With the Celtics looking more and more like a middle-of-the pack team, and one that it's hard to imagine advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs, Danny Ainge is faced with one of the more difficult situations of any GM in the NBA. Because despite how blatantly obvious it is that the C's are not an NBA title contender as constructed, there's still this idea that they could turn it on at any given moment.
Former Celtics big man Kendrick Perkins said earlier this year that he expects Boston to "make noise" in the postseason. Former C's assistant and current Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank said after Sunday's game that he expects the Celtics to "be there at the end." And, surely, C's fans everywhere are remaining cautiously optimistic, although their patience is likely running thin with the team in the midst of a three-game skid.
But is this idea that the C's can still "turn things around" a realistic expectation?
The Celtics have already battled through an onslaught of injuries this season, the schedule is only going to get more grueling from here and now the guy who many assumed to be the Celtics' leader on the floor this season, Rajon Rondo, is showing signs that he might not possess the maturity required to be a building block.
Head coach Doc Rivers is even considering shuffling up his starting lineup, which was hardly a thought during the team's previous playoff runs, when Rivers consistently stressed that his starting five (which included Perkins at the time) had yet to lose a playoff series while all playing together.
Those days are long gone, though, and the sooner everyone in Boston realizes it, the better.
Chalk it up to old age. Chalk it up to injuries. Chalk it up to a lack of chemistry. But it doesn't matter what the cause is, because whatever it is, it's turning the C's into one of those in-between teams, which pose the biggest dilemmas.
In the NBA, typically, unless you look like a legitimate title contender — or least show some semblance of being one – throughout the season, you're unlikely to be there when all is said and done. And if you're in the process of rebuilding, that too becomes increasingly obvious, which makes Ainge's next move — or lack thereof – so intriguing.
The Celtics haven't really established an identity throughout their first 30 games, making it difficult to judge whether it's time to completely disassemble the roster, make minor tweaks or ride out the current storm. Any decision Ainge makes, though, will have its supporters and its skeptics, whether he decides to deal away one or more members of the Big Three, ship Rondo away for a bit of an overhaul or stand pat and go for – likely to no avail — another run at a title with the current group.
If Ainge does keep the current group intact, it could be because he's intent on seeing where the team finishes before then using his newfound cap space in the offseason to try to make a splash. In many ways, that's the safe move, as it lends itself to the least amount of criticism.
But is it the right move?
Going off the notion that you're either a contender or a rebuilder, it might be time for Ainge to exhaust all options when it comes to turning an eye toward the future — whether that means bringing in some pieces for Rondo, trading away members of the Big Three or keeping the team intact and making his most noise in the offseason.
Ainge has been creative in the past. It's time to see that creativity again, even though whatever road he takes will be an unpopular one amongst some.