Rajon Rondo is out for the season after a torn ACL he suffered in the Celtics’ loss against the Atlanta Hawks last Friday night. So now there are a lot more questions for the Celtics. Do they finally rebuild? Do they keep going with this squad?
I asked three of the best Boston Celtics bloggers around. John Karalis (@RedsArmy_John) and Jamey Burke (@KWAPT) are two of the mainstays from Red’s Army and Jay King (@CelticsTown) leads the troops in Celtics Town. They are three of the most knowledgeable people about the Celtics and they tell us what they think the Celtics should do with this current squad. And, of course, I asked them about Boston’s dynamic point guard.
Before the season started, what were you expecting out of the Celtics?
JOHN KARALIS (Red’s Army): Well, I bought into the hype, admittedly. I thought Rondo was going to take a bigger step forward, I didn’t expect Paul Pierce to take as much of a step back, and I expected the bench to perform much better than it did. I had them as a legitimate title contender because I thought they had addressed the issues with the offense while keeping their defense strong.
JAY KING (Celtics Town): The Celtics came within 10 minutes of the NBA Finals, then bolstered their talent level significantly in the offseason. I naturally expected they would limp through the first 43 games of the regular season with a sub-.500 record, possessing an offense near the league’s basement and a defense strong but not quite elite, and then valiantly beat the Miami Heat in double overtime on the same day Rajon Rondo was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL.
All jokes aside, I thought Boston gave itself a fighter’s chance to challenge the Heat in the Eastern Conference. Obviously, the Celtics haven’t done that, and Rondo’s absence will hurt them especially once the playoffs arrive. He was always their biggest advantage in a playoff series. Now, he’ll be sitting on the sideline looking fresh azimiz — you know, assuming the Celtics make the playoffs.
JAMEY BURKE (Red’s Army): I was expecting a run deep into the playoffs when looking at the squad the Celtics brought into training camp. The only question (and it still is) was how we would compete without a true center? Sure, Miami is also somewhat of a “small ball” team, but you have the Knicks w/Chandler & now Stat back, Lopez/Humphries on Brooklyn & Atlanta’s big front line.
You guys saw the play where he might have torn his ACL against Atlanta. At the time, what were your thoughts about it?
JOHN: Didn’t give it a second thought. Part of that was because he continued to play, and I thought he might have pulled a muscle or something. Part of it was having watched the Celtics blow a 27 point lead, I was more focused on what a crap-avalanche this collapse was.
JAY: I thought nothing of it. Nothing at all. He played the last 12 minutes of that game, and actually, in the two overtimes, doubled power forward Brandon Bass’ rebound total for the entire game. I don’t think anyone foresaw Rondo being seriously injured. Heck, he was originally slated for the starting lineup Sunday against the Heat.
While we’re on the subject, I’m convinced Rondo would feel no pain even after getting run over by an 18-wheeler, punched in the face 45 times by Mike Tyson and having an air conditioner dropped on his head from the 15th floor of a hotel.
JAMEY: Honestly, I thought perhaps it was just another “tweak” of his ankle or perhaps a knee on knee bang-up. But this kid has been tough as nails, which may be something C’s fans have taken for granted. Before you knew how serious it was, you expected him to bounce right back as usual.
What were your immediate thoughts when you learned Rondo was out for the season?
JOHN: What expletives are allowed on this site?
There’s a bit of deflation when you hear news like that. I truly believe this team has a lot of talent that has been under-performing for whatever reasons. When you lose the only guy on the roster than can consistently create for himself or others, that’s a big blow.
JAY: Denial and disbelief gave way to “NOOOO!!!!!” which gave way to “Please let Paul Pierce retire as a Celtic,” which gave way to “What type of ice cream should I choose to wash down my sorrows?”
I ended up eating a whole carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream, then filling it with my tears. And then I screamed at my television “ANYBODY BUT RAY ALLEN” at least 17 times as the Celtics improbably staged an amazing double overtime win against Miami.
JAMEY: I was actually at the game on Sunday. It was hard to really try & comprehend it in the middle of that maddening afternoon. But honestly, my first thought with no filter was “we’re done..”. Then I just felt utter sympathy for Rajon. This kid is a fierce competitor and it’s so clear he loves the game. Basketball is his life. It must be so hard for him emotionally. Stay strong, kid.
What do you think is the best route for the Celtics? What is next for this squad?
JOHN: This is the great debate in Boston. The problem for the Celtics is they’re not constructed well for either the “blow it up” or “make a trade and make a run” options.
The Celtics main assets for a trade are Rondo (even with the injury), Paul Pierce, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger. Beyond that, they have guys with some value, but not enough to make any big deals.
Sullinger and Bradley have value beyond their contracts (Bradley especially), so trading them right now will require a more complicated deal when you try to get their value in return because now filler players that the other team might not want have to get involved. Pierce’s contract is pretty big, so the Celtics will likely have to take a bad contract in return for whatever young assets/picks MIGHT be out there for him (and let’s face it, in today’s climate, it’s not a lot).
So the best thing the C’s can do is maybe find a point guard and and big man either through free agency or via minor trade (maybe for a Brandon Bass type player… if possible) and see where it goes.
Let’s not forget, ownership likes to make a little extra cash with some playoff gates. If the team can somehow rally and make it a round or two… that’s money in their pockets. If the Celtics want to blow it up, They can do it in June and July.
JAY: Danny Ainge should look into dealing almost every piece on his roster, and he should be most hesitant about dealing Rondo, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger, all of whom look like essential pieces to whatever lies in the future.
But making huge trades is easier said than done. Kevin Garnett has a no-trade clause. It will be tough to find fair value for Paul Pierce, and that’s before factoring in the huge sentimental factors linking him to Boston. Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry — all of whom Ainge would likely consider trading — have limited value. A roster reset is possible, but Ainge won’t sell off any of his pieces unless it helps Boston’s future standing.
JAMEY: I like what Ainge is doing right now. He’s not panicking-he’s evaluating the situation, and waiting to see how the team will play with different guys running the show and an offense with more “movement.” I say don’t blow it up; it’s kind of like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Stand pat with the guys you have now, perhaps try and bring in another big & see how things go. Then blow it up over the summer (just kidding, I think)!
If the Celtics are going to fully rebuild, should Rondo be traded?
JOHN: I still don’t think so. This is a point guard league and, for all his flaws, Rondo is still one of the best. Yes, you can trade him and try to get some picks and young talent, but Rondo IS young talent. And he’s got a great contract. When people describe the types of players the Celtics should be getting in return for “blowing it up”… they’re talking about guys like Rondo. I don’t want to become the Bobcats here. Sorry, Charlotte fans.
JAY: No, for several reasons. First, the Celtics won’t be able to fetch fair value for Rondo after he tore his ACL. His future’s too questionable. Second, he’s one of the NBA’s best point guards. Third, he has one of the NBA’s best contracts. Fourth, he’s still just 26 years old.
Which makes his torn ACL now, when he should be entering the prime of his career, even more cruel.
Anybody got some mint chocolate chip ice cream, or a tissue?
JAMEY: That is the toughest question. I’m eager to see how he responds after this latest injury. Unfortunately, it’s going to be at least 5 months until we do. The critics say that Rondo’s attitude needs an adjustment, and that his defensive effort is not consistent. But you cannot take away from what he brings to the Celtics: pure electricity. When he is on the floor, he’s a game-changer. At any moment he can explode for a slew of points, make a huge steal or set-up his teammates for easy buckets. He’s one of a kind and one in a million. He thrives in the spotlight and enjoys facilitating. You have to keep him.
Thank you to everybody that participated. The Celtics play Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings, who defeated the Washington Wizards on Monday night.