COMMENTARY | Even by now, more than a month before the season will start, everyone who follows the NBA knows what to expect from the 2014 draft.
In fact, I'd probably expect the excitement to exceed 2007 and approach 2003-esque (the LeBron James draft) levels by the time the actual draft rolls around nine months from now; this draft is that talented.
The Boston Celtics, of course, know what kind of potential the players at the top of this draft have, and the general thinking is that getting in the top six of seven of this draft will assure you a shot at drafting a player with a very good chance of becoming an All-Star. In a normal draft, picking seventh would be nice, but it would not normally give you the chance to draft an obvious franchise-changer.
The 2014 draft is looking like the exception to that rule, and that's why we saw the Celtics take part in one of the biggest trades of the summer, receiving this (plus Gerald Wallace, the three years and $30 million left on his contract, and some picks!) during the offseason. The Celtics will have to make another major decision before they can even think about getting their hands on an Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle, though: What to do about Rajon Rondo.
It's obvious that the Celtics have no realistic intention of making the playoffs, and it's just as clear that none of the players should feel safe about their role on the team going forward. This includes a recovering-from-a-torn-ACL Rondo, the final holdover from the 2008 title team. Rondo's attitude problems (note the date on that article) have been discussed for years and have been seemingly all anyone has wanted to talk about with regards to Rondo this offseason. His attitude is a fair concern and, if true, it has to be one of the major reasons the Celtics are considering trading their All-Star point guard.
But another reason is the one mentioned above: The Celtics don't really want to be good this year. And say what you will about Rondo's personality, but there's no denying the guy's toughness and competitiveness. We watched his elbow snap the wrong way during a game against the Miami Heat a couple of years ago, only for him to come back and play well with just one arm. There's no reason to believe he's not pushing himself as hard as possible in his rehab to get back on time, if not sooner.
On time, of course, would be approximately a year after his injury. That would pin his return to late-January or early-February. With the trade deadline looming on February 20, the Celtics would have a decision to make: Do they play Rondo and risk him looking rusty, therefore hurting his value, or do they continue to sit him while they try to find the right set of assets? It's an interesting debate, and one reason general manager Danny Ainge and the rest of the Boston front office will surely debate in the weeks and months before the trade deadline.
Remember: A healthy Rondo is arguably one of the five best point guards in a league experiencing something of a golden age at the position. But he's also one of the most unique talents in the league; he can't shoot outside of 10 feet, and in a league obsessed with floor spacing, Rondo offers almost nothing in that area. Yet his other skills, namely his passing, are so extraordinary that he has been able to compensate for that shaky jumper so far in his career. Obviously, a recently injured Rondo would not receive the kind of compensation that a healthy Rondo would have, but what happens if Rondo comes back and is his old self relatively quickly?
If the Celtics are unable to find a deal they like before the trade deadline, a normal Rondo would probably push them out of the the top half of the lottery. Remember, the Celtics aren't the Philadelphia 76ers. There are a few quality NBA players on this roster. Giving them even an above-average point guard (apologies to Avery Bradley, Phil Pressey or whomever else will be asked to run the show in Rondo's absence) would possibly put them in the discussion for an opportunity to get swept by Miami in the first round of the playoffs. That would obviously take them out of the running of the Wiggins sweepstakes.
It's not an easy decision to make, but Ainge gets paid a lot of money to make tough choices. He made one when he flipped the two most important pieces of the 2008 championship team to the Brooklyn Nets, and he'll have to make another regarding the Celtics last remaining All-Star. The Celtics may not be particularly entertaining on the court this season, but they'll be one of the best to watch off the floor during the 2013-14 season.
Joe Clarkin is a 2013 graduate of the University of Missouri. He grew up in New England and writes, edits and maintains the Boston Celtics blog 17banners.blogspot.com.
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