Predicting What Boston Celtics Will Look Like When Rajon Rondo Returns

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 25, 2013

Predicting What Boston Celtics Will Look Like When Rajon Rondo Returns

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    The last time Rajon Rondo logged any NBA minutes, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers were still Boston Celtics.

    By the time Rondo makes it back to the hardwood, this roster could have gone through another round of dramatic changes.

    The four-time All-Star isn't close to returning from the torn ACL that ended his 2012-13 campaign. He's back on the practice floor, but he warned it could be a while before he's ready for game action.

    "It might be mid-January, late February, I’m going to come back when the time is right and I get my stamina," he said, via Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe. "I know what I felt like before I hurt my [knee]. When I get back to feeling that ... then I’ll be back."

    A six-week time frame seems fitting given the uncertainty surrounding an injury of this nature.

    Just as uncertain is how this team will look whenever he's ready to go.

    Celtics team president Danny Ainge might buy into the team's relatively impressive 12-17 start and look to fortify his group for the present. Or he could decide that a watered-down Eastern Conference is not reason enough to scrap his rebuilding plans.

    Either way, changes are likely to come. Changes that could look an awful lot like this.

Goodbye Jeff Green, Hello Omer Asik

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    A straight Jeff Green-Omer Asik swap isn't going to happen.

    While Green seems to fit the bill as a stretch 4, Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey will want no part of Green's contract ($9.2 million next season, $9.2 million player option for 2014-15, via ShamSports.com).

    The Celtics were reportedly involved in the first round of Asik trade talks, but as the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett noted, they would need a third team to facilitate the move.

    That team could be the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have a glaring need at the small forward spot.

    The three teams came close to making a move already, but the News-Herald's Bob Finnan reported that Cleveland had no interest in parting with either Anderson Varejao or a 2014 first-round pick.

    Houston's asking price will only drop as Asik remains missing in action, and when it gets low enough these teams will come together. Asik and Cleveland's Alonzo Gee come to Boston, Jeff Green becomes a Cavalier, and the Rockets pick up Courtney Lee, Earl Clark and one of Cleveland's 2015 first-round picks.

    Boston picks up an intimidating post presence, along with a low-priced stopgap solution at the small forward spot. Cleveland lands someone capable of easing the offensive burden on Kyrie Irving and does it without taking Uncle Drew's touches. Houston adds a badly needed perimeter defender in Lee, a potential stretch 4 in Clark who doesn't have a guaranteed contract for next season, and a possible entry into another stacked lottery.

    Call it a win-win-win.

    Asik could put up All-Star numbers alongside Rondo. He's comfortable playing the pick-and-roll at either end of the floor, and his blue-collar approach fits well with the team's new culture.

Selling High on Steez

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    The Celtics never knew what they were getting when they picked up Jordan Crawford at the trade deadline last season.

    The book on the 25-year-old was nothing short of an analytical horror story. Crawford was a black hole, always searching for his own shot and pulling the trigger on some head-scratching looks.

    Celtics fans barely know that player. The Crawford they've seen this season is equal parts scorer, at 13.6 points per game, and distributor, at 5.4 assists. He's still taking some bad shots, but he's making more of them (career-high 43.4 field-goal percentage) and somehow creeping in on the efficient realm (career-best 17.3 player efficiency rating).

    Boston cannot afford to buy in on his rebirth. Not with a reserve spot awaiting him once Rondo gets back.

    Instead, Ainge needs to do everything in his power to sell rival executives on Crawford's development.

    He won't bring in a king's ransom. A couple positive months won't erase his first few forgettable seasons.

    He's already slated to hit the restricted free-agent market this coming summer, so Ainge should try to sell now. He may find a willing trade partner in the Phoenix Suns, who need a playmaker on the wing and are loaded with future assets.

    Suns general manager Ryan McDonough has made it known he's willing to part with some of his team's four 2014 first-round picks for immediate help. If Ainge can pitch Crawford as that player, he could walk away with Archie Goodwin, an athletic 19-year-old with gobs of potential, and one of those draft choices.

    If either Goodwin or that rookie-to-be pan out, consider this a major coup for the retooling Celtics.

Low-Risk Search for Reserve Scoring

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    Unless you're willing to put Omer Asik in the category, the Celtics aren't going to make a blockbuster deal.

    Comcast SportsNet's A. Sherrod Blakely wrote that rather than swinging for the fences, "a more likely scenario for the Celtics is to pursue a player still on their rookie contract."

    Denver Nuggets wing Jordan Hamilton might fit that bill.

    The third-year forward out of Texas will become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. With Danilo Gallinari on his way back from a torn ACL, Hamilton could become the odd man out in Denver.

    The Celtics might be able to grab him for scoring guard MarShon Brooks. After a promising rookie campaign, the 24-year-old has struggled to play well since. He's currently sitting deep at the end of Celtics coach Brad Stevens' bench, seeing just 6.8 minutes a night.

    The pair's combined track record will keep interest low in both, but the talent is there on either side. Brooks can create his own scoring chances off the dribble, while Hamilton shines brightest as a perimeter shooter with a career 36.7 three-point percentage.

    Each could find better opportunities elsewhere.

    If the Celtics move on from Jeff Green, than Hamilton should have a chance to fight for a spot in Stevens' opening lineup. Brooks, meanwhile, would give Denver more flexibility in case Brian Shaw needs a change from his two-point guard reserve lineup with Nate Robinson and Andre Miller.

    It's a low-risk move for both parties, and one that should offer each team at least a moderate reward.

Brad Stevens' New Starting Lineup

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    Looks quite bit like his current one, but there's new blood on the wing and in the post.

    Here's how Stevens' opening squad would look:

    PG: Rajon Rondo

    SG: Avery Bradley

    SF: Alonzo Gee

    PF: Jared Sullinger

    C: Omer Asik

    Losing Jeff Green removes some of Boston's perimeter scoring punch, but it also allows Danny Ainge to get a great look at the pieces he has.

    Rajon Rondo could look like a different player if he views himself as the first option. When he's embraced a bigger scoring load in the past, he's shown the ability to keep the scoreboard turning on his own.

    If Avery Bradley is worth another contract this coming summer, now is his chance to prove it. Jared Sullinger (14.1 points on 47.4 percent shooting) is already demanding more offensive touches. As his role expands, Boston can find out if it has a complementary piece or a potential cornerstone on its hands.

    Omer Asik has never been a strong scorer, but his numbers could soar as a pick-and-roll partner with Rondo. His impending balloon payment—nearly $15 million for next season—might scare some Celtics fans, but his work ethic should win them over in no time.

    Alonzo Gee is the weak link, but he's an athletic player who battles at both ends of the floor. As long as the Celtics aren't looking for major offensive contributions from him, he should be a nice fit.

Boston's Revamped Bench Mob

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    Admittedly, Boston's new bench pieces aren't the most exciting you'll ever see. But there is possible help coming from all angles of the second team.

    Guards: Phil Pressey, Archie Goodwin, Keith Bogans

    Forwards: Jordan Hamilton, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Brandon Bass

    Centers: Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk

    Now, the Celtics haven't rid themselves entirely of their roster problems. Gerald Wallace's massive contract (two years, $20-plus-million remaining after this season) still hangs over Boston's heads.

    But the team hasn't lost any of its major assets, either.

    Rajon Rondo is still rocking the green and white. Those first-round picks coming from the Brooklyn Nets—which look better by the day—haven't budged. Kris Humphries' expiring $12 million contract still gives Boston financial flexibility moving forward.

    Plus, it's added some intriguing assets in the process.

    The first-round pick coming from Phoenix would be Boston's third in the vaunted 2014 draft. Archie Goodwin is nearly two years away from his 21st birthday. Jordan Hamilton could be a change-of-scenery away from becoming a valuable reserve scorer.

    Bass' demotion gives this reserve group an added scoring touch. Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk can grow without the pressure of having to perform in major roles. Phil Pressey gains some reliable scorers to help him thrive as a pass-first point guard.

    This won't be an entirely unfamiliar team for Rondo to return to, but it is headed in a much more promising direction than the one he left behind.