HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — That cold wind that blew through Boston for the second straight weekend — courtesy of a deflating development with one of the city’s beloved professional teams — was actually felt all over the NBA world.
Much like the news out of Chicago last spring when Derrick Rose tore his ACL, Sunday’s news that Celtics All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo‘s season had come to an abrupt end with the discovery of an ACL tear in his right knee forces a reshuffling of things in front offices league-wide.
With the Feb. 21 trade deadline approaching, any and every NBA GM who has Celtics boss Danny Ainge on speed dial is looking over their own assets as they prepare to call him and gauge his mood. Instead of taking his time and surveying the landscape as he attempts to rebuild the Celtics around Rondo, an All-Star starter for the first time in his career this season, Ainge now has to decide if it’s time to start over in Boston.
With all due respect to Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a longtime HT fave, the time to write that obit on these Celtics is upon us. This idea that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the rest of this inconsistent Celtics crew is anything other than a first-round out (provided they make the playoffs, of course) seems a bit far-fetched.
They were struggling with Rondo, their best player. To assume they’ll do anything other than that without him … again, far-fetched.
Ainge has never been shy about taking risks before, so we can’t imagine he’d go conservative this time around. Rondo will return from this setback and he should remain one of the cornerstones of the franchise’s rebuilding project. Ainge has to decide if Pierce, a Celtic his entire career, and Garnett stick around or not.
The Big 3 era in Boston ended last season when the Heat pushed past the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, so there is no need for some burial ceremony for these guys. This is strictly a business situation for Ainge. Find the best possible scenario to deal either Pierce or Garnett (one but not both) and whatever periphery pieces that need to be included to facilitate a deal, and then patch up the rest for the future.
The list of younger players available on the trade deadline market seems to increase by the day. Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, Josh Smith are all talented players who could be available by the Feb. 21 deadline. Add one or two of those impact players to a young core that includes Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and a healthy Rondo (whenever he returns) and you’re talking about a nucleus capable of keeping the Celtics in the playoff mix and beyond.
Assembling a championship-caliber team, however, will require Ainge to be much more ambitious. It also requires a more intricate long-term plan, with whatever Ainge does next just a small piece of that larger puzzle.
In the immediate aftermath of the Rondo news, Rivers suggested that the next man will step up and take over for Rondo. And maybe a man who stepped away — Keyon Dooling — will come back and try to help fill the void. While that’s showing an extreme amount of confidence in a roster that has struggled with adjusting to its roles all season, it’s an admirable stance to take. It’s also easier said than done.
Whatever happens, know that Ainge’s fingerprints will be all over it, as Ainge explained to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:
“In our situation, you can’t just philosophically say, ‘We’re going to do this,’ ” Ainge told Yahoo! Sports. “You have to tell me what it is. You have to tell me what opportunities we have.”
“Here’s the thing: If I wanted to say, ‘Hey, let’s play for the future,’ that’s hard to do. And if I play only for the ‘here and now,’ that’s hard to do.”
Those kinds of trades are hard to do, Ainge meant.
“I’m going to look and see what opportunities are there, like any other year,” Ainge said. “Last year, I was close to making a change that I felt would give us a better chance in the here and now, and in the future. And those are hard to do.”
When Ainge goes looking to see what opportunities are out there, the rest of the league’s executives need to keep eyes on their phones, because something big is bound to happen.
The ball is in Ainge’s court now and the rest of the NBA world is on alert!