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Ainge makes a point of standing by Rondo

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By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 2, 2011
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WALTHAM - Celtics president Danny Ainge was probably surprised at the stir caused by those Rajon Rondo trade rumors. After all, in the past few years, he has discussed moving almost every player on his roster, part of his instinctive style and daring approach.

Ainge realized that the last thing this team needs is to have its mercurial, insecure point guard looking at Chris Paul’s basketball card to compare statistics. The Celtics will need near-perfection and a pristine atmosphere to compete for another NBA title.

So Ainge quickly dispelled the Rondo rumors yesterday.

The reports had Ainge as the one shopping Rondo for Paul, only to find out that Paul had no interest in a contract extension in Boston. But when working on trades, Ainge is past the point of considering players’ feelings and egos as he desperately tries to avoid the kind of decline that occurred 15 years ago with the Celtics.

And, frankly, he shouldn’t carry much concern for their feelings. When Rondo agreed to a five-year, $55 million extension, he signed on for the additional scrutiny such a contract carries. He is no longer the upstart, the unlikely rising star with the unorthodox game and brimming confidence.

In many ways, he has arrived, and the fate of the Celtics depends greatly on his passion to improve and his trust in all facets of his game - something that hasn’t always been there.

Reporting to camp with thoughts of being swapped for an archrival you truly dislike would have been an unhealthy state of mind for Rondo. Ainge doesn’t want to begin such a critical season with that distraction.

“If you’re worth your salt, you’ll be mentioned in a trade rumor somewhere along the line,’’ Ainge said. “That’s just part of the business that players have to learn to deal with.

“We love our players, and I think our players know that. I’ll talk to Rondo. Rondo knows that we love him. He knows that we like him and he’s excited to come back and play basketball.

“He gets a lot of attention. He’s a great player. There’s a lot of people who call me and ask me about Rondo.’’

There are several reasons the Celtics were cautious when considering such a deal. Paul, 26, has had visions of playing in New York with the Knicks, and the uncertainty of the Boston roster past this season wouldn’t encourage him to make a long-term commitment.

Paul also has had knee troubles, and his 2010-11 season was considerably worse than his MVP-caliber campaign two years earlier. He averaged 7 fewer points, 1.2 fewer assists, and shot 40 points lower than he did in 2008-09.

The Celtics also have three scoring closers on their roster - Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen - and Rondo’s skills blend better with them.

That doesn’t mean Paul wouldn’t be a splendid addition, but Rondo made a commitment to the organization with that extension and his impact on games can be immeasurable. Of course, the Celtics are banking that he improves his free throw shooting and perimeter jumper enough to lighten the offensive load on his teammates.

Ainge doesn’t believe Rondo is the perfect point guard, and he is fully aware of his detractors, but there are plenty of general managers who would nab the two-time All-Star at his bargain rate of $11 million per season, and it was critical for the Celtics to acknowledge that.

“I’m not going to compare him to the other guys but I think he is one of the top point guards in the NBA,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I think Rondo has established that.

“Listen, there’s a reason whenever this thing leaked out that it was all over the news - it’s because the players that were both talked about were really good.

“Rondo has established that through his play. He is a great basketball player and does so many things for our team, he should be flattered in a lot of ways that this is news.’’

Now that that’s been stated, Ainge has other issues to address in remaking the roster. He said the Celtics will sign as many as eight players to reach the 15-man roster limit, and they have only minimum contracts and the mini-mid-level ($3 million per season) to offer because they are a luxury tax team.

Such is the new collective bargaining agreement, which penalizes teams that choose to spend more. While visions of Paul, Derrick Rose, John Wall, or Deron Williams may dance in Ainge’s head, it was important that he publicly appreciate what he already has.

That was Ainge’s biggest priority yesterday - affirming his faith in Rondo. Perhaps this will serve as a motivator for the guard, who doesn’t like to even acknowledge other point guards, a sign of both arrogance and insecurity.

With a sound frame of mind, Rondo can lead the Celtics and do so in prosperity. Without one, he is capable of having the erratic and confounding performances he had last season. And the Celtics are ready to move on from that.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashburn14

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