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Celtics should build around Rondo
The first is that, as much as I want to believe the Celtics can grit their teeth and once again dig deep and make some roaring comeback, they’re done. Finished. Toast. The hope we’ll see a six- or seven-game series has been snuffed out by a Miami team that’s simply too good.
The second is that Boston now must look forward. That means Rajon Rondo, for all the headaches he inflicts on his soon-to-be rebuilding organization, must be the centerpiece as the Celtics construct a team no longer orbiting their own Big Three.
That era in Boston basketball is over because the Heat are too much for them to handle even without the officials’ unwavering support. And Miami has that, too. So let’s move on. Game 3 Friday in Boston, come what may, is just another piece of sand falling in an hourglass that inevitably will conclude with a second-straight NBA Finals appearance for Miami.
Since turning a 2-1 deficit against the Indiana Pacers into a streak of utter dominance, the Heat have won five straight games in ways Boston’s old, bandaged, injured and depleted team cannot match.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are playing their best basketball as a tandem since they became teammates, on and off the ball. LeBron played the big-time hero in that Game 4 win over the Pacers that turned the tide, and he even took a final shot Wednesday night against Boston with the score tied in the fourth quarter and the clock racing for zero. He missed it, sure. But he took the shot. He doesn’t fear the Celtics anymore, nor the idea of losing to them.
Throw in the fact Mario Chalmers occasionally is playing like an All-Star and the arrival of role players finally contributing in key ways — from Shane Battier hitting big 3-pointers to Mike Miller giving solid minutes to Udonis Haslem notching double-doubles — and Miami is simply too good.
They may not yet be playing well enough to win a championship. But the Heat are playing more than well enough to dispose of Boston.
That, and the end of Boston’s Big Three era, couldn’t have been more evident in Game 2. With Ray Allen a shell of what he was, Kevin Garnett good for 18 and eight but not wielding the same ability to enforce his will on the tenor of the game and Paul Pierce busy trying to handle LeBron James, Rondo had a game for the ages.
Boston’s Big Three was somewhere between very good and over the hill, depending on the man and the moments. Boston’s actual Big One was a phenom.
Making a case he is not just one of the best point guards in the game but also a big-time playoff performer, Rondo scored an astonishing 44 points, including all 12 for the Celtics in overtime. He dished 10 assists and had just three turnovers despite an up-tempo style that, particularly against Miami’s punishing defense, usually yields many more. He had eight rebounds and three steals. The Heat dared him to shoot and he did, making jumper after jumper. Rondo was so good it made jaded reporters watching from the sideline numb with respect.
And still the Celtics lost.
They could not win. Not on a night when they took a 15-point first-half lead. Not on a night when LeBron and Wade were abysmal for an entire half. Not on a night when the Heat coughed up a fourth-quarter lead. Not even on a night when Rondo was by far the best player on the floor, marshaling a performance so incredible that even in a loss it was breathtaking to behold.
This series is over.
But Rondo’s greatness in a Celtics uniform needs to be just beginning.
There have been a multitude of reports pointing to why Boston should shy away from making Rondo the face of the franchise, and they all center on tantrums and attitude and a kind of uncoachability that’s hard to root for. But the guy is a winner, and Rondo is well on the right side of that fine line talent always walks between irreplaceable and destructively clueless. Still, the issues ran deep enough that a report earlier this season insisted the Celtics hoped to trade Rondo by the deadline because they were sick of his drama.
Don’t do it. Deal with the drama, guys. Rondo is worth every single Tylenol you have to swallow, every single bout of anger you have to suppress, every single expletive you choke down, or don’t.
First and foremost is what he did against the Heat. That was a display of greatness, of pressure-packed playoff greatness, that warrants long-term investment.
Rondo, 26, is also an affordable star. When the Celtics locked him into a long-term deal in 2009, it looked like they’d overpaid. Now, at $10 million this season and just $1 million more a year through 2014-15, it’s a steal.
Rondo will make $13 million in the last year of his contract. Chris Bosh makes $16 million right now, and it only goes up from there. Enough said.
OK, one more: Deron Williams hits the free-agent market this summer, and it’s all but certain he’ll ink a max contract worth a whole lot more than Rondo's.
So we were wrong, Danny Ainge, about that Rondo deal. You were right. In a big way.
Now it’s time to double down.
You pay Doc Rivers $7 million a year to coach this team. So, yeah, let him deal with whatever troubles Rondo may present. Phil Jackson is off in retirement, meaning Rivers may be the most able coach at managing egos and maximizing the excellence of headache-inducing stars. Stars like Rondo. No reason to give a head coach $35 million over five years and not let him earn it by having to deal with that kind of a difficult-to-manage talent. That’s the job.
This isn’t an easy time to rebuild, no doubt, even with the Celtics’ locked-in team salary about to drop from $88 million this season to $34.5 million next season.
Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are going to be off the books. Guys such as Roy Hibbert and JaVale McGee are restricted free agents you might want to consider trying to lure to Boston. Bringing Garnett back for one year is an option. Sign Allen for a fraction of what you paid him this year if you feel there’s value there; or not. Drafting well with the No. 21 and 22 overall picks this year means there’s a chance to infuse some youth.
So there are some choices and some pieces to be worked with.
Just make sure every move is centered around Rondo. There will be players who want to play with the NBA’s assist leader, next season or soon after that. We live in an NBA in which stars dictate where they want to go and when they want to go there. Rondo can make Boston one of those places stars star put on their trade-me-now lists.
The future looks very bright for the Heat, and odds are, especially if the officials continue to try to make this a sweep, it’ll continue to get brighter Friday night in Boston. But Boston’s future, as glimpsed in what Rondo has done and tried to do in this series, can sparkle too.
As long as the Celtics take the plunge and rebuild around a player whose difficulties are well worth the payout, that’s waiting to be had.
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