Is this the end? Well, it depends on what that means. It feels like this run, this era, has had dozens of ends, some more dramatic than others but ends in their own way.
When Kevin Garnett got hurt in 2009 it was the end of the team's title defense. When Perkins was hurt in 2010 it ended up being the end of a miracle run back to the Finals. When Perkins was traded the next year it was the end of that starting 5. When Ray Allen left it was the end of the Big 3. Now Rajon Rondo is out for the year and it might just be the beginning of the end of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett as Celtics.
If that sounds dramatic, that may be so. If it sounds matter of fact, well, that's probably true too. Like it or not, Pierce and Garnett were always on the tail end of their careers. It is a wonder that they lasted this long. Neither is what they once were despite showing glimpses of their former glory from time to time. But they were good enough to make us hope that one last run was possible. With Rondo and a strong supporting cast it even seemed plausible in the sunny days of summer.
Winter is here and it is a harsh, cold reality that Rondo is done for the year and the next steps this franchise makes are anything but clear.
Any clues from Danny Ainge himself? Not really, but not a lot of reasons to smile either.
At 4:45 p.m., as the Garden emptied out and Rondo retreated home with his family, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was asked to make sense of an afternoon with so much promise that went so horribly awry. He expressed confidence in his personnel, said he would evaluate what moves need to be made in the coming days, then conceded the team "will be different." "We've had success playing for short periods of time without Rajon," Ainge said, "but we've never had to play without him for long periods of time. "It will be an interesting test for us. Not a test we wanted. And, frankly, I'm worried about that test."
Frankly I'm worried about it too. I'm not "giving up" on this team because that's not in my nature. But I think it is safe to redefine what success is for this squad. Championship hopes? Let's just say that would be a really, really, really long shot that would likely require a few other teams to suffer the kind of pain that we're feeling right now and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
What about the other extreme? The calls to "blow it up" are out in full force. Forgive me if this sounds harsh but my honest reaction is "blow up what?" A few days back I talked about how it still didn't make sense to blow things up and now we've lost our best player and the guy that could have (in theory) brought back the most value in a theoretical trade.
Want to get picks for Pierce and KG and start working on the Presti-plan? Think again. I'll let Wojo (who has his ear to the league's rumor underbelly better than anyone working the wire right now) explain it realy simply.
Here's the reality: No one in the NBA is waiting with a fistful of talented young players and draft picks for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. No one mortgages franchise futures for aging thirty-something stars. Yes, "let's blow it up and start over" sounds noble in theory, but mostly leaves franchises in a hazy state of disarray for years to come. "We aren't going anywhere," Rivers told Yahoo! Sports outside his office. "I don't get that thinking. You couldn't get what you wanted (in deals). I still like our team. We're going to figure it out."
Again, I'll say that you don't even think about trading Paul Pierce. The only exception to this rule would be if he came to management and requested a trade to a contender like the Clippers. At that point (provided you could get a taker and any kind of value whatsoever) it would be really hard to tell him "no." But before we go too far down that path, consider Paul's character. We're talking about the conductor of every major, historic, amazing comeback in this team's recent history. From the '02 ECF game against the Nets to the '08 Finals comeback, to countless smaller examples along the way. There's no quit in Pierce. Or KG for that matter. Just listen to them talk today.
"It just puts this team and the rest of these guys in position to be ready to step up," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce, who had a triple-double of his own in Rondo’s stead. "Tonight was a perfect example. We showed with or without Rondo we still have the depth to compete with anybody."
"Nobody’s going to walk through these doors and save us," admitted Kevin Garnett. "We have to save ourselves. We created this mess, so we have to work our way out of it. I told you we have a bunch of fighters in here, a bunch of guys who are willing to work and get down and actually put the work in. That’s what we’ve always been since I’ve been here under the Doc [Rivers] regime.
Which makes me wonder too if and when they will actually decide to call it a career. Will Pierce decide to roll the dice (as he feigns to do in pregame introductions every night) and come back for one more year (at a full cap hit of $15M)? How much of that will depend on Garnett making a return trip? Or will both of them decide to hang it up and call it a career? Only time will tell on that.
More pressing is what Danny Ainge will do in the near future. If he still wishes to dismantle the team, he's got a few pieces that he could move for marginal value. But he'd also be "selling" at a huge disadvantage due to having zero leverage. So again, nickels on the dollar if that.
Does he then make a move to patch some holes (namely at point guard and center) and hope for the best? Perhaps, but he can't do that at the expense of the future. So don't count on bringing in Pau Gasol and some point guard while giving up Avery Bradley and/or Jared Sullinger. That cannot happen.
So we're kind of back where we started. Ainge will make a deal if it makes sense for the present and the future (which has always been the case). The big difference is that the present just became a whole lot cloudier.
This team will continue to fight on and I love the for that. But there's little question in my mind that today was another little ending that points us to the final ending. Then the (whole new) question becomes, what's next?