As much as it will sting this weekend when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are holding up black and white jerseys in Brooklyn, Celtics fans should be happy going forward.
The Pierce, Garnett, Rivers (and Ray Allen) window is closed and, frankly, has been for a while. The days of attempting to patch together a championship contender are over. Right now, Danny Ainge and the Celtics are in the business of trying to construct the league’s next best collective super-power that will compete for the 2017, 2018 and 2019 titles and the best way to do that is to try and land the league’s next LeBron James or Kevin Durant. In other words, they should tank the 2013-14 season in an effort to draft Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle or Marcus Smart – the guys who are believed to be the “next big things.” The guys who could allow the Celtics to compete for titles, not just for three or four years like a late-stage Garnett, but for 10, 15, possibly 20 years.
But trading Rajon Rondo, easily the team’s best player and a guy with a team friendly contract, in order to secure one of the NBA’s worst records should not be on the C’s list of priorities.
Ainge says that the Celtics are in position for a “quicker turnaround” than when he took the reigns of the franchise in 2003. And there is actually plenty of reason to believe that he is telling the truth on this one (though if the last month or so has taught us anything regarding the Celtics, ‘Don’t trust a thing Danny Ainge says’ is it).
By Ainge’s first term standards, the Celtics are already in 2006-07 mode. They won a championship a year later to complete the greatest single season turnaround in league history. While it’s highly unlikely that the C’s will capture the 2014-15 NBA crown, there is a great chance that they could be extremely good in just a year and a half. That is, if they keep Rondo to pair alongside one of these ‘next LeBron’ types.
It’s one thing to get lucky in the draft lottery. But an even harder task in the NBA is trying to lure a Top 25 player to come play for you in free agency. Just ask the Lakers, who are based in arguably the top market in the league. Free agency is tricky, no matter where your franchise is based.
Now Rondo probably isn’t talented enough to be the No. 1 guy on a championship team. But even Rondo bashers would have to admit he has the talent to be a pretty damn good No. 2 option. At his peak performance level, he could even be the league’s top sidekick.
As for that whole attitude thing? There’s a reason why Brad Stevens is going to get paid $22 million through the end of this decade. Championship coaches have to deal with egos and hot-headed players. Phil Jackson dealt with Kobe. Phil Jackson dealt with Rodman. Chuck Daly dealt with Rodman. Rudy Tomjanovich dealt with Vernon Maxwell. And Doc Rivers dealt with a guy named Rajon Rondo. Good coaches, championship coaches, find a way.
This is for certain: the easiest route to the next title involves Rondo and it involves Stevens. It involves Rondo nursing his ACL Derrick Rose-style in 2013-14. It involves Stevens making Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and Kelly Olynyk into hot, young NBA commodities in 2013-14. Beyond that it involves Rondo and Stevens getting along.
A quick turnaround is doable for Ainge. But if Rondo is holding up a different colored jersey in another NBA city in these next couple of years, well, that’s when things will start to become complicated.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS