BOSTON – A very busy offseason for the Boston Celtics starts today for Danny Ainge, and it starts with Rajon Rondo.
Phase one of the Celtics rebuild went off largely without a hitch this year. The youngsters developed, more future assets (draft picks) were acquired via trades, and Brad Stevens kept command of the locker room in the midst of a season in which the Celtics piled up the third most losses (57) in franchise history.
While much of the focus heading into this summer is on the NBA Draft, Ainge must answer another question first before he makes a decision about his lottery pick on draft night: What’s the plan with Rondo?
The Celtics president of basketball operations made it clear last night that he expects big things from the point guard next year once he’s fully recovered from his torn ACL.
“I think that Rajon will have the best year of his career next year,” Ainge said. “I think he’s sort of in a phase of his life where he’s matured, he’s just smarter, the game has slowed down [for] him. I think he’ll be really healthy and fresher with a summer of strength. You sort of bypass the mental anguish coming back from the knee surgery and the ACL and that’s been sort of the pattern of guys in the past. The first few, 30, 20 games whatever is an adjustment period so I’m confident he’ll have the best year of his career.”
In what surely won’t be a coincidence, Ainge’s big prediction comes as Rondo enters the final year of his contract with the Celtics, before he can enter the free agency market.
Due to CBA restrictions, which limits the money in an extension Boston can offer the point guard this summer, Rondo is unlikely to sign a new contract Boston this offseason. That reality will lead to some added pressure on the front office to put a winner on the floor next year and entice Rondo to stay at the end of next season.
Boston’s captain missed the season finale Thursday night with a hamstring injury, but addressed the media after the game. He made clear that he would appreciate having an input in the rebuilding process.
“Everybody’s different. Every team is different,” Rondo explained “I wouldn’t mind being that guy. I’ve been that guy the past couple years. When we’ve needed guys to recruit or call guys on the phone, I’ve always done that as well.
“This isn’t new. Me being the only guy here, maybe, with I guess… the biggest name or whatever. But back when Kevin [Garnett], Paul [Pierce] and other guys were here, I still think I was involved. Some of those days I was in trade talks myself. But for the most part Danny Ainge has always been in communication with me. He’s told me what he has planned and what he has in store for this team.”
While a dialogue will remain in place between the two parties, Rondo’s understandable unwillingness to commit to Boston long-term means Ainge will not rule out dealing the star (or any other member) of the Celtics roster this summer.
“I tell all the players, even the great ones like [Garnett], Paul Pierce, it’s my job to make the Celtics better,” Ainge told Toucher and Rich on Thursday. “If there’s a deal that will make us better in the long term, and in the short term, I have to look at them. There are players that I anticipate being here and I’m not as actively pursuing to trade in trades than others, but nobody can be completely off limits.”
If Ainge is going to move Rondo, it will likely be done this summer around draft night when his value can be maximized and the team has a better sense of the trade landscape.
The smart money is on Rondo remaining with Boston through next year, a decision on him should come first this offseason. Whether he stays or go, Ainge’s choice on Rondo will likely be the first domino to fall this offseason.
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