It might seem premature to say things are coming to an end, while the Celtics hold a 2-1 edge over the Hawks in the Best of 7 first round matchup. But let’s face it: After this season, the core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen will just be one more year older. Time is not on the Celtics’ side at this point, and they’ve already won a championship. Is that enough?
Unfortunately, I fear it will have to be. With Miami solidifying themselves as the Eastern Conference team to beat (Chicago’s future is now in serious jeopardy with Derrick Rose’s career in jeopardy and Orlando and Indiana are still crucial pieces away from contention), the window may finally be closing on the Celtics. That is what makes this last run so crucial. There is time for one more ring, but changes must come…after that.
Rondo has proven himself to be a top 7 or 8 point guard in the NBA. Would it make more sense, though, to try to rebuild the team with Rondo on board, or to deal Rondo to obtain another young talent and a high draft pick in this year’s loaded draft?
Ainge isn’t enthralled with Rondo, for whatever reason, and I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that Rondo still can’t shoot a basketball. Little has been said as to whether Rondo is putting in the off season work, but I suspect he’s not. He just shoots the ball far too poorly, and after Ray Allen is gone and retired, it’s going to be up to Ainge to put some shooters on the court.
One move that could make sense is drafting Austin Rivers in the Draft this year. But the problem is that many teams are keying in on Rivers, and I fully expect his draft stock to rise. Trading Rondo, however, would necessitate drafting a point guard. Marquis Teague and Kendall Marshall will also likely be available. Landing any of these three point guards (but especially Rivers) would be a starting place for building a new starting lineup.
So, we’ve traded Rondo? Why? What are we getting in return?
Assuming Rondo could land the Celtics a top five pick (and I believe he could), they could draft the next Kevin Garnett. I’m talking of course about big man Andre Drummond of UCONN. It only makes sense for the Celtics to take advantage of this draft, and if they are going to look long term, they could do no worse than selecting Drummond. His potential and ceiling may be the highest of anyone not named Anthony Davis in this draft, and to land a talent that could be built around for the future.
See, for all Rondo is, one thing he is not is a big man. Big men can form a strong cornerstone for building a franchise around, and the Celtics are going to need to rebuild, to be sure, rather than wallow in middling land of just fighting for an 8th seed and drafting in the middle of the first round. Drafting there does not land the type of talents necessary to rebuild a franchise.
So, of course, Ainge has some decisions to make, and some waiting to do. Rondo is either to be kept or dealt, and that decision will prove to be huge. Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are both free agents. One would figure that Ainge lets them both walk. Paul Pierce will retire a Celtic, and should remain productive (if not nearly great) for the two years remaining on his contract.
So, before this all starts, before the madness and rebuilding, Celtics fans are left with only one choice: Enjoy this last ride while it lasts. With Derrick Rose out for the remainder of the Playoffs, and the 76ers not being that formidable team, getting to the Eastern Conference Finals is a real possibility. Getting past Miami may prove to be too big of a challenge, but stranger things have happened, and when the Celtics defense is functioning full throttle, they can be a very difficult team to score on, even for LeBron James and the “Heatles.”
It’s too early to write this season off, but it’s never too early to look ahead.