Rajon Rondo(notes) expects the Boston Celtics to make another run at an NBA title next season, provided there is a season. What he doesn't know is who will join him, Paul Pierce(notes), Kevin Garnett(notes) and Ray Allen(notes) in helping make that run.
“We got five people under contract, right? But I think we got five good people under contract, through," Rondo told Yahoo! Sports. "We’ll form a team again. I think we’ll be fine as a team and we’ll be fine in the future. That’s the plan."
The Celtics actually have six players under contract, but Rondo's point remains true: With as many as nine roster spots open, Boston officials have a lot of work to do whenever the lockout ends.
In addition to Rondo, Pierce, Allen, Garnett, forward Jermaine O’Neal(notes) and untested guard Avery Bradley(notes) are the only players signed now. Forwards Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Jeff Green(notes) are the Celtics' two biggest free agents. Green is a restricted free agent, which means the Celtics will have the option to match any offer he receives. Shaquille O'Neal(notes) retired and center Nenad Krstic(notes) recently signed a two-year contract with CSKA Moscow. Other free agents include Delonte West(notes), Troy Murphy(notes), Carlos Arroyo(notes) and Sasha Pavlovic(notes). Boston also has the draft rights to forward JaJuan Johnson(notes) and guard E'Twaun Moore(notes), both from Purdue. Moore might play in Italy until the lockout ends.
The Celtics will likely make an effort to keep Green after acquiring him along with Krstic from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Kendrick Perkins(notes) and Nate Robinson(notes) at last season's trade deadline. Davis, who averaged 11.7 points and 5.5 rebounds last season, could potentially be a significant loss for the Celtics if he signs with another team.
"I’d like to play with Baby," Rondo said. "But Baby is going to do what’s best for Baby."
If Davis departs, Rondo, Pierce, Garnett and Allen would be the only Celtics left from the 2008 championship team. Boston already lost a significant piece of that team after trading Perkins last season.
The Celtics took a lot of heat for the Perkins deal which affected their chemistry and changed their starting lineup in the middle of the season. Boston had a 41-14 record at the time of the trade, but finished 15-12 the rest of the way. Green averaged 9.8 points through the 26 games.
Rondo refused to use injuries as an excuse for losing in the second round of the playoffs to the Miami Heat. But he also believes the trade of Perkins, his closest friend on the team, affected the Celtics “more than it should have.”
“It wasn’t like the man passed away or something,” Rondo said. “I think we put too much emphasis on it. It’s a business. He got traded. He’s very happy where he’s at. We still talk and I’m always going to have his back. It shouldn’t have affected us the way it affected us.”
The good news for the Celtics is they've already signed their biggest free agent of the summer: coach Doc Rivers.
There was some concern by the Celtics that Rivers might choose to leave the team to spend more time with his family. But shortly after the season, he agreed to a five-year, $35 million extension.
"Doc's proven with the players that we have that he will have a winning record,” Rondo said. “But most of all, he’s never going to settle. We always want to win a championship. That’s the only goal we have as a team and that’s his mindset.
“When you talk to him, he believes we have the talent and the ability to win a championship. That’s our standard. He holds us accountable.”
Rondo isn’t considering playing overseas now, but his agent, Bill Duffy, said he'll revisit the option if it becomes clear the NBA season could be lost. Rondo is slated to make $10.4 million next season on a contract that lasts through the 2014-15 season.
Rondo said he has been talking to Pierce, Garnett and Allen regularly, and they are all worried about a potential long lockout.
The age of the returning Celtics also could become an issue. Allen just turned 36, Garnett is 35, and Pierce and Jermaine O’Neal will be 34 and 33, respectively, before next season starts. While health will always be a concern with an older team, a lockout-shortened season could actually benefit Boston.
Rondo, 25, isn't worried.
“They said we were done two years ago,” Rondo said. “We could care less about that. We could care less about people saying we are done.”
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