Last night at the Staples Center, the Boston Celtics’ Rajon Rondo outplayed the only point guard in the NBA that can rightly be considered a better all-around player than him at that position, Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. His 14 points and 10 assists bested Paul’s 14 points and 5 assists (on 3-for-12 FGA), and marked not only his 11th double-double of the season, but also helped Boston surprisingly beat the Clippers 94-85 to earn its first road victory on the second of back-to-back games of this shortened NBA season.
The chatter of Rondo heading out of Boston has been going on, then off, and now back on again since late November (weeks before the 66-game season started), when rumors of the sixth-year all-star being dealt to New Orleans for Paul first surfaced. Paul ended up being dealt to the Clippers, but Rondo is still part of the “Big Four” along with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen.
With the March 15 trade deadline fast approaching, Celtics fans could be seeing the last days of this bunch together, which has brought home one NBA title in the 2007-2008 campaign, and came within minutes of winning another one two seasons later (over the Lakers, their opponent in both title runs). Boston general manager Danny Ainge has been adamant from the outset that Rondo, who is signed through the 2014-2015 season with $36 million left on his contract, is here to stay.
And not only should he, but all season and especially of late, he has been playing like a man on a mission to prove he is the guy to build around for the forseeable future. His epic and historic March 4 accomplishment of recording 20 assists, 17 rebounds and 18 points to lead the C’s to victory in overtime against Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks said all you need to know about how valuable and special he is. He has a career-high four triple-doubles this season, while no one else has more than one so far.
But immature behavior over the years, off the court and on it with the 26-year-old’s one-game suspension not too long ago for kicking a basketball at a referee, has allegedly been a concern among NBA GMs around the league interested in acquiring Rondo. So fine. Let the C’s and head coach Doc Rivers continue to deal with whatever mental lapses he may have during the course of a season.
In the end, Rondo, with whatever occasional faults he has, is a winner, and it would be just stupid to trade a young, athletic superstar like him now or at any point in the future. Ainge and the C’s need more players like him, not less.
So if you’re Ainge and you won’t trade Rondo, who on this aging roster has any value to another team right now? That would be lifelong Celtic Paul Pierce (who is signed only for two more years at $32 million), and sharp shooter Ray Allen, who is making $10 million this season but who will be a free agent after it is over.
The recent rumor of Pierce being traded for Atlanta’s Josh Smith, who is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds in 2011-2012, sounds too good to pass up, even if it means painfully saying goodbye to one of the greatest all-around players to ever put on the Celtics uniform.
Let’s face it. This Celtics squad is hurting for big men. Ainge has had a bad track record of late of acquiring them, dealing them away (in the case of the awful and shocking trade of Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green this time last year), and bad luck at keeping them healthy (Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal are out with a heart issue and wrist injury, respectively, and the aforementioned Green was gone for the season before it began with his own scary heart-related ailment).
So acquiring Smith would be a good move for the Boston GM to get back on track. The only problem is that Smith is signed only through next year at $13.2 million, so getting him to stay long-term here may prove difficult if the C’s do indeed go into a rebuilding mode in a couple of days.
Allen (age 36) would not bring much back as much as Pierce at this point in his long career, but maybe the two paired together could bring about a couple of other young studs as part of a blockbuster trade. Think that isn’t likely? Remember, this is Danny Ainge we’re talking about. After the Perkins trade (and his bad trade of Antoine Walker to Dallas several years before that), I wouldn’t put it past him to make any type of move, big or small (except that he will keep Rondo around, of course).
Whatever move the Celtics make, it won’t make them title contenders and likely won’t help improve their playoff chances much this season. Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated told Boston sports radio giant WEEI in December that they were no better than a 6th seed in the Eastern Conference. With the team currently hanging on to the 7th seed, Mannix (who is a fellow Bostonian I came to know for a short time when we were young kids), has pretty much been right to this point of the season.
If the C’s do blow up the Big Four come Thursday as I expect, you may have some fans even questioning if they will be a playoff team. But with the bottom feeders as weak as they are, I won’t be one of those guys. But I will be rooting for at least one or two fresh, healthy, and young but seasoned veterans to watch for the rest of this shaky season and the foreseeable future.