And they still aren't going anywhere.
According to the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence, the growing belief is that Rondo's time in Beantown is drawing to a close:
Rajon Rondo is finally back for the Celtics, and now the question becomes how long will he stay in Boston.
Rondo is the last blue chip from the 2008 championship team and 2010 Finals team that Celtics president Danny Ainge can convert into assets as he rebuilds the franchise. More than a few GMs around the league expect Rondo to be on the move, if not at the trading deadline next month, then maybe in June at draft time.
After being named team captain, though, per Celtics.com's Mark D'Amico, the already dense plot thickens.
Would the Celtics really offer captaincy to a player they deem expendable to their rebuild? Or is this latest development a sign they are committed to retaining Rondo this season and beyond?
In Good Company
Rondo becomes the 15th captain in Celtics history, per D'Amico, joining esteemed legends such as Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Bill Russell, Robert Parish, Larry Bird and of course, Paul Pierce.
No other player has worn the title since Pierce was named captain in 2003, so this isn't a decision to be taken lightly. You want to believe Boston would want to replace Pierce with a player it sees leading them in similar capacity, with the same longevity.
Said Celtics coach Brad Stevens to D'Amico:
I've always believed that captains name themselves with their leadership on and off the court. This isn't about us naming Rondo captain. This is about him earning that title through his play as a Celtic, his accountability as a leader of this team, and his commitment to the Boston community.
There's that word again: commitment.
The way Stevens puts it, the Celtics are rewarding Rondo for his value to the franchise in addition to his performance as a player. They're offering him a responsibility that says, "We need you."
Again, why give such a title to a player you plan to flip for draft picks and young prospects this season or next?
Is Rondo Actually the Future?
Celtics general manager Danny Ainge doesn't go against the grain or do anything halfway.
When he elected to rebuild, he committed (there's that word yet again) to it. Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Paul Pierce were shipped out in favor of a replenished draft stock. More cost-cutting, future-driven moves came in the form of Courtney Lee's and Jordan Crawford's departures.
Resisting the temptation to field a more competitive product than Boston has now, Ainge has stayed the course.
And he's not going to change.
Going on 28, Rondo poses an interesting obstacle to Ainge's current vision.
Some would argue the Celtics are better off building around an All-Star point guard still in his prime, assuming he returns to form. Talented floor generals are abound in today's NBA, but rarely do you have the chance to start an extensive rebuild with a three-time All-Star (four selections) already in tow.
On the flip side, Rondo is hardly at an ideal age to front a long-term revival. As ESPN's Chad Ford pointed out:
All three of the teams ahead of them have at least one young player they can conceivably build around. The Celtics? Rajon Rondo could be that building block. But he turns 28 in February, has posed chemistry issues in the past and there is an increasing belief among NBA circles that GM Danny Ainge will use him, once healthy, to get multiple assets back. So the chances that he's the Celtics' cornerstone moving forward look slim.
By the time Boston is realistically contending again, how old will Rondo be? Approaching 30? Over 30?
Ainge has done a fantastic job stockpiling draft picks and creating future financial flexibility, but he's not a magician. This rebuild is still going to take time, however accelerated.
The Celtics won't be competing for championships this season or next, or even the one after that. Will Rondo want to wait? Will the Celtics want to pay him handsomely for his patience?
Ah, yes, the other problem: free agency.
Owed a workable $24.9 million through next season, Rondo will hit unrestricted free agency in summer 2015, at which point, barring a complete individual meltdown, he will demand a hefty long-term contract.
The New York Knicks, desperate as ever, already envision themselves prying Rondo out of Boston by way of trade or free agency, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, and they won't be the only ones attempting to land him.
Between then and now, a lot can change. Rondo could grow impatient and decide to leave. Or the Celtics could trade him out of fear of losing him anyway or their reluctance to pay him in 2015, or some combination of those three possibilities.
Boston won't allow a formality like naming Rondo captain deter it from doing what's best for the franchise. And trading Rondo, now or later, could be what's best for its future.
Reading Too Much Into It?
Rondo's captaincy could mean any number of things.
This could be a sign of the Celtics' dedication to Rondo and/or vice versa. It could also be a smokescreen used to blind Rondo and others from perpetuating exhausted conjecture. Maybe a mechanism designed to appease Rondo and buy them more time until they shed clarity on their future direction?
Or this could simply be a team in need of stability manufacturing some.
Giving Rondo this type of power and responsibility shows the Celtics aren't in disarray, that they're committed to running their organization the right way. But in terms of Rondo's future, it means nothing, one way or the other.
"Emotionally, mentally, he looked ready to me," Stevens said after Rondo's first appearance of the season, per Bleacher Report's Howard Beck. "Physically, I thought he looked fine, too."
Hopefully Rondo is ready, emotionally, mentally and physically, for what comes next; something no captaincy or insider can predict or infer: the unknown.
*Salary information courtesy ShamSports.
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