To deal or not to deal? That is the question.
The more time Rondo gets back on the court after ACL surgery, the more his value will increase around the league.
But let's say that Ainge decides to keep Rondo and make him his franchise building block. After all, Rondo certainly has the talent to be one of the league's very best players, and the relationship thus far with new head coach Brad Stevens has been smooth sailing.
And Rondo, to his credit, sounds like he wants to stay based on what he told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com.
"This is my team. Why would I want to leave? ... I've never backed away from a challenge," Rondo said.
If both sides decide to stay together for the immediate future, Ainge has some work to do to make sure it's not a temporary pairing. Between now and the 2015 offseason, he'll need to find a way to make Boston an attractive enough destination to keep Rondo from leaving in free agency.
What that most likely means is that Ainge will have to find a way to bring at least one other star to Boston. What are the routes to accomplish that, and what's the timetable for each path? Let's explore.
Through the Draft
One of the best ways to acquire a star is through the draft, and it's a big reason why Ainge has stockpiled so many first-round draft picks throughout this process. Boston will have two picks in this year's draft: its own, and the lesser pick between the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets.
It's important to note that the true franchise altering stars, and the guys who can make their impact felt right away, are usually drafted in the lottery, which is the top-14 picks.
From 2000 to 2010, 22.8 percent of the players drafted in the lottery made an All-Star team or All-NBA team. Those aren't bad odds at all.
Will Boston be bad enough to receive a high lottery pick? Rondo's return may not help much in that regard, although it will likely take him some time to shake off the dust.
The chances that Boston is able to draft and develop a player he will recognize as a worthy second star right away may be slim, but if Rondo is playing for the future, few cupboards are as full as Boston's.
The Celtics will have at least four more first-round picks coming in 2015 and 2016 (depending on what happens with Philadelphia's owed pick, which could become second-rounders if Philly doesn't make the playoffs in 2014 or 2015), so there will be plenty of chances for Ainge to hit it big.
This route will take some time and require some patience, but it's probably the best option for a rebuilding team.
A quicker fix would be through trading those assets Ainge has acquired, and that's something we've seen him do before.
Rondo could essentially be this team's version of Paul Pierce. Remember, Pierce was the original holdover from previous teams during Boston's rebuilding process, and then the assets acquired over time were packaged for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. That ended up working out pretty well.
As we've seen in other circumstances, like in Houston, it's easier to trade for a second star once you have that first star in place. Players are more willing to stay long term, and being a viable landing spot for a player who wants out from his current team (like Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony once did) won't happen without Rondo.
Unless Boston is getting a star in return for Rondo, which seems unlikely, trading him will shut a lot of doors.
While there doesn't appear to be any stars demanding out this year, you never know what will happen over the course of the next year. Lots of things can change, and Boston would do well to position itself to strike should a great player come available at a discount.
Although losing the expiring deal of Kris Humphries ($12 million) and not turning him into a big player will hurt, the Celtics should be able to package guys like Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger this offseason or whenever a player they like becomes available. Again, this would likely require some patience, but a great trade can truly pop up at any moment.
Through Free Agency
Here's the longest play of the bunch. After trading Jordan Crawford and absorbing Joel Anthony's contract next year worth $3.5 million, it would seem that Ainge isn't focused on clearing massive cap space for this offseason.
Instead, the focus is likely on the 2015 offseason (which is why Courtney Lee was dealt), when Rondo's current deal will come off the books. Jeff Green, who has a player option for the 2015-16 season, could also opt out to secure long-term financial security elsewhere, which would clear even more cap space.
So long as Boston doesn't go crazy with an extension for Avery Bradley, there should be room for two max players on the roster if not much changes between now and then.
That's a big deal, because there are some real stars set to be free agents in 2015, including guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love. With a fully healthy Rondo as a recruiter, anything is possible.
Whether it's through free agency, the draft or a trade, there are multiple paths Boston will be able to explore down the road to add a second star.
Keeping Rondo will likely provide the Celtics with even more opportunities, even if none are apparent right now. With that in mind, it probably makes sense to hold off on trading him. He's a great player first and foremost, but he's also Boston's best chance at establishing itself as a viable destination for other stars.
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