Rajon Rondo’s Fate, Jared Sullinger’s Conditioning In Focus For Celtics’ Offseason

Brad Stevens, Rajon RondoDanny Ainge, the Boston Celtics’ president of basketball operations, set up the team and first-year NBA coach Brad Stevens to fail. But it was done with an eye to the future.

A 25-57 record is expected to garner a decent pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and parting ways with franchise icons Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers last summer provided flexibility the Celtics have not enjoyed in years.

But while fans embraced the rebuilding process this season, their patience only lasts so long. A big offseason is expected — some might say it is required — to maintain fan interest and demonstrate that all the pain of 2013-14 was worthwhile.

With that in mind, here is the start of Ainge’s checklist for the busy 2014 offseason:

Involve Rajon Rondo in any decisions. So, Rondo wants input into moves that are made this summer? Here’s a novel idea: Give it to him.

There seems to be a misunderstanding from fans in regards to Rondo consulting with Ainge on any major movement the Celtics make this summer. Ainge and the Celtics should keep Rondo in the loop; that doesn’t mean they have to actually do what he wants.

You don’t need a degree from Harvard Business School to know that employees take greater ownership of management decisions if they feel like they were part of the decision-making process. Simply calling Rondo and telling him, “We are about to trade for Player X” could go a long way in getting the incumbent captain to buy in when camp breaks in October. And according to Ainge, Rondo will still be with the team then.

Clearly define and limit the role of Jeff Green. Seldom is a team’s leading scorer subject to as much scrutiny and criticism as Green was this season. We’re not saying it was undeserved, just that we wonder what anyone expected.

Green was precisely what the Celtics thought he would be, which is a streaky, slashing scorer who struggles to score against certain matchups. He was not the heir apparent to Paul Pierce. The Celtics never thought he would or could be. He led the team with a 16.9 points-per-game average, but he was a painfully inefficient scorer — nine players finished with higher offensive ratings, including Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee and undrafted 10-day signee Chris Johnson.

This wasn’t really a surprise to anyone who had been paying attention. Despite Green’s protests that he is a “great player,” he goes through far too many lapses on both ends to be a focal point. Still, he can be useful in a much more restricted role where he has the ball in his hands less, and can focus on finishing in transition and spotting up for corner 3-pointers.

Embrace Gerald Wallace as part of the plan. With two years and more than $20 million left on his contract, Wallace is not going anywhere. It is extremely unlikely that any team will be persuaded to take on Wallace’s outsize contract, meaning he is probably staying in Boston through 2016.

That is not great for the Celtics’ payroll, but it doesn’t have to be destructive on the court. Wallace brought tenacious energy at times, and his high turnover rate was partly due to him being unselfish to a fault with the basketball. He made some concessions this season. Let’s see if he is willing to make a few more.

Bring back Avery Bradley — depending on the price. Much was made of Bradley’s improvements on the offensive end, and he did demonstrate vastly improved shooting ability off the dribble. Still, there is little benefit in offering a 6-foot-2 shooting guard the $8 million a season that he reportedly wants. If Celtics fans grew exasperated with Green, wait until they are paying Bradley, an even less efficient scorer from a statistical standpoint, nearly the same amount.

The Celtics maintain the right to match any offer Bradley receives as a restricted free agent, but if that amounts to anything more than the four-year, $24-million contract they offered before the season, they should simply shake hands and move on. Judging by Ainge’s lukewarm remarks, it sounds like that is what the Celtics plan to do.

Likewise, thank Kris Humphries for his service and move on. The veteran big man will not command anything close to his $12 million salary from 2013-14 as a free agent, but even a number half that would not serve the Celtics’ interests going forward.

Make Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk the clear-cut Plan B. It is time to find out about the team’s last two significant draft picks. Sullinger is entering a crucial offseason in which he must drop weight and improve his conditioning. Unless a blockbuster move is made, Sullinger stands to be the Celtics’ go-to offensive player next season. The pressure is on him to start the process toward greatness that Ainge and Stevens believe he can achieve.

Olynyk accelerated his own timeline with three straight encouraging games to conclude the season. Early on, Sully and Olynyk showed signs of being an intriguing frontcourt duo with their shooting and passing abilities, coupled with high basketball IQs. Neither is an MVP-caliber player on his own, but together they could be a dynamic duo.

Look for big names, but stay patient. Before the ink had dried on the paperwork between the Celtics and Nets last July, Boston fans were clamoring for Kevin Love, Gordon Hayward and others to come to Boston. Just hold on there, folks.

Some intriguingly talented players could be available in free agency or trades, and the Celtics are stacked with draft picks to entice a deal. But there is not an elite two-way player on the market like Garnett was in 2007, nor do these Celtics come pre-loaded with a player of Pierce’s caliber. (Love and Rondo are excellent players, respectively, but not at the levels Garnett and Pierce were seven years ago.)

The Celtics, who drop more than $20 million off their payroll next summer and still will be flush with draft picks, still hold all the cards if they are willing to wait out another difficult season. Of course, that is a sizable “if.”

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