BOSTON — As the Celtics dismantled the last of a formerly championship-caliber core on Thursday night, Rajon Rondo had to be wondering what happened.
Not quite overnight, but in a matter of weeks, Rondo’s team went from a hopeful Eastern Conference title contender when healthy to an undisputed team in transition. Doc Rivers, the only coach Rondo has known as a pro, is gone to the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, his big brothers through an NBA championship and multiple near-misses, were on their way to the Brooklyn Nets. Suddenly, Rondo was head hocho for the Celtics — what was left of them.
Yet while the Celtics clearly have dedicated themselves to a potentially prolonged rebuild, they have no plans to part ways with their four-time All-Star point guard about to enter his prime. That was one of the few specific declarations offered by Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge as he spoke with the media toward the end of the first round during the NBA draft on Thursday night.
“If Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are tradeable, then I guess everybody’s tradeable,” Ainge said. “But there’s guys we’re not looking to move right now.
Ainge was asked if Rondo was one of those guys.
“Yeah,” he said.
Rondo has averaged 11.1 points and 8.3 assists per game in seven NBA seasons, all with the Celtics. He led the league in assists per game the last two seasons and has made the Eastern Conference All-Star team in each of the last four years. He has been plagued by a reputation for being difficult to deal with, however, and his attitude was blamed for the departures of Ray Allen last summer and Rivers this week. His tendency to clash with coaches and teammates may affect how attractive he is to potential trade partners.
Despite that, Rondo was the one remaining member of the 2008 team that the Celtics chose to keep. Or, maybe, he was the only one they couldn’t unload.