There's an awful lot to digest in the aftermath of the Boston Celtics' shipping Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday. Let's break it down in bite-sized chunks while analyzing the deal, examining where Boston stands, and predicting what lies ahead as the Celtics alter the direction of their rebuilding process.
The Celtics sent Rondo and rookie Dwight Powell to the Mavericks in exchange for Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder and future first- and second-round draft picks. The team also waived second-year center Vitor Faverani in order to facilitate the trade. While most Celtics fans are disappointed with the return haul for the All-Star point guard, you must keep in mind that Rondo will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, diminishing some of his total value at this point. What did Boston get in return?
• Wright is an intriguingly efficient player, one who is shooting a ridiculous 74.8 percent from the floor while ranking fourth in the NBA in player efficiency rating (26.1) and third in win shares per 48 minutes (.274). With Boston, he'll likely get a chance to showcase whether he can maintain such lofty numbers in elevated minutes (he's averaging 18.7 minutes per game this season). Is Wright long for Boston? We'll know by February when he -- and his digestible $5 million salary -- could potentially be dealt again in order to bring back more future assets. Wright is an unrestricted free agent after the season.
• Nelson becomes the oldest player on Boston's roster (five months older than Gerald Wallace). He started 23 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 7.3 points and 4.1 assists over 25.4 minutes. Nelson's last game with the Mavericks saw him post 0 points and 0 assists over 26 minutes. It's probably better for Boston to give the bulk of its point guard minutes to youngsters Marcus Smart and Phil Pressey (or even Evan Turner). Nelson has a $2.9 million player option for next season.
• Crowder is a 24-year-old swingman who has played limited minutes this season (career-low 10.6 per game). He can provide some defensive help on the wing. The former second-round pick (34th in 2012 draft) is due a $1.2 million qualifying offer next season.
• The draft picks are the true prize for Ainge, who adds to Boston's surplus (more on that below). The Celtics are unlikely to see the Mavs pick until 2016, but will likely have four first-rounders in that draft. Ainge can pick which selections to take his swings with and package the others to try to bring in more established talent. Draft picks are a premium in a league where the cap is rising and there's a value on low-cost, high-potential talent that you have under long-term control at the start of their careers.
• The Celtics also generated a $12.9 million trade exception that could help them bring in starter-caliber talent in the next year's span. Or consider what Boston did with the $10.3 million exception it got from trading away Paul Pierce, using it in July to help bring in Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton and future draft picks.
The Celtics were hopeful that Rondo would be the one to lead Boston through this rebuilding process, even giving him the captaincy upon his return from ACL surgery in January. But his play had yet to return to the game-changing level we'd seen pre-injury (though he remained an elite distributor, even when surrounded by an inexperienced core). And maybe sensing that it was easier to start fresh than both pay Rondo maximum money to stick around and try to find a superstar sidekick to pair with him, the Celtics moved quickly to find the best in-season deal possible in advance of the February rush.
Rondo's departure closes the book on Boston's most recent Big Three era. Rondo will be remembered fondly for helping the 2008 team win a title, for all the dazzling moments on the court, his toughness, and his stubbornness that initially endeared him to his veteran teammates. Rondo will be celebrated like the rest of his 2008 title teammates when he returns here with the Mavs in early January. The hard part for Boston fans will be watching him from afar as he should thrive in Dallas, where he'll be surrounded with star talent and reinvigorated by the chance to contend again.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR BOSTON?
There are still two months for Ainge to tinker with this roster and it certainly seems like more moves will follow.
The Celtics will almost certainly put a premium on developing their young core, particularly rookie guard Marcus Smart once he's healthy enough to stay on the floor. If Smart is inserted as the starting point guard, that gives Boston an insanely young core with starters Smart (20), Avery Bradley (24), Jeff Green (28), Jared Sullinger (22), and Tyler Zeller (24). Add in Kelly Olynyk (23) and Evan Turner (26) as key reserves, along with rookie James Young (19) when he's healthy enough.
With a focus on the future, the tough losses that frustrated Boston early in the season won't sting quite as much now. The team must hone in on individual development and build team chemistry within its young core. And, if we're being honest, each loss now means only a better chance at a quality draft pick.
It's fair to wonder if Boston will be aggressive in shopping veteran players who don't seemingly fit the team's future plans. The likes of Brandon Bass (29), Marcus Thornton (27) and even Nelson (32) might intrigue contenders looking to bolster their rosters before playoff runs.
The biggest question mark here is Green, who holds a $9.2 million player option for next season. Having the best year of his career, Green might be more likely to opt out this summer and seek a higher payday given the growing cap (and salaries to match the rise). With that in mind, might Boston be willing to sell high if they can net additional future assets from a contender before the February deadline?
DRAFT PICKS RESET
1st round: Boston, Clippers, Dallas*, Philadelphia**
2nd round: Boston****, Philadelphia***, Washington*****
* Dallas' pick is protected selections 1-3 and 15-30
** Philadelphia's pick is lottery protected selections 1-14
*** Philadelphia's pick is conveyed if first-round pick is in lottery
**** Boston's pick is conveyed to Cleveland if between selections 56-60
***** Washington's pick is protected selections 31-49
1st round: Boston, Brooklyn, Cleveland*, Dallas**
2nd round: Boston****, Miami, Philadelphia***, Cleveland, Dallas
* Cleveland's pick is top-10 protected until 2019
** Dallas' pick is protected selections 1-7 until 2020
*** Philadelphia conveys if in lottery in 2015
**** Potentially conveyed to Utah or Memphis
1st round: Boston*
2nd round: Boston**, Cleveland
* Boston has option to swap with Brooklyn
** If Boston swaps with Brooklyn, it loses pick if between 46-60
1st round: Boston, Brooklyn
2nd round: Boston
2019 draft (and beyond)
1st round: Boston
2nd round: Boston
FUTURE IN FOCUS
When assessing a potential Rondo trade on Wednesday, we noted that it was initially a step backward in the rebuilding process and it might have extended an already tedious exercise for the Celtics.
But with the right moves, and proper utilization of their draft picks, there is still a chance for Boston to accelerate through this process. Getting star-caliber players to Boston will be no easy chore, particularly without a star like Rondo to help recruit those players, but the Celtics appear to be banking on a sales pitch that combines the decorated past of the franchise and an intriguing future helmed by Brad Stevens, a developing young core and its pile of future picks to help Boston build and maintain its success.
Consider this: Even if the Celtics carry Gerald Wallace into the final year of his bloated contract next season, the team is currently on the hook for only about $35.7 million (this assumes Green and Nelson either opt out or are traded away).
That core would consist of Wallace ($10.1 million), Bradley ($7.7), Smart ($3.4), Turner ($3.4), Zeller ($2.6), Sullinger ($2.3), Olynyk ($2.2), Young ($1.8), Crowder ($1.2) and Phil Pressey ($1.0)
With a cap that's on the rise, Boston would have ample money to spend on free agents, something it hasn't been able to do in ages. It's going to take some hard sells, but the Celtics will have the money available to recruit the players they deem most valuable (all with the trade exceptions and picks to help pursue other established talent on other rosters).
We've often heard the expression "In Danny We Trust" uttered in these parts before. It's more true than ever for Celtics fans.
Ainge has altered the route of his rebuilding GPS with the Rondo trade. The question now is whether he can find some shortcuts while trying to get to the familiar destination of Contenderville.
There will be much discussion (and consternation) in the aftermath of Rondo's departure. Debates will rage about whether Boston made the right move and if Ainge got enough in return. Ultimately, Ainge might have summed up the team's situation best when discussing trade whispers on Boston sports radio WBZ-FM on Thursday morning.
“I think Celtics fans want to see good team basketball and winning basketball,” Ainge said. “I think we need to start moving in that direction. We need to win; play the game the right way and win. I don’t know if stars are required. Winning is what’s important. It’s assumed in the NBA that stars are needed and that’s true, but there have been successful teams without a star. But I have every intention of continuing try to find stars. And when I say stars, I mean great players that have a positive effect on winning, not stars that people want to watch, but stars that help winning basketball because I think that’s what Celtics fans want -- to win.”
The Celtics had not displayed the progress expected to this point and Rondo was part of that disappointment. Not all of Boston's shortcomings fall on him, but with his monster payday looming this summer, it's fair to wonder if Rondo had asserted himself as the type of player that could carry a franchise.
Ainge's only focus can be on finding ways to help this team win. With the Rondo deal, he's banking that a couple steps back will allow Boston to make strides forward further down the road.
It's worth noting that there was much dismay after the Celtics traded Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets. These deals are never easy to stomach in the moment, particularly not when they center around nostalgic figures from a championship era.
Watching Rondo at work with the contender-caliber Mavericks won't be easy for Boston fans to stomach, either. It's only going to cause more resentment toward the move. But keep in mind the Nets deal, which looks better by the day.
Boston didn't get nearly the same haul here as that Brooklyn swap, but only time can truly judge the winners and losers of a trade. Ainge did what he thought was best to get Boston where it needs to go. He very easily could have stayed the course and seen where it led, but Ainge has never been one to fear a change or a challenge.
It's what Ainge does from here that will ultimately shape how we reflect on this deal and the end of Rondo's time in Boston.