After a promising half, the Boston Celtics headed into half time with an 8 point lead, but the Indiana Pacers turned up the defense, allowing just 8 points and forcing 11 turnovers in the third quarter and cruised to an easy 97-82 win. At 4-10 the Celtics are 12th in the Eastern Conference, and shockingly ahead of both the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets.
At what point, though, is the season lost (if it was ever there to be found)? 4-12? 4-15? At a certain point, the benefit of Rondo’s return is outweighed by the prospect of a high lottery pick. Unfortunately, I think if Rondo returns early enough, he can turn the Celtics into a playoff contender. The only positive dimension of limping into the playoffs as a 7 or 8 seed is to get the young guys like Sullinger and Olynyk some valuable playoff experience. But is that worth giving up a top 5 pick that could, if you believe the draft experts, very easily turn into a franchise player?
If the Celtics intend to go the route of the lottery, that leaves them with a few tough choices. Choice A: wait until Rondo gets healthy, let him play a few games to prove to suitors that he is the same player he was before, then trade him for an experienced point guard and draft pick compensation. Choice B: delay Rondo’s return with the help of team doctors as long as possible to ensure the team does not make the playoffs. Risk distancing him from the front office in order to retain his services through the 2014-2015 season, with the intention of signing him the following year when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
If Danny Ainge truly believes Rondo is invaluable at the point guard position he should choose option B. Ainge responded recently to the trade rumors surrounding Rondo:
"He is coming off an injury and I think people know how much we love Rondo, so I don’t expect anybody to inquire, quite honestly. People know that Rondo is a big part of our future and that we’re not going to trade him."
He went on to refer to Rondo as "the centerpiece of our future." Honestly, I don’t trust Danny Ainge as far as I can throw him, but that goes for any GM out there. If Ainge plans on following option A, it would be unwise to trade Rondo before he’s fully healthy because that would not maximize his value. As evidenced by debilitating knee injuries to high-profile players like Andrew Bynum, Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and even Derrick Rose (who just injured his other knee last night, though the severity of the injury is currently unknown), opposing GM’s will likely be hesitant to offer equitable return for Rondo while the status of his knee is still in question.
Over the next few weeks we should be able to better gauge what path Danny Ainge intends to take. If the trade rumors continue swirling, he probably plans on trading Rondo for the right offer. If reports of Rondo’s return date continue to look optimistic then, perhaps he intends on bringing Rondo back with the ultimate goal of trading him. Hell, he could even take option C; bring Rondo back as soon as he is ready, appease to the green teamers, and focus on securing a playoff berth. However, Ainge went against most of the fans wishes when he finally traded Pierce and Garnett because he knew it gave the organization the best chance to succeed in the future. This gives me hope that he can make the same decision regarding Rajon Rondo.