- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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MIAMI -- Eleven months ago, there was pain and uncertainty. The Boston Celtics had just lost Game 7 of the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers and no one seemed certain about what the future held for coach Doc Rivers and Boston's Big Three.
This time around there was pain, but softened ever so gently by the nearly universal decree that the Celtics plan to keep their core intact next season for what appears to be one final run at another NBA title.
Rivers gave strong assurance that he will return to the Boston bench next year, while Ray Allen suggested he has no desire to opt out of the final season of the two-year contract he signed last season.
"I'm leaning heavily towards coming back," Rivers said Wednesday after the Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs by the Miami Heat. "I haven't made that decision. But I can tell you that I probably will. I've kind of come to that over the last couple of weeks. I'm a Celtic and I love our guys.
"I want to win again here. I do. And I'm competitive as hell. I have a competitive group, and so we'll see. But I can tell you that's where I'm at today. Tomorrow, I may change my mind, but that's where I'm at today."
Rivers added: "I don't believe this team is done."
Inside the Celtics locker room, Rivers' words provided some end-of-season consolation.
"I'm going to put this on the record," Rondo said. "Doc already committed that he was coming back with me so he can't go back against his word. ... We just signed a contract about 10 minutes ago."
Allen, who has a $10 million player option for the 2011-12 season, soon took Rivers' spot at the podium and echoed his sentiments about staying in Boston.
"This has been my team," said Allen. "I have been full steam ahead with this team. I don't have any plans to go anywhere else."
Inside the Celtics' locker room, captain Paul Pierce stressed his belief that the Celtics are capable of achieving their title goals by keeping this core intact.
"I really believe it," said Pierce. "For the most part, between me, Ray and Kevin, we stayed relatively healthy this year. Ray is probably the most healthy, in-shape guy in the league, so I have no doubts that he'll come back strong for another three or four years, and KG, he got through another year. I think this is a healthy year for him for the most part. And I've been, for the most part, healthy, so I definitely believe we can come back and make another run at this."
But Pierce also acknowledged that some changes need to be made.
"Well, I know it's going to look different," said Pierce. "I know that for a fact. Every year things are going to be done in the summer and when you have so many guys with [the 2011-12 season] being the last year of their contract, you know [change] happens every year. So I know there's going to be a few changes. I don't know what, but we'll have to wait and see."
Pierce expressed hope that Rivers would indeed return to the Celtics bench.
"If we're moving forward next year and try to win a championship, he's one of the main pieces," Pierce said.
With Rivers, the Big Three and Rondo likely in the fold, the only question marks surround the supporting cast.
Jermaine O'Neal, the team's starting center by season's end, has a year left on his midlevel exception deal at $6.2 million. He said he'd take some time to assess his situation, particularly a desire to spend more time with his family after having put a lot of NBA miles on his tires, but his solid postseason play might entice him to return, even after battling knee ailments for much of the season.
Shaquille O'Neal, who holds a player option at the veteran's minimum, might have played his last NBA game. Limited to three appearances (two in the postseason) and a mere 17 1/2 minutes of game action since Feb. 1, O'Neal's inability to rebound from a right calf/Achilles injury might end his storied 18-year career.
"I think you'll have to ask him," Pierce said of Shaq. "He's battled through a lot of injuries, and at that age, so many miles, so many flagrant fouls on him, his body has taken a lot of pounding, more than the average NBA player."
Sixth man Glen Davis, who struggled mightily at season's end and through the playoffs, expressed a desire for an increased role and even a starter's job. An unrestricted free agent, Davis said he'd like to stay in Boston, but only if the situation allows for his development as a player in this league.
"I have given thought about [returning to Boston]," said Davis. "I love Boston. Boston's where I started, and I plan on wishing I could stay, but you never know. [Look at the Kendrick Perkins] situation. He [was] here for eight years and he wanted to stay, but it might just not work my way. That's just how it is.
"I want to be a player in this league. I feel like I've got a lot more to offer. I want to show the world my talents, if it's here in Boston, or wherever."
Two other players to watch this offseason are the ones brought to Boston in the trade that sent Perkins to Oklahoma City at the trade deadline. Nenad Krstic is an unrestricted free agent whom the Celtics might be enticed to sign -- but at what price, after earning $5.5 million this season? Jeff Green is a restricted free agent who struggled at times in a diminished role from what he had with the Thunder.
"[Boston is] a great place," said Green. "You look at the guys they've got on this roster, it's a dream to play with guys that I looked up to growing up, and just to [have] had this opportunity was fun, and hopefully I'll have it again."
Green said he hadn't had any conversations with Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and said the uncertain labor forecast could make for an interesting summer.
"There's a lot going on outside of myself as far as the lockout, so we'll just wait until it's time," said Green.
The only other Celtics player under contract for next season is rookie guard Avery Bradley, who played sparingly in his first season. Delonte West, Von Wafer, Troy Murphy, Sasha Pavlovic and Carlos Arroyo all will be unrestricted free agents.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com