So, a physically freakish floor general and a throwback double-double machine walk into a Major League Baseball stadium...and the Boston Celtics realize how close they are to a franchise-defining moment.
It all started so innocently.
Rajon Rondo, a peak performer for the reluctantly rebuilding Boston Celtics, and Kevin Love, a star for the Minnesota Timberwolves with a wandering eye, just so happened to take in the same Boston Red Sox-Tampa Bay Rays game on June 1. And they just so happened to cross paths thanks to some timely intervention from Boston sports fan W.B. Hames, who detailed his involvement to ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg:
I'm sitting at the outside bar [at the EMC Club], and Rondo comes walking up from out in left field. He’s with his family and walking really, really slow. So I said, 'Hey, Rondo, are you here to recruit K-Love?' He was like, 'Huh? I said, 'You’re here for K-Love, right?' Again, he looks at me real weird, and I point across the bar, and I go, 'That’s Kevin Love. He’s sitting right there!'
Rondo made his way over to Love, and Hames snapped some pictures of the encounter. As soon he put one of them up on Twitter, that innocent trip to the ballpark suddenly became a national story:
"Total game-changer when [Love] shows up at Fenway Park," WEEI.com's Kirk Minihane said (h/t Comcast SportsNet). "It gives [the potential scenario] life. When Love shows up, you start to wonder, why is he here? There must be a reason he’s here."
That reason, many surmised, had to be more than a simple vacation. Love, it seemed, was on something of an unofficial recruiting visit.
His trip came just a little over a week after ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne reported that Love "has made it clear to the Timberwolves that he intends to become an unrestricted free agent after next season and has no interest in a contract extension to stay."
Not only did Love seem done with 'Sota, but Boston had already emerged as a potential destination before that fateful excursion. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports dubbed the Celtics a "sleeper" in the Love sweepstakes, noting they had been "gathering momentum" among the many suitors.
Before Love touched down in Boston, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had seemingly signed off on the potential acquisition without directly referencing the stretch 4:
So, yes, the trip was kind of a big deal. And the photographic evidence of that impromptu chat session with Rondo, which the point guard told reporters lasted "about 39 seconds," increased its magnitude considerably.
That became evident when Sox slugger and former Minnesota Twin David Ortiz offered to help Love map his exit route:
None of this happened by accident. The random run-in with Rondo might have been coincidental, but Love went to Beantown for a reason.
Messages were sent during that trip. The biggest of which is that the Celtics are absolutely in on the Love sweepstakes.
How big remains to be seen.
While sources told ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan that Love "is willing to consider" landing in Boston and signing a long-term extension there, team and league sources said "the Timberwolves are less than enamored" with the Celtics' potential trade packages.
Let's assume Boston could clear that hurdle, though. That the Celtics could find enough in their asset collection—which includes a treasure trove of picks, prospects like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, proven commodities like Jeff Green and Brandon Bass—to get the Timberwolves to bite.
What would that mean for the Celtics' future?
Instant relevance, for one thing.
Between Love's scoring and Rondo's playmaking, the Celtics would immediately have one of the league's most powerful one-two punches.
"In the Eastern Conference? Rondo, Love, Brad Stevens and a front office painstakingly committed to finding a third playmate?" Bleacher Report's Michael Pina wrote. "That’s one exceptional recipe for long-term prosperity."
Even the short-term projections look promising.
"I think we'd be a lot better if you add a guy like Kevin," Rondo said, via Forsberg. "He's a range-shooting 4, he's going to help on the glass."
With participation grades good enough to secure playoff bids in the Eastern Conference, a Love-Rondo tandem might come close to claiming one for their own. Of course, they won't be waging a two-man war and might climb the conference ladder fairly quickly depending on what needs to be sacrificed to free up Love.
Along with relevance, the Celtics would also find stability.
Ainge has never sounded too keen on enduring a lengthy rebuild, and this could be the heist that greatly speeds up the process. The trade winds that have been swirling around Rondo for years would immediately stop.
Love and Rondo, both potential free agents in 2015, would almost assuredly be tied down to long-term contracts. That pair would then serve as Boston's premier recruiters to fill the rest of the roster, with the franchise's history and Stevens' potential helping to sweeten their pitches.
But what if Minnesota really doesn't like what Boston has? What if Love's handshake with Rondo is the closest he ever gets to becoming a Celtic?
Well, then a lengthy rebuild starts to feel inevitable.
Youth and economic value would trump all other qualities. Rondo, whose best work has come alongside proven vets, would either be shipped out for more assets or allowed to leave on his own in free agency.
The Celtics might like his leadership, but his price tag could reach an unreasonable rate if this team isn't ready to win now, as Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald explained:
Rondo and his agent, Bill Duffy, undoubtedly plan to attack the 2015 free agent market with a max deal in mind. Do the Celtics value him that much? He’ll likely secure that kind of deal somewhere.
Without a valuable offensive component such as Kevin Love to convert what Rondo does well, Ainge’s answer may be no. Ainge’s answer may be to move the point guard quickly this summer.
Boston would be on its next blueprint, one potentially built around players who don't yet call the city home.
This is why Love's surprise visit and chance meeting with Rondo carried such forceful momentum. They offered a glimpse at two very different realities for the Celtics, one of which this franchise will soon experience.
Trading for Love would be the preferred path. It takes stars to win in this league, and with him and Rondo, the Celtics would have two of the most uniquely talented in the business.
There are far more unknowns with a patient rebuild, but perhaps there's some excitement in that surprise. Rondo and Love might be the best two-man punch the Celtics could conceive of now, but perhaps even better options would surface with time.
No one knows the next step. The Celtics, like 28 other NBA teams, are waiting for the Timberwolves to make their move.
One way or another, it's sure to leave a major imprint on the present and future of the Boston sports scene.
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