The NBA and the Celtics rapidly reappeared on the consciousness of Boston sports fans this week, with Rajon Rondo trade rumors spreading like wildfire just days after the lockout unofficially came to an end.
For the Celtics, the season kicked off in earnest on Thursday, when team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and head coach Doc Rivers met with the media, a chore they no doubt missed terribly during the NBA's hiatus. While there were certainly no shortage of topics to discuss (including, ahem, who exactly is going to play basketball for the Celtics this season), the most pressing issue was Rondo.
"I don't anticipate that, no," Ainge said flatly when asked if he plans to trade Rondo, according to The Boston Globe.
"I'm not, no," Ainge also said when asked if he is trying to trade Rondo.
Of course, Ainge had nothing else he possibly could have said. It would have been considered somewhat bad business to tell the media, "Why yes, you brilliant sleuths, you've figured me out! I am trying to trade Rondo — do you have any suggestions?"
But for the Celtics' sake, Ainge better be serious, and for a number of reasons.
The first is that if you send away Rondo, you officially have two players under contract for the 2012-13 season. Those two players would be a 35-year-old Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley, who currently has played 162 NBA minutes. As it is right now, the Celtics have Rondo, an All-Star point guard, locked up for relatively cheap money for four more years. Most teams don't like trading that away.
Another issue, maybe, is that you have to be concerned about Rondo's mental state. He's been criticized through the years for being fragile, or temperamental, or hard-headed, and so on. Some of it's fair, of course, but that same sensitivity is exactly what makes Rondo and every other great athlete a great athlete. Why does Rondo elevate his game in the playoffs, or when he's facing a Steve Nash or Chris Paul or Deron Williams? It's because of that mentality of having something to prove. It's driven people to forever love Dustin Pedroia. It's not always sensible, but it shouldn't have to be.
Ainge, for his part, isn't overly concerned with Rondo's attitude in the midst of flying rumors.
"Rondo will be fine," Ainge said. "Rondo knows that we love him. He knows that we like him. … He's a great player. There's a lot of people that call me and ask me about Rondo. How these rumors get out is unfortunate. We didn't leak those rumors out. He'll deal with it, he'll be fine."
The third issue is that if you take Rondo off the Boston roster, the average age of its starting five jumps from around 32.6 years old to 34.5 years old. Again, most NBA teams would prefer getting younger and not older — that is, if winning is a priority. The 66-game season will be a grind, with much less rest, and seven-game series in the playoffs are always a struggle for knees that have been jumping up and down and bending and banging for the past 35 years or so. Just ask Kevin Garnett.
Rondo, at 25 years old, is perhaps the most athletic player in the league. He continues to improve on almost everything, except free-throw shooting. If he could actually get that under control (not impossible), his points per game would go up to the 13-14 range, thereby quelling all those concerns about his jump shot. He may not ever be Magic Johnson, but being Rondo is actually not all that bad. You can ask the 2008 Celtics about that.
"I think he's one of the top point guards in the NBA. I think Rondo has established that," Rivers said Thursday. "He is a great basketball player, and he does so many things for our team. He should be flattered in a lot of ways that this is news."
Flattered? Sure, I guess. Getting your name bandied about as a potential trading partner for the best point guard in basketball (Paul) doesn't happen to most players. But he better also better be trusting, and Ainge better be honest, because if these rumors turn out to be more than just fodder, the road to a Celtics title this season will get infinitely more difficult.