Boston Celtics

Jared Sullinger, Rajon Rondo Injuries Mean Boston Celtics Must Blow Up, Rebuild

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 2: Members of the Boston Celtics including Rajon Rondo #9, Kevin Garnett #5, Paul Pierce #34, Jared Sullinger #7, and Courtney Lee #11 huddle during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on January 2, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2013

With a desperate need for youthful talent to balance out their aging core, the Boston Celtics made a valiant effort to trade their way up in the 2012 NBA draft.

Holding only the 21st and 22nd picks, the team didn't figure to have a chance at nabbing even a mid-tier prospect. They needed a player that was both ready to contribute this season for the championship hopefuls and potentially much more than a supporter down the line.

Despite those trade efforts coming up fruitless in the end, the team appeared to be recipients of the draft's greatest gift, landing an NCAA player of the year contender in Ohio State's Jared Sullinger with the 21st pick.

But there was a caveat to the selection—Sullinger's plummeting draft stock came courtesy of a medical red flag raised by doctors just weeks before the draft.

Unfortunately for Celtics fans, it's painfully obvious that those alerts were made for a reason.

Sullinger, who left the team's Jan. 30 victory over the Sacramento Kings with back soreness, will undergo surgery on his back and miss the remainder of the season (according to what league sources told Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports).

The news would be devastating on its own. When combined with the recent season-ending torn ACL suffered by Boston’s All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, it has taken on a new meaning.

A time-to-embrace-rebuilding type of meaning at that.

Despite the loss of Rondo, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has thus far resisted the urge to make drastic changes to the team’s roster (via Greg Payne of ESPNBoston.com ).

Given the team’s current position in the Eastern Conference standings (eighth, at 22-23) and bevvy of backcourt options, Ainge’s position was hard to argue. Whether or not the Celtics could advance past the first round seemed to be a mighty task, but the roster before these injuries was good enough to make another postseason trip this season (which would have been their sixth-consecutive playoff appearance) and give it another go next year.

But with Sullinger’s absence added to the mix, the Celtics’ playoff hopes are fading fast. Trailing only All-Star starter Kevin Garnett, the rookie had emerged as the club’s second-most effective frontcourt player. His 13.6 player efficiency rating (via basketball-reference.com) was the second-highest rating on Boston’s interior and fourth-highest overall.

There’s no telling how long this issue will continue bothering Sullinger. And there are no guarantees that Garnett will be around to help this team beyond this season (if what league sources told Comcast SportsNet’s Ric Bucher holds any truth).

No matter how talented Rondo may be or how many miles are left on Paul Pierce’s legs, the future looks beyond bleak if things don’t miraculously fall the Celtics’ way.

But Boston can change its fate. It will cost them any lingering playoff hopes for this season (along with a Celtics’ legend or two), but where is this club realistically headed even if they hang on to the conference’s final playoff berth?

It’s time to gauge league interest on Pierce, and frankly every other Celtic not named Avery Bradley.

Boston’s at least another year away from any financial wiggle room (according to hoopshype.com). And the upcoming draft appears to offer little relief, thanks both to the likelihood that the Celtics won’t hold a high draft pick and the underwhelming talent that will become available.

If Ainge acts now, he still has time to form a strong supporting cast around Rondo and Bradley for next season. A couple smart moves will make this a playoff team again by next season. A jackpot trade could even keep them in championship contention.

But time is of the essence here.

Celtics fans may not like the prospect of a roster overhaul, but trust me, it’s a far greater prospect than what could be in store without drastic changes taking place.

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