Could this be the final run?
With a roster full of veterans, the 2010-11 season may be the last, best chance for this core group of Celtics to bring banner No. 18 to Boston.
A look at the roster shows that, if all goes as planned, the C's certainly have what it takes to make a run, with a group of players that know how to win.
After all, all five starters remain from their title team of 2008, and the group from a season ago that was within five minutes of hoisting the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy last season.
Add to that one of the greatest winners of his generation — Shaquille O'Neal — and it is a squad that isn't afraid of a fight.
But, for ever positive, there is a lingering question for this team.
Are the trio of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett young and spry enough to carry the load? Is Rajon Rondo an All-Star, or a superstar? Will Kendrick Perkins heal quickly, and will Delonte West and Nate Robinson be stable enough to be counted upon?
Only time will tell.
Age/season: 35/15th season
2009-10: 16.3 points, 2.6 assists in 80 games
Best-case scenario: His NBA-record eight 3-pointers in a Finals game show he can still be deadly. He stays youthful, finding shots and defending when called upon, with the security of a new contract.
Worst-case scenario: His horrific 0-for-15 run in the three games following the record-setter show he's grown into a streaky player. His 3-point percentage a year ago was the worst of his career.
2009-10 (Texas): 11.6 points, 1.3 steals in 32 games
Best-case scenario: A dogged defender who provides youth to an old team. Maybe spends some time in the Developmental League before helping down the stretch.
Worst-case scenario: He is another J.R. Giddens or Gabe Pruitt, a draft pick who never factors into the team's plans and disappears without a trace. He was also a bit of a disappointment in college.
Age/season: 29/8th season
2009-10: 5.6 points, 1.9 rebounds in 51 games
Best-case scenario: He defends non-stop. He uses his size and athleticism to guard the swingmen West cannot, bringing toughness to the second unit. And even scores a few baskets, like two years ago (13.6 ppg).
Worst-case scenario: He played 37 minutes total in the playoffs last season, all in garbage time. He fell out of Doc's rotation for a reason. He's undisciplined and can't play in the Celtics' system.
Age/season: 24/4th season
2009-10: 6.3 points, 2.8 rebounds in 54 games
Best-case scenario: His game continues to grow. He is in shape, and the immature antics of the past are behind him. He continues to show his flair for the dramatic, as he has in the past two playoffs.
Worst-case scenario: Immaturity continues to be a factor. Every step in the right direction is offset by another step in the wrong direction. Impending free agency is a distraction.
2009-10: 8.2 points, 5.1 rebounds in 42 games with Fenerbahce Ulker of Turkish League
Best-case scenario: Not asked to play big minutes, he gives the C's a 7-footer who can rebound. He is especially important before Perkins returns, limiting minutes for the two aging O'Neals.
Worst-case scenario: The jump from the Turkish Basketball League to the NBA is too great. He is pushed out of the paint by thicker opponents, doesn't contribute on offense and struggles with the playbook.
Age/season: 34/16th season
2009-10: 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds in 69 games
Best-case scenario: The reports from camp are true, and KG has some of his old spring back. The knee injury is out of his head and he is confident when going to the basket for dunks and rebounds.
Worst-case scenario: He limps through another season, missing gimme dunks (think NBA finals). Reality hits that he is the player who averaged the fewest points and rebounds since his rookie season.
2009-10 (Notre Dame): 21.8 points, 9.1 rebounds in 30 games
Best-case scenario: Probably destined for the D-League, but he just scored in college and at 6-foot-8 has a nice shot. He also rebounded in college and as a star in the NBA Summer League.
Worst-case scenario: He goes the way of most second-round NBA picks. He goes to the D-League and never returns. It turns out he lacks the top-end athleticism of an NBA player.
Age/season: 32/15th season
2009-10 (Miami): 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds in 70 games
Best-case scenario: He is healthy, and motivated to resurrect his career. He shows some of his past All-Star form, and more importantly is a tough presence under the basket for rebounding.
Worst-case scenario: Remember how horribly he played against the Celtics in the playoffs? It's a whole season of that.
He is slow, avoids contact and disappears in big games, which he has a history of.
Age/season: 38/19th season
2009-10 (Cleveland): 12.0 points, 6.7 rebounds in 53 games
Best-case scenario: He is rejuvenated in what is likely his final stop.
Looking to win another title to tie archrival Kobe Bryant, Shaq is motivated, in good shape and ready to hustle, even when the going gets tough.
Worst-case scenario: Another year of bad Shaq. He is slow, lazy and his conditioning gets worse as the season goes on. He can't take the ego hit of coming off the bench when Kendrick Perkins returns.
Age/season: 26/8th season
2009-10: 10.1 points, 7.6 rebounds in 78 games
Best-case scenario: He bounces back quickly from his torn ACL and plays his signature tough defense. The two O'Neals make his life easier.
Worst-case scenario: The knee continues to give him trouble, and a slow return forces the C's to rely on Shaq and Jermaine. When he returns, the knee is trouble physically and/or mentally like KG last season.
Age/season: 33/13th season
2009-10: 18.3 points, 4.4 rebounds in 71 games
Best-case scenario: With a new contract, Pierce is happy and ready to add to his legacy as a lifetime Celtic.
He stays amazingly durable and remains a potent scorer.
He is still the go-to guy.
Worst-case scenario: Age robs him of a step, and he can no longer drive to the basket with authority. His lackluster playoff series against Cleveland (13.5 points) is a sign of things to come.
Age/season: 26/6th season
2009-10 (N.Y./Boston): 10.1 points, 2.9 assists in 56 games
Best-case scenario: He's instant offense off the bench. With a full season in Green, he is better versed in the offense and is all energy. The addition of Delonte West frees him up to focus on scoring.
Worst-case scenario: Erratic nature, the one that caused him to be suspended by the Knicks last season, returns. He again plays himself out of the lineup, as he did by the start of last season's playoffs.
Age/season: 24/5th season
2009-10: 13.7 points, 9.8 assists in 81 games
Best-case scenario: He continues to grow into a top-5 NBA point guard. His shot improves enough to make defenders respect it, and more maturity make him an even better defender, with his patented nose for steals.
Worst-case scenario: He clashes with the older core and becomes stubborn. His shot remains weak, and defenses keep playing off of him, daring him to shoot. Shaq clogging up the middle hurts his game.
Age/season: 25/5th season
2009-10: 7.7 points, 1.3 rebounds in six games for Olympiacos B.C. of Greek League
Best-case scenario: He can score (9.7 PPG in 2008-09 with Rockets), shoot the 3-pointer at times and at 6-foot-5 has some size for a guard. His shooting is especially valuable during West's suspension.
Worst-case scenario: He was a bust in the Greek Euroleague last season — not the NBA — and didn't play in 10 games at the end of the year with Dallas. He hasn't wowed in the preseason.
Age/season: 27/7th season
2009-10 (Cleveland): 8.8 points, 3.3 assists in 60 games
Best-case scenario: He is a stabilizing force at point guard, allowing Rondo to log fewer minutes and letting Robinson play off the ball. He fills the Tony Allen role defending. Being back in Boston is a perfect fit.
Worst-case scenario: The stories of his personal life and legal troubles are well documented. He is suspended the first 10 games of the season, and can't regain the former magic when he returns.