Garnett missed the following postseason.
“I told our guys this, the starting lineup still hasn’t lost,” Rivers said after Game 7. “It was a shame we didn’t have that starting lineup tonight. But I told them, you’ve still yet to have a true chance to defend your title because Perk wasn’t there.”
Nobody knows who will be around when Boston opens next season. It was a great three-year run since they assembled their new Big Three in 2007, but changes seem necessary just to get out of the East next season, let alone earn another shot at the Lakers.
Rivers acknowledged that the locker room would be different next season, and maybe he won’t even be a part of it. That’s what made the Game 7 loss so difficult.
“It was the craziest, most emotional group I’ve ever coached in my life,” he said. “I told them, they made me reach to places that I never thought I needed to go, I had to go. But through it all, we were the tightest, most emotional, crazy group that I’ve ever been with in my life. So that’s what makes it tough.”