BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics have all their key players signed for next season, and coach Doc Rivers seems ready to return as well.
So why is everyone writing the Big Three's obituary?
Because Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are all in their mid-30s, and they were showing their age in their loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals. With LeBron James and Dwayne Wade running right past the tired Celtics -- as they are likely to do for many years to come -- Miami won 97-87 in Game 5 to advance to the conference final.
Rivers' contract expires at the end of this season, and he's been rumoured for vacancies across the league, including the Los Angeles Lakers. Although last summer he mulled whether to take time off and spend time with his family, he said immediately after Wednesday night's game that he was "leaning heavily to coming back."
"I haven't made that decision, but I can tell you I probably will," he said. "I'm a Celtic and I love our guys. I want to win again here, and I'm competitive as hell. I have a competitive group, so we'll see. I can tell you that is where I am at today. Tomorrow I may change my mind, but that's where I am at today."
Rivers' commitment is an indication that Celtics general manager Danny Ainge will keep together the core of the team that won the 2008 title and returned to the NBA finals in 2010, losing in seven games to the Lakers.
That was good news for the players.
"If we're moving forward next year and try to win a championship, he's one of the main pieces," Pierce said.
Pierce, a career Celtic and the team's captain, is signed for three more years; he will turn 34 before the 2011-12 season opener. Garnett, who turns 35 next week, has one more year on his deal. Allen will turn 36 this summer and then enter the final year of his contract.
"This has been my team," Allen said. "I have been full steam ahead with this team. I don't have any plans to go anywhere else."
Shaquille O'Neal, 39, probably has only two options: Rehab the right calf that essentially drydocked him since January and return for one last run at a title, or retire and wait for the call from the Hall of Fame. He was not available after the game for comment, as he has been for almost all of the past three months.
"This has been emotionally draining to him, more than you guys would know," Rivers said. "He feels awful about this because this is why he came here, to get to the playoffs and then play in the playoffs. Not being able to do that has really hurt him."
Jermaine O'Neal, who is exactly one year younger than Pierce, is also signed for one more season. Glen (Big Baby) Davis and Nenad Krstic are free agents, meaning Rajon Rondo is the only player who was more than a spot starter who is under contract and under 30.
Pierce expects changes.
"I know it's going to look different. I know that for a fact," Pierce said. "I don't know what, but we'll have to wait and see."