Relegating the Boston Celtics to the category of "spent force" has been a recurring theme since 2010: the team of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, proud and gritty but grown too old to contend for championships.
They defied time and expectations for another three seasons, but their elimination by the imperfect New York Knicks in the first-round of the NBA play-offs has a sense of finality to it.
Garnett, 37 this month, made it clear that changes must be made if the Celtics are to return to elite status. "We need some additions," he said.
Last year, with Ray Allen still a Celtic, Boston pushed a deeper and more talented Miami Heat team to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals. This year, with Rajon Rondo injured and Allen now a member of the Heat, they fell at the first hurdle.
It has left them with a potentially tumultuous off-season. Garnett is the senior member of an aged team, but Pierce will be 36 in October and the key reserve Jason Terry 36 in September.
Pierce and Garnett are under contract, but their return is uncertain, as is that of the coach, Doc Rivers. Garnett is unsure if he wants to continue playing, and said his decision will be impacted by whether Pierce returns.
Pierce is a career Celtic and wants to stay. Yet if Boston buy him out by June 30, the club could save more than US$10 million (Dh36.7m). That is money they could spend to get younger.
Against the Knicks, Pierce seemed to show the impact of his 15 NBA seasons. He shot only 36.8 per cent and averaged 5.3 turnovers. In the decisive Game 6, he took 18 shots and made only four.
"He's one of the greatest Celtics to ever play," Rivers said. "He's done so much for this franchise. Listen, we live in a day and time where guys are changing teams like socks. And Paul has chosen to stay here throughout his career, when clearly he had all rights to leave."
Going forward, Pierce and Garnett look more like complementary players than men who would lead a title run, as they did in 2008. The Celtics need fresh playmakers.
"I think that Paul and KG can't do it on their own," said Danny Ainge, the Celtics general manager. "That figures into this in a big way … great players making great plays is what we're lacking right now. And that's not a knock on anybody. That's a credit to the people who can do that."
Even Rivers, also under contract next season, left his return open. "I can't make that decision now," he said after the loss to New York.
If he does return, he is unlikely to lead the same old Celtics.
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