The Boston Celtics have closed the door on their past and turned their attention to the future this offseason, but their present remains littered with question marks.
According to Vance Ellis of the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit Pistons are ready and willing to take one of those questions off of Boston team president Danny Ainge's plate. The Pistons have reportedly discussed the availability of All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo with the Celtics, talks that have since been confirmed by Ken Berger of CBS Sports.
Rondo, whose season ended after he suffered a torn ACL in late January, is the last piece standing from Boston's 2008 championship squad. Ray Allen left Beantown last summer, while Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and coach Doc Rivers each followed suit this offseason.
The 27-year-old's days in Boston could be numbered, too. With two years and $25 million left on his current contract, Rondo doesn't appear to fit in with Ainge's rebuilding plan. New Celtics coach Brad Stevens was given a six-year deal to see Ainge's vision through, meaning there is no quick-fix option in sight.
At best, Rondo figures to be a veteran presence when the Celtics reach the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, which should be a scary thought for Boston fans for a few reasons.
For starters, he's not exactly a calming locker-room presence. He reportedly helped drive Allen away from the Celtics, while one source said Rivers' "intense dislike" of Rondo was the main reason behind the coach's cross-country move to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The lack of anything remotely close to a consistent jumper also doesn't bode well for his future production. Rondo's next-level court vision should age just fine, but even he could struggle to find open passing lanes when defenses sag further off of him as his declining athleticism saps the threat of his dribble drive.
Ainge isn't shopping Rondo right now, and the point guard claims to embrace the thought of the challenges that lie ahead (via the Sporting News). There's also a train of thought that players of Rondo's caliber should never be traded, or at least not when their trade value may be hampered by an injury.
But what happens if he doesn't come back as the same player when he returns to the hardwood? Can Ainge afford to risk putting a severe dent in his reclamation project and gamble on Rondo eventually finding his way to health?
Any team interested in adding Rondo will want some assurance that the enigmatic floor general plans to join his new team with an open mind.
Alex Kennedy of Hoops World suggests the Pistons could have something even better thanks to their acquisition of Josh Smith:
Remember, Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith are good friends with interest in playing together. If he wasn't open to Detroit before, he may be now.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 6, 2013
In a league criticized by throwback supporters for becoming too buddy-buddy, this might not sound like much. Remember, though, Rondo is the same player who declared that he doesn't "have time for friends."
With Smith in tow, the Pistons have something that perhaps no other Rondo suitor does. While neither player enjoys consistently glowing reviews from hoops heads, their talent levels are never questioned.
Just having a reason to pull the trigger on a potential swap doesn't get this deal done.
Detroit has to put together a compelling package to offer Boston, something that could be significantly easier after the addition of Smith.
This deal never makes substantial noise without the inclusion of Detroit big man Greg Monroe. The 23-year-old Georgetown product has a salivating combination of offensive skills (16.0 points per game on 48.6 percent field-goal shooting, 3.5 assists last season), but he may have a hard time fitting in on a front line alongside Smith and blossoming rim protector Andre Drummond.
If Rondo landed in Detroit without Monroe leaving, the Pistons would either be facing atrocious floor spacing or would be forced to sit a rising star for prolonged stretches. Smith can slide over to the small forward spot, but a Smith-Monroe-Drummond trio makes things awfully simple for opposing defenses.
Monroe's rookie-scale $4 million salary would need a boost to facilitate this trade, so the Pistons could include the expiring contract of either Charlie Villanueva or Rodney Stuckey (each valued at $8.5 million).
Detroit snagged one of the best long-range shooters in the draft in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and has a budding sniper in sophomore forward Kyle Singler. The Pistons now only need a pass-first point guard to find those marksmen, and scoring guard Brandon Knight is not that player.
The Celtics don't have to do anything with Rondo. If he, Jeff Green and Avery Bradley shine in their new starring roles, Boston could even avoid the cellar.
But isn't that a reason for trading Rondo now? There isn't a worse fate for teams than entering a cycle of mediocrity, and even the staunchest Celtics supporter isn't holding on to championship pipe dreams for next season.
Who would win a Rondo-for-Monroe trade?
It's time for this team to embrace the bottom. Yes, Mr. Ainge, even if this is the Celtics that we're talking about.
Monroe gives Boston a potential cornerstone piece to build around. Stuckey or Villanueva bring financial relief in the face of a potentially stacked 2014 free-agent class. Rondo's departure should fuel a slide down the conference standings and a possible path to one of highly coveted gems in next year's loaded draft crop.
The Pistons won't be thrilled about losing Monroe, but they should love the idea of Rondo orchestrating their new-look offense. Trading Rondo won't be easy for the Celtics, but Monroe's development and the promise of better days to come make it a worthwhile investment.
None of this means that this will happen, but all of it points to the fact that it should.