NBA Trade Deadline 2012: Celtics Face Crossroads

Excepting the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, no story will be more fascinating to follow in the approach to the NBA trade deadline than the fate of the Boston Celtics. The "Big Three" have scored one NBA championship and two conference titles for Boston, but their time seems to be running out. All of the team's stars other than Ray Allen have missed time due to injuries, Kevin Garnett is playing at a much lower level than we've become accustomed to and the playoffs -- not a top seed in the playoffs, but the playoffs themselves! -- are legitimately at risk.

But the name talked about most frequently remains Rajon Rondo, who Boston seems to dangle once every six months or so. If Danny Ainge does intend to revamp the roster in advance of a huge free agency opportunity in July, there's no question that Rondo, again an NBA All-Star, would draw the best return. With Paul Pierce, Allen and Garnett, there are legit questions as to whether the club could even pull a first-round pick. Rondo is the type of player who could be traded for a high pick or young cornerstone.

Whether Ainge tries to flip one of the veterans and swings hard by leaving Rondo out there, that remains to be seen.

NEEDS & TARGETS

The frontcourt is the biggest area of need, and it's not even close. Boston has suffered impressive attrition with injuries to Garnett, Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O'Neal. Doc Rivers planned to play more small-ball lineups this season ... but this is ridiculous.

If the Celtics are looking to retool on the fly instead of waiting for free agency in July, the frontcourt looks like the right place to start. Garnett is likely to be gone in July if he's not in March, and there's nothing in the pipeline (the team unloaded prospect Semih Erden to cut salary a year ago). Unless the Celtics deal Rondo, they are set at point guard. Pairing the creative playmaker with a rock down low and Pierce (who has another guaranteed season on his deal) seems like a reasonable plan.

SALARY CAP SITUATION

The Celtics are way over the luxury tax threshold at $79 million. In the past, Ainge has unloaded as many "dead weight" contracts as possible, paying portions of the salary to cut the tax bill. Jermaine O'Neal ($6.2 million in tax) seems like the top candidate this go around, and Sacramento could be the partner, just as it has been for the Celtics in recent years.

For more on the Celtics, visit CelticsBlog and SB Nation Boston.

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