Gone are the days of the Big 3, and in their place come a new wave of Celtics hell bent on securing a good pick in the 2014 draft. With the exception of Rajon Rondo and possibly Jeff Green, no one left on the roster belongs in an NBA starting lineup, and most shouldn’t even be in a rotation. Welcome to the Danny Ainge model for team building.
Ainge used this strategy to great effect in 2006-07, when the Celtics bottomed out by getting rid of many key players and holding out Paul Pierce with an injury late in the season in an attempt to land either Kevin Durant or Greg Oden. Of course that didn’t pan out, but Ainge shifted gears and acquired Ray Allen and then Kevin Garnett, managing to hold onto Pierce in the process. The key to that strategy was that Pierce stayed around as a building block.
Many are calling for Rondo to be traded to bolster the latest round of tanking and get some value in return for the mercurial point guard, but there may be a few reasons to hold onto him.
First, there’s no reason to believe that Rondo by himself will be able to generate that many wins. He is coming off surgery on his knee, which will likely limit his effectiveness early on. He is not much of a scorer, lacking a decent jumper and usually relying on his passing to affect the game, but passing can only go so far if the receiver can’t finish.
Perhaps more importantly, Rondo has never had a chance to be a leader on a team, and there’s a chance that with Pierce, Allen, and Garnett gone along with coach Doc Rivers that he will finally be able to take over a leadership role with the team. A lot of this will fall to new coach Brad Stevens to guide Rondo into such a role, but stranger things have happened. Rondo as team leader would likely pose less of a headache in the locker room if he truly views the team as his. Too often over the past few seasons the Big 3 have given the impression that he was not being viewed as an equal.
Keeping Rondo around would also have some benefits for the development of some of the young players on the team. Promising rookie Kelly Olynyk and second year forward Jared Sullinger would probably be helped along by having a steady point guard running their offense and getting them good looks instead of relying on the likes of Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford to set them up. Crawford, along with Marshon Brooks, should be able to get something out of the experience as well simply by virtue of having to work off the ball a little more, depriving them of the opportunity to shoot on every possession.
This team is built to lose, and if they have a little too much success, or if Rondo simply isn’t in Boston’s long term plans, he could be shipped out, but it’s not a clear-cut matter.
The losing should come pretty easy for this squad of castoffs and unproven players. The likely potential bright spots are Olynyk and Green. Olynyk would do well to show his value offensively, which he will have to do while facing a lot more defensive attention than the average mid-1st rounder. If he shows solid rebounding skills and can score at a good clip his will have been a successful season.
Green’s success will be defined more by maintaining his sweet 3 point stroke from the second half of last season and by proving he can do a little when he puts the ball on the floor. If he does that and plays solid defense he will be worth something approaching what he gets paid.
Even if everything goes well for the individuals on the team, the ceiling is just too low for coach Stevens to push for the playoffs, and he will get a relatively low-key first season at the helm to work out the kinks in transitioning his coaching from college to the pros. Long term that could be the most important thing that can happen for this rebuilding Celtics team.
Predicted Finish: 24-58 | 4th place in Atlantic Division | 12th place in Eastern Conference