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Boston Celtics NBA Preview - Rajon Rondo, rumors, and rebuilding

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Welcome to year 2 of the rebuild.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Team Name: Boston Celtics
Last Year's Record: 25-57
Key Losses: Kris Humphries, Jerryd Bayless
Key Additions: Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, James Young

Rome wasn't re-built in a day you know. As much as we'd love to have a quick fix bounce back to hanging banners season, the odds heavily favor of a longer process. Which means growing pains, a mismatched roster, and most likely a lot of losses.

Sure, there is always a chance that this team could gel perfectly and exceed everyone's (including their own) expectations much like the Suns did a year ago.  Or, more likely, they'll make baby steps forward in a number of areas and perhaps a few steps back in others.

The ultimate goal is to win Championships, so whatever happens on this team is with an eye toward the future.

1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?

A more interesting topic might be "what significant moves were NOT made during the offseason?"

The 4th of July came and went, yet there were no major fireworks in Waltham.  Kevin Love ended up with LeBron James in Cleveland and the capped out Celtics couldn't make much noise in free agency.  Danny Ainge indicated that there were other deals he could have made which might have made the team marginally better (probably at the expense of some of our valued trade chips).  But I'm guessing most of them were lateral moves and might have cost us too much in terms of future flexibility.

The "big" trade of the offseason that did happen was using the trade exception from the Paul Pierce deal to pick up Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, and a future first round pick.  They also added free agent Evan Turner on a low-risk, chance to prove himself 2 year contract.

When Marcus Smart was picked on draft night, more than a few people wondered about Rajon Rondo's long term future in Boston.  Yet he's still here and it sounds like the Celtics are still very interested in keeping him around long term.

In short, it was another offseason of adding assets and potential future trade chips.  The team had the resources to make a superstar deal this summer, but couldn't find a dancing partner.  So Danny added more picks and players with potential to position himself to make a deal at the deadline or sometime in next year's offseason (where they'll have quite a bit of cap room).

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

If the Celtics hope to make any noise this year, they'll need Rajon Rondo to get back to being the dynamic, leading-the-league-in-assists, dominant, All Star point guard that he can be.  Last year he missed much of the season returning from ACL surgery and wasn't quite the same when he finally did play.  Now he's recovering from a broken hand and will likely miss the start of the season again.  Still, he's in a contract year and motivated to show how much he's worth and what kind of player he can be.

Perimeter defense will be one of this team's calling cards this year.  Avery Bradley is already well known for his prowess in aggravating opposing guards and Marcus Smart is already getting rave reviews for his defensive chops.  In fact, they have the potential to be in the top half of the league in team defense this year.  The one big drawback is the lack of presence in the paint. Which brings us to...

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

The Celtics have a lot of "bigs" but little in the way of true centers.  Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are young players with upside.  Brandon Bass is a solid veteran role player.  All of them are ideally suited for the power forward spot but the team will have to ask at least one of them to play a lot of minutes at center (likely Olynyk at first).

Zeller is a nice pick up but he's not the answer as a traditional "rim protector."  Vitor Faverani is still a bit of a mystery since he's struggled to stay healthy but even when he was healthy he didn't appear to be the answer either.  Joel Anthony is a veteran defender, but there's not much upside in playing him big minutes either.

So the center spot will mostly be manned by Zeller and Olynyk which isn't going to do much to solve the team's problems protecting the paint.  Brad Stevens is shifting to a more aggressive defensive scheme, but we'll have to wait and see how well the bigs can pick up on the rotations.

4. What are the goals for this team?

Get better.  Not sure if I can sum it up any better than that.

Injured players need to get better (healthy) and back on the court (Rondo, Jeff Green, and Faverani have all missed the entire preseason thus far).

The team defense needs to get better and make teams work for their points.  The team offense needs to get better by getting some points in transition and creating scoring opportunities in the half court set.  The overall team shooting needs to get better by ...well, making shots.

High draft picks are nice and all, but if you don't make progress as a team then all you have is another return trip to the lottery.  At some point the team has to make progress.

Even individual improvements would help as those players would increase their own trade value. If the Celtics want to be players in free agency and if they want to retain their own major free agent, they'll have to show signs of improvement.  Speaking of which...

5. Should the Celtics trade Rajon Rondo?

No.

Oh, you want me to elaborate? I suppose I can do this again (and I'm sure I'll be doing it again and again till mid February and perhaps beyond).

There's always a chance that another team will come in and give the Celtics an offer that they can't refuse.  But until that happens, I'll continue to bang the bass drum that has the following words stenciled onto the side.  Rajon Rondo is worth more to the Celtics than he is to any other team.

The Celtics are rebuilding right now, but they'll have a chance to get a lot better this offseason.  They have more future draft picks than they could ever realistically use so some of them are going to be packaged together to bring in some help.  The team will have a great deal of cap space next summer and if they want to attract free agents (or retain traded players with contract extensions), Rondo is going to be a key recruiter.

You simply don't get to be a really good team without having stars.  The Celtics already have one in Rondo and they need to add more next to him.  They already have draft picks and future cap space (the usual return for a star player).  Unless they are getting another star in return trading Rondo is a step backwards, even if the "value" is right.

Said another way, Rondo might be 'worth" a couple of first round picks and a "nice" young player on the trade market.  But he's worth more to the Celtics because he could be the Paul Pierce type mainstay if Danny Ainge can find the next Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen pieces to complete the title-contender puzzle.

Summary (tl;dr)

Expect progress to be made this season.  Expect growing pains too.  Expect a number of trade rumors and speculation over Rondo's future.  But at the end of the year, expect them to be in a better position than when they started.