By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16, 2013 8:19 AM
For a couple of years, the question of when Danny Ainge would hit the reset button hung over the Boston Celtics. The time finally came this summer -- Ainge traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn and let Doc Rivers leave for L.A. -- but plenty more questions still surround the Celtics as they begin what promises to be a season of transition.
Right now, their roster is a strange mix of unproven youngsters, out-of-place veterans and Rajon Rondo, who is still recovering from ACL surgery. Rondo has been participating in non-contact drills in training camp and said he will return "Probably sometime in the winter, maybe the fall." As we've seen too often in the last couple of years, there is no standard timetable for ACL rehab. It's as much a mental thing as it is physical, and Rondo isn't the type to be forthright about where he stands either way.
When Rondo does eventually return, he'll likely be coming back to a team at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. With no real point guard to take his place or, really, anybody who can create offense, the Celtics will struggle without their last remaining star. Even if they defend decently, their lack of size will make it difficult to finish possessions with a rebound.
When you have a star player on a bad team, the questions about the futures of each won't stop. And it would be hard to blame Celtics president Danny Ainge for exploring his trade options. Rondo is 27 years old and most of the Celtics' other building blocks (like Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger) are 21 or 22. Ainge currently has nine first-round picks over the next five drafts and a Rondo deal could certainly bring back more assets.
Rondo's enigmatic personality adds another wrinkle, though he has said and done all the right things so far. He hosted a pre-camp dinner for teammates, coaches and ownership. He has been getting in extra shooting after practice. And he has said that he and new Celtics coach Brad Stevens "have become best friends" (though he said the same about his relationship with the stationary bike).
"I'm going to help him," Rondo said of his new coach. "He's going to help me. He has my full support. I told him from Day 1 when he came to my camp that I'm behind him 100 percent. Whatever he wants to do, whatever he wants to change, I have an open mind. I'm ready to listen and to be accountable for what he wants to do and what he wants to be."
The good vibes come from both sides of the relationship and though Rondo is sidelined, Stevens sees his point guard as leadership material.
"He's obviously limited in what he can do on the court, but he's a worker," Stevens said of Rondo. "His work ethic is very good and it impacts the other guys in the gym."
"Hard work speaks for itself," Rondo told Celtics.com about his role as a leader. "Talk is cheap, but when you go out there and prove it, you're the first one to show up for practice and you're the last to leave, that's how you lead by example. You follow what the coach says and are always on the same page as Coach Stevens."
Rondo is making it clear that he isn't going to undermine the coach's ability to do his job or Ainge's plans for the future. Eventually, we'll figure out what those plans are.
There does exist the possibility that -- with all those picks and Kris Humphries' expiring contract -- Ainge could be a buyer instead of a seller in the trade market and team Rondo with another star. But taking a more impatient approach to rebuilding the roster doesn't align with the idea of hiring a young coach out of the college ranks and giving him a six-year contract.
Stevens is here for the long haul, and commitment like that is refreshing in a climate where coaches get fired after one season or after leading their teams to the best record in franchise history. But there's a period of adjustment when you go from the Atlantic 10 to the NBA, especially when you have the kind of team the Celtics will put on the floor this season.
"He's got a tough job ahead of him this year," Ainge said. "It's not a perfect roster and he's going to have to mix and match a lot of different things and be very creative and manage the egos."
Both Stevens and Ainge are excited about the fresh start and the opportunity for younger guys to step into the void left by Pierce and Garnett. Time will time if Rondo can be patient with the new direction, or if he even has to be.
The Celtics have moved on from the big three era, but the questions remain.
1. Stevens is known as a numbers guy, and making the move from college to the NBA provides him with more tools to inform his decisions. The Celtics already had a serious analytics infrastructure in place, and the continued development of SportVU technology only adds to the amount of data available to a coach seeking information. "The access we have to all the different data here is a little bit overwhelming," Stevens told Celtics.com. "And what you have to do is narrow it down to what's important, simplify it, and communicate it correctly, because it's five guys on a court, playing a 48-minute game. They're doing it fast. There's no huddle in between each play. There's not a few seconds in between each pitch. It moves and so you can't overdo it. At the same time, you want to give them anything you can to help them have an advantage."
2. One thing the data will help with is lineup decisions. With the group that the Celtics have, there is no obvious starting lineup. Ultimately, it's could be more about chemistry, both to start the game and coming off the bench, than straight talent. "I think we're in position where we've got a lot of guys that may be a better player in a 1-on-1 game," Stevens said, "but may not fit the strengths of the other guys that are going to be on the court."
3. Garnett's influence on the Celtics is still being felt. "I'm going to continue to take the words of Kevin Garnett and be an *******," Jeff Green said, "be aggressive and continue to improve my game, this year, next year and next year after that. I've just got to keep working."
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LAST YEAR: 41-40, 3rd in Atlantic
FINISH: Lost in first round of playoffs
2012-13 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2012-13 Stats|
RAJON RONDO, POINT GUARD
13.7 PPG | 5.6 RPG | 11.1 APG
The four-time All-Star may not return from ACL surgery until December (or later). When he does, assists will be harder to come by without Pierce and Garnett.
AVERY BRADLEY, SHOOTING GUARD
9.2 PPG | 2.2 RPG | 2.1 APG
A superior on-ball defender and a great off-ball cutter, but Bradley is just not meant to be a point guard. That will be the Celtics' biggest issue until Rondo returns.
JEFF GREEN, SMALL FORWARD
12.8 PPG | 3.9 RPG | 1.6 APG
Green is the talent to be Boston's best scorer and defender. He had some big games after Rondo got hurt last season, but focus and consistency are still questions.
BRANDON BASS, POWER FORWARD
8.7 PPG | 5.2 RPG | 1.0 APG
Bass is a solid defender, but took more than twice as many mid-range shots as he did shots at the basket last season. He'll need to rebound better without KG.
JARED SULLINGER, CENTER
6.0 PPG | 5.9 RPG | 0.8 APG
Sullinger played just 45 games before requiring back surgery last season. He's a strong offensive rebounder and interior scorer if he's healthy and mobile.
|Courtney Lee||6-5||200||G||One of a few decent SGs.|
|Kelly Olynyk||7-0||238||C||Tore up Summer League.|
|Gerald Wallace||6-7||220||F||Best as a small-ball PF.|
ADDED: G/F Keith Bogans, G/F MarShon Brooks, C Vitor Faverani, F Kris Humphries, C Kelly Olynyk, G Phil Pressey, F Gerald Wallace
LOST: F/C Kevin Garnett, C Fab Melo, F Paul Pierce, F Shavlik Randolph, G Jason Terry, F D.J. White, F/C Chris Wilcox, G/F Terrence Williams
JEFF GREEN, SMALL FORWARD
Green's skill set isn't that of a No. 1 option, but that may be the role he has to play. He can attack the basket and finish well, but making plays for others hasn't been his thing. This is an opportunity for him to round his game.