The Boston Celtics moved on from the "Big Three" era, trading franchise player Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett last summer as they transitioned to a new head coach in Brad Stevens. Danny Ainge has long kept his hand close to the vest despite rumors floating about what the team will do. Rumors rarely equate to reality with the Celtics.
There will likely be rumors swirling about the franchise as the deadline closes in. They will likely be centered on point guard Rajon Rondo, as they seem to be every year. The team has taken a firm stance that Rondo is part of its future plans, but there's no telling what's next for Boston.
Will the Celtics build a new core around Rondo? Which players do they consider keepers? What's the next position they will look to upgrade? Many questions surround the team, and the trade deadline could provide answers.
Rajon Rondo's return
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Rajon Rondo spent close to a year recovering from a torn ACL and has played 10 total games since making his return. Boston has kept him on a strict minutes restriction and has been liberal about sitting him when he feels sore.
In turn, he's averaging 9.8 points and 7.1 assists in 27.2 minutes per game. That's Rondo's lowest scoring average since his rookie season and lowest assists average since his sophomore season. He's a proven player, though, and teams aren't likely to have any questions about his skill set.
However, recovering from a serious knee injury always leaves questions, and it's fair to say the Celtics haven't showcased Rondo enough to put away any and all doubts about his health. That won't keep teams from inquiring about the one-time NBA champion, though. If Rondo isn't in Ainge's plans, it could be a prime time to sell to a team in need of a point guard, and Rondo is still under contract through the 2014-15 season.
How long until Boston's back?
This season is lost for Boston as far as title aspirations and even playoff hopes, but that's by design. The Celtics have a handful of future draft picks, including their own, to continue building a core of hand-selected players on favorable rookie deals.
Their 2014 draft pick is likely going to yield a top-10 player. They also have the rights to a Brooklyn Nets or Atlanta Hawks 2014 first-round draft pick, depending on how each team finishes out the season. This puts any player on contract beyond this season in an expendable position, though Ainge will have his work cut out for him if he wants to clean up their cap situation.
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Gerald Wallace is due $30 million over the next three seasons. He's averaging just 4.8 points per game, his lowest total in a decade, and is a non-contributor to this team. "Crash" likely doesn't have a role with the rebuilding Celtics, but his high salary tender makes him a tough player to move.
Jeff Green is another interesting piece to consider. He's the scoring leader for the team, but he's shooting just 41.6 percent from the field. He's also under contract for the next three seasons, earning up to $27 million over that time if he accepts his player option in 2015-16.
With Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger in hand, the Celtics still need a center to anchor their defense. Maybe Ainge will reach out to the Houston Rockets to spark discussions around Omer Asik back up. Boston has future draft picks to wheel and deal and enough pieces that can contribute to a team immediately to potentially strike a deal.
A single down-and-out year for Boston could be a small price to pay if Ainge is able to flip assets, as he's proven to do in the past, while also drafting players near the top of one of the most raved about draft classes in years. Turning the page will prove to be a difficult task, but the ingredients are there for Ainge and the Celtics to turn it around quickly.