HANG TIME, Texas — Sometimes the decisions are made for you.
Danny Ainge can stop wondering about what to do, which direction to take with his Celtics as the NBA trade deadline of Feb. 21 draws near.
The future arrived in Boston like a punch in the gut with the sickening news that Rajon Rondo has a torn ACL in his right knee and is lost for the season.
Now it’s time to start over.
If Ray Allen having swapped jerseys for Sunday’s homecoming to the TD Garden with the Heat was first crack in the Celtics 21st century golden run that began in 2007, then Rondo’s injury sent the remnants crashing to the parquet floor.
Rondo was averaging 13.7 points, 11.1 assists and had just been named an All-Star starter for the first time. He was coming off back-to-back triple-doubles, including the double-overtime loss in Atlanta, where the injury evidently occurred.
After complaining of pain while trying to warm up prior to Sunday’s game, the point guard was taken to New England Baptist Hospital where an MRI revealed the tear.
The rest of the Celtics were given the bad news during the game and word circulated like whispers of a death in the family through the arena and the rest of the NBA world.
“We just got to rally round each other,” teammate Paul Pierce told ABC’s Doris Burke. “I feel for him. He was having such a great season … It’s disappointing news. Guys just got to step up.”
But it is one thing for Pierce to come through with a gutty triple-double performance of his own and for the Celtics to persevere through a double-overtime against Miami. It is quite another to believe that a Boston team without Rondo could take down the defending champion Heat in a seven-game playoff series. That is, assuming the Celtics even limp into the playoffs.
The win over Miami ended a six-game Celtics losing streak that already had coach Doc Rivers threatening to get one-way tickets out of town for anybody that couldn’t step up. He changed his lineup, putting rookie Jared Sullinger in to start at center in place of Brandon Bass. The Celtics are still two games below .500.
The harsh truth is that the blow is not just the end of a season for Rondo, but the end of the road for this core group of Celtics that won a championship in 2008 and lost in The Finals to the Lakers in 2010.
Ainge and Rivers might have been tempted to shake things up last summer, but wishful thinking and, perhaps, sentiment told them to try making one last run with their aging warriors. But Garnett at 36 is already playing greatly reduced minutes and Pierce at 35 had been mired in a slump of his own before Sunday and is no longer the workhorse.
Rondo, for all of his personality quirks and clashes with Rivers, was the on-court leader of these Celtics and had been for the past several seasons. He had developed a knack for rising up on nationally-televised games and in the playoffs and his efforts that often came with the gale force of a hurricane were what gave the Celtics any so-called puncher’s chance that existed.
The time now is to find out if there is a market to move Pierce as a “designated hitter” on a contending team. He’s got just one more year on his contract at $15.3 million. The two years and $23.5 million owed to Garnett could be problematic.
The bottom line is the Celtics can take a day to celebrate an emotional win in honor of their fallen star. But whenever Rondo does return, it has to be as the centerpiece to a new era in Boston.
Sometimes the decisions are made for you.