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Celtics prepare for life after Rondo

NBA Eastern Conference Columnist

Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 17:08

As I sat down in my seat at the XL Center to cover the UConn men’s basketball team take on Rutgers on Sunday, my iPhone buzzed in my pocket. It was an ESPN alert. I get these a couple times a day, so it wasn’t really too surprising. This was until I read it: “PG Rajon Rondo out vs. Heat.” I furrowed my eyebrow at my cell and tried to recall if I saw the Celtics all-star point guard limping or favoring anything in their most recent loss against the Atlanta Hawks, but all memories of this game were wiped from my mind as if Agent J appeared in front of me with his trusty neuralyzer. I didn’t think much about it and, to be frank, thought Rondo was just milking an injury in an attempt to avoid getting embarrassed by Miami.

Not even 15 minutes later, I received the bad news from one of my friends back home in New Hampshire: “Celts think Rondo has a torn ACL.” Obviously, this did not sit well with me. And not even an hour after that, it was confirmed – the Celtics would have to go the entire second half of the season without their table setter and the only player on the team that can create scoring opportunities for his teammates. After nearly vomiting on the dance team sitting in front of me upon hearing this news, I realized that I had to: a) finish covering the game and then b) put on my Danny Ainge mask and think of ways to fix the Celtics.

The most popular scenario in the mind of Celtics fans is a full-blown fire sale, which would trade any and all Celtics assets – Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce included – to contending teams in exchange for an assortment of draft picks, salary cap relief and hopefully some young talent to build around. I have no issues with blowing up the Celtics and trying to start over. However, like Andre Drummond trying to make five straight free throws, this is a lot more difficult than it seems on paper. Sure, The Big Ticket and The Truth are appealing players that would certainly help out aspiring championship teams, but at the same time, it’s not like teams are lining up to gobble up their massive contracts ($31 million over two years for Pierce; $36 million over three years for KG according to Sportrac.com).

Another reason why Boston is going to have issues making the fuse light is because Rondo was the Celtics’ best trade asset before he was injured. There were rumblings of a deal for DeMarcus Cousins a couple weeks ago that included Rondo moving out west to Sacramento, and even though hindsight is about 20/5 right now for C’s fans, a fair amount were wishing that Ainge got something together and made a move. The only young talent the Celtics have in their rotation is Bradley and rookie Jared Sullinger. If the Celts can trade for, say, Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon (love the former, ambivalent toward the latter) without giving up Bradley or Sully, it’s hard to call the Celtics losers in the situation. Boston should also try to rid itself of Jeff Green’s awful contract, Brandon Bass and/or Jason Terry before the trade deadline. The whole Terry idea was like witnessing unsupervised high schoolers attempt a chemistry lab experiment; it sounded like a ton of fun at the time, but there’s no denying that it blew up right in the Celtics’ face.

Do the Celtics have a chance to make the playoffs still? Absolutely. The Eastern Conference is as weak as it’s been over the last few years and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the C’s play pick up a little bit without their star point guard in the short-term. They still have Pierce. They still have KG. Although their offense is going to resemble the Bobcats, but it’s not like the Celtics were dropping 110 points every night. The Celtics have always been built around defense and Rondo is pretty maddening to watch when he doesn’t have the ball. If Rondo out means more minutes for lockdown defender Avery Bradley and plus-defender Courtney Lee, don’t be surprised if the Celtics actually get a little bit better when they’re guarding the basket.

The Boston Celtics were supposed to compete for another Larry O’Brien Trophy this season, but instead, they’re under .500 and their best player’s knee just exploded. Ainge has been known to roll the dice around the trade deadline – the Kendrick Perkins deal a few years back comes to mind – so I wouldn’t be shocked to get another ESPN alert at some point over the next couple weeks. However, the silver linings are few and far between right now. Ainge has the unenviable position of having to do something with nothing. I don’t want to write the obituary either, Doc Rivers. But unless Ainge can pull some Red Auerbach luck out of his sleeve, the city of Boston is going to be all about the Bruins a little earlier in the spring than they might like.

  

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