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Is It Time For the Celtics to Rebuild?

That question may sound a little ridiculous considering that Boston is only two seasons removed from their 17th NBA title and currently sit third in the East with a 40-22 record, good for the seventh best winning percentage in the league. Clearly Boston is still one of the NBA's better teams, but if you've spent any time watching them this season it's obvious that their championship window has slammed shut.

The team has struggled against the elite teams around the league most recently getting smoked by the Cavaliers by a score of 108-88 at home, a game which included a fourth quarter 35-14 beatdown in which the Celtics looked like a D-III squad playing Kansas. They followed that up with the low point of the season losing a game at home to the league's most futile team, the New Jersey Nets.

The signs of decline have been there all season with Garnett looking like a shadow of the player he was and Ray Allen struggling to find the range that made him one of the league's most feared sharpshooters during his career. Pierce has been the most consistent performer out of the "Big Three", but has struggled with injuries, much like KG, all season long.

Allen's contract expires this summer, Pierce has a player option for $21 million he is sure to exercise for next season after which his contract expires and Garnett's contract expires the following year. With Allen's performance in perpetual decline at this point it seems unlikely the Celtics would look to re-sign him this summer.

The team's MVP this season has without a doubt been Rajon Rondo. The 23-year old point guard has become the Celtics' floor leader and is averaging 14.1 points, 9.8 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. All that's stopping Rondo from taking the leap into the league's top echelon of point guards alongside Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Steve Nash is his perimeter shooting. With time on his side I'd expect him to take that step this summer.

However Rondo's emergence as the team's leader coinciding with the decline of the Celtics' aging star trio makes it even more pertinent that the Celtics resolve the uncertainty surrounding the future of the team sooner rather than later.

Rondo's age and the five-year, $55 million extension Boston gave him this past summer indicate that the team will be built around him in the future.

It is in this regard that Boston's rebuilding efforts will be intriguing to follow. They passed on the opportunity to cash in on Allen's expiring contract this summer and instead made a move for Nate Robinson and sending veteran guard Eddie House along with little used bench players Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens to the Knicks. The only rotation players the Celtics currently feature that could be used to complement Rondo in the future are starting center Kendrick Perkins and Glen "Big Baby" Davis, both players whose contracts expire following next season.

Perkins will certainly be re-signed after establishing himself as one of the league's better young centers and Davis may be brought back depending on his contract demands. Outside of these two players the roster is truly devoid of young playmakers. Can the Celtics rebuild on the fly and retain championship aspirations? It seems unlikely.

They will be picking in the mid-to-late 20's in the draft this year. This year's draft is extremely deep, but it seems unlikely that the Celtics will find a player to step in and replace Allen, one of the greatest pure shooters in the history of the league. On top of that the Celtics will still be $10 million dollars above the cap this summer, limiting them to using the mid-level exception, bi-annual exception and signing players for the league minimum.

Next season they will have the option of trading Paul Pierce's expiring contract in search of draft picks or perhaps send him to a team looking to dump a player with more years on their contract they are not interested in keeping them for. The following season they can do the same with Garnett.

As Boston's trio of stars battles through their last season together GM Danny Ainge will certainly be looking to the future with trepidation. With a roster of aging stars facing the end of their careers, a couple of young players coming into their own and bunch of role players filling out the roster Boston's rebuilding process will begin with no clear vision of what direction the team will be heading and what the future holds.