Pundits have been claiming this is the end of an era, so Niall Gray looks at the Boston Celtics and asks if GM Danny Ainge will be able to keep the Celtics a force to be reckoned with.

Aging teams and a potential lockout have pundits all over the world telling us one thing — we are witnessing the end of an era in the NBA, the kind of event that only takes place every decade or so.

My first experience of this was in the early 90s as the great Celtics, Lakers and Detroit teams got old and fell by the wayside. Some say the rise of the Michael Jordan's Bulls in the early 90s was due to finally getting the right team-mates (and coach) around him; others would say that Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas had passed their peak and nothing was left standing in Jordan's way.


I'll leave you to make your mind up on that one, but point out that it took Jordan seven years to win a title with Chicago.


Back to the present and  with the Lakers now in a 3-0 hole, the Celtics down 2-0 to Miami, and the San Antonio Spurs already done for the summer, the signs are there, and not even if both Boston and Los Angeles come back to win, will the talk of their demise be muted.


In the case of the Celtics, it's what we always expected to happen now, they just got old. When he brought in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to partner up with Paul Piece, Celtics' GM Danny Ainge famously said they had a three-year window to win a championship.


Well, anyone who remembers the trades in the summer of 2007 will know that we're in year 4, and on bonus time. Two trips to the NBA finals and a championship in those three years show that Danny Ainge made a great call.


This is now the most critical time of Ainge's tenure and his legacy will be defined by what comes next.


What happens to the Celtics now in the play-offs is out of his control, he's done all he can until the off-season. Whether the Celtics fall by the wayside or make one last historic run, should not influence his thinking.


One thing Danny Ainge said he would never do is let the Celtics repeat the lessons of the early 90s. Back then, Celtics great Red Auerbach fought to keep the original big three of Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish together, despite the fact they'd passed their prime.


As a Celtics fan back then it was great to see my heroes still playing together, but not only did it mean we were less effective in the play-offs, it also meant the Celtics were never really able to develop replacement players at those positions.


That way of thinking, and the tragic death of Reggie Lewis, sent Boston into a spiral that would eventually result in the Celtics going seven years between play-off appearances.


Those were dark days in Boston, the lowest point in franchise history and Ainge knows Boston can not go down that road again.


So does this mean Ainge would be willing sacrifice one or more of his star trio? I say trio because unless Rajon Rondo does something so stupid they have to ship him out of town, he is the future of this franchise and the team will be moulded around him.


Pierce is supposedly a Celtic for life now so he's definitely the least tradable, whereas Allen already had his head on the chopping block last season. As for Garnett, I think his heart is now in Boston for good and if they ever decided to deal him away, KG would rather retire than move on.


Here's what I would do; firstly move Ray Allen to the bench in a sixth-man role. He's the oldest of the three, but he's perhaps the best-conditioned of them all and he's got a few years left in him. He could lead the second unit and still be fresh enough to be called upon late in games if needed. 


That would allow Ainge the chance to sign, draft or trade for a shooting guard to replace him. Someone young enough and with potential that could form a back-court with Rondo for years to come.


Pierce I think will be a starter for a couple of more years at least but I'm getting the impression that KG is leaning towards hanging them up. If that's the case and if Jeff Green is still around, this will be his chance to cement the four spot as his own as I think he's better playing the four spot than the three.


Lastly, with Perk out of town, the most pressing need is to find a guy in the middle. It took me ages to wonder why Perkins needed to go and it’s only now that I realise why Ainge did what he did and I don’t believe now it was just about the money.


While a Perk-type player was suitable for the Celtics while the big three were in their prime, a Perk-type player is not what the Celtics need now or in seasons to come.


Perkins wasn’t needed to score for the Celtics, he just had to work hard and grab rebounds. Going forward, with Pierce and KG not the offensive forces they once were, the five spot becomes critical for Boston.


Not only do they need a rebounder and a tough defender, they need someone who can score with regularity. Although Perkins has got into double figures on plenty of occasions, he was never the type of player who would generate offense, just a guy who was good at being in the right place for a pass or lob.


This is probably why the Celtics are so desperate to get Shaq on the floor one last time. They’ve realised they need a scorer in the paint and in the fleeting glimpses we’ve seen of Shaq this season, he would do just that.


While all eyes are on the Celtics players right now as they look to climb out of a hole against Miami, the moment the season is done, all eyes will turn to Danny Ainge as Celtics fans look to him to pull another rabbit out of the hat, to prevent the Celtics repeating the mediocrity of the 90s. 


And I will be one of those watching…


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