Can Boston learn from what the Suns built around Steve Nash?
The NBA's Trail Blazers hail from Portland, but if the Boston Celtics are going to have any future success, they will have to adopt that pioneering phrase from another corner of the U.S. and build a team around Rajon Rondo.
Rondo would be a puzzling piece to any hoop architect. While Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is certainly no Frank Lloyd Wright, it will be his duty over the next 12-15 months to build around his unique point guard.
Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe couldn't have been more spot-on when describing Rondo as sui generis during a podcast with Grantland's Bill Simmons.
Sui generis is slightly more than a synonym for unique, or at least the way that word is colloquially used today. It literally means a member of its own species, because it cannot be attributed to any current group.
Attempting to compare Rondo with any contemporary point guards is a mind-numbing task that ultimately leads to more questions than answers. He is way too unique to be classified, and any such attempt to do so would take us down a rabbit hole of argument and debate.
Rondo's fascinating Game 4 shot chart: pic.twitter.com/wokhoqOF— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) June 4, 2012
Thus, how does one build something successful, sustainable and aesthetically pleasing around something with no past or present guide?
We can take bits and pieces from historical works, like Jason Kidd's New Jersey Nets from 2001-2004, or Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns from 2004-2007. We could possibly even dig back to John Stockton's gaudy assist totals and finals runs of the 1990s.
There may also be fragments of successful recent teams like Tony Parker's San Antonio Spurs.
Like a squirrel in late autumn, though, Ainge is merely hoarding enough parts to sustain the team through this rebuild. If he isn't able to amass enough, the down period could seem endless or he could be forced to cut bait with Rondo. It is a careful and deliberate process, with the added level of difficulty that Rondo's unique game provides.
Judging Boston on current merits and a projection of the listed roster isn't a totally fair assessment. Of course, you must play the games on your schedule with the players on your roster, but a front office must eye longer-term solutions.
Today, Danny Ainge dismissed the Rondo trade rumors but suggested the Celtics aren't done dealing: http://t.co/8sKagfCama— Jay King (@ByJayKing) July 1, 2013
Everyone remembers the trades Ainge pulled to get Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston. However, in order for those to occur, he first had to hit on Al Jefferson with a No. 15 pick, sacrifice a lottery pick for Theo Ratliff's contract, bargain with picks and Wally Szczerbiak twice and, at the time, hit on Delonte West late in Round 1.
Everything acquired this summer in the sale of Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Garnett and Doc Rivers may seem on a higher level because of the names, but it could still just be foundation for Ainge's building.
Obviously, some luck is going to be involved in the creation of any sustainable winner. However, if one looks hard enough, there are real decisions being thoughtfully made.
Before signing Nash to be their franchise guy in 2004, the Suns had to start building around him. To create space both financially and on the court, Phoenix dealt Stephon Marbury and Anfernee Hardaway to the New York Knicks for some spare parts and two first-round picks.
With a Rondo max deal on the horizon, Ainge may start looking to clear financial space before 2015.
Then, once Phoenix made their play for Nash, the Suns went to work polishing the roster. They made a move to sign free-agent sharpshooter Quentin Richardson, who came in to average 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds over 79 games.
Without Allen or Pierce, the Celtics have a serious concern on the perimeter. A player of Rondo’s capacity as a distributor needs some outside shooting. If Courtney Lee isn’t what Ainge once thought, he may address the position sooner rather than later.
Phoenix really lucked out with the base it had already created. Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion were all with the team prior to Nash’s arrival.
Moving to New Jersey’s building around Kidd, we meet up with Marbury again, as he was traded to Phoenix for Jason.
Once again, the Nets already had Kenyon Martin, Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles in place.
What can’t be ignored, though, was New Jersey’s moves to acquire Richard Jefferson and Todd MacCulloch in the summer of 2001. On draft night, the Nets sent their own pick, Eddie Griffin, to the Houston Rockets for Jefferson, Jason Collins and Brandon Armstrong.
Jefferson became the kind of wing that Ainge is hoping Jeff Green is on the cusp of becoming. He had the slashing skills, developed an excellent outside shot and had the size necessary to body up against the league’s elite small forwards. That kind of player can be a real asset to point guards like Kidd or Rondo.
The team signed MacCulloch in August to provide an interior presence. He was nothing special but started 61 games, providing reliable scoring and rebounding and a solid secondary pick-and-roll option for Kidd.
Boston is really throwing a lot of stuff against the wall to see what sticks in its frontcourt. What Rondo could really use is a consistent presence there. Right now that could actually project to be Kris Humphries, but Ainge could very well be looking to upgrade to a Marcin Gortat or Omer Asik.
Rondo’s situation is very different than that of Parker. Rondo is already an established NBA star, while Parker was a relative unknown when the Spurs first incorporated him into their team.
Like Nash and Kidd, a foundation was already built for Parker to help guide him. Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Antonio Daniels were already members of San Antonio.
Still, in his first year, the team brought in veteran shooting guard Steve Smith to play alongside him. Smith had the three-point shot, experience and ball-handling skills to aid Parker’s development.
Rondo has little need for an on-court mentor at this point, but having a slightly older and more media- and public-friendly veteran like Smith would definitely be a smart move.
Though they may not have known it at the time, the Spurs signed their Richard Jefferson that summer in Bruce Bowen. He became an extreme version of the "3 & D" player and suited up alongside Parker for eight years.
Eventually, the Spurs would continue flooding the floor with shooters like Manu Ginobili, Steve Kerr and Hedo Turkoglu.
It is a tad unfair to say the Jazz built around John Stockton by drafting Karl Malone. The two entered the league in back-to-back years, but Malone was a star before Stockton earned the starting point guard role in 1987.
The Jazz were mostly built around crafty drafting. They hit big on Bryon Russell in the second round for a few years. However, a major move they made was to bring in Jeff Hornacek by trading Jeff Malone and a first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Malone was a great scorer but never had much of an outside shot. The Jazz needed to open space in the paint for Stockton and Karl Malone during the 1990s. Hornacek and Russell provided the outside threat to allow that pick-and-roll perfection.
Most of these teams' major help around their point guards was already in place. The Celtics don't have Stoudemire, Duncan or Malone in place. That adds another considerable step to the rebuild, but it doesn't make it impossible.
None of this is a perfect answer for Ainge, but there are some similarities to be drawn. Rondo’s game is drawn from watching Stockton, Nash, Kidd and even Parker play.
Hopefully Ainge was paying attention to the teams built around those guys as well.