The Celtics are not going to make this easy on Danny Ainge. He has to know that.
There is too much pride and enough talent left in the Big Three, plus sufficient pedestrian opposition, to provide the illusion that these Celtics constitute more than an Eastern Conference also-ran.
The truth is that like Ainge, the Celtics are in parquet purgatory, somewhere in that nebulous NBA territory between a championship chase and a rebuilding job. Mediocrity is better than futility, but it's equally as far from Banner No. 18.
The NBA's trading deadline is two weeks and eight games from today. That's how long Ainge has to conjure up a deal and cold-heartedly cut the cord, like he's always said he would. Like he should.
It's also how long his four All-Stars have to sway him that not playing out the string would be a Shaquille O'Neal-sized mistake. If Boston's Core Four of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo are going to be broken up, then Ainge is going to have to pry them apart with a crowbar, kicking and screaming. They've made that clear the last two nights.Ainge probably has the same conflicting voices in his brain that Red Auerbach did when he contemplated and ultimately declined to break up the Original Big Three. Not as easy as you thought, huh Danny?
Ainge has his finger perched above the red launch button and is ready to blow up a team that sits at 17-17, in seventh place in the East, with 32 games to go. ESPN has reported that the Celtics are actively shopping Rondo, who at this point should come with his own Groupon.
If the question is whether Ainge should dismantle a championship contender, the answer is he already did that last year, when he traded Kendrick Perkins, even if Perkins is not genetically spliced with the DNA of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar like some want to believe.
So, the real question facing Danny the Dealer revolves around the future and how big a part of it is Rondo? Is the impetuous point guard a rebuilding block or a trade chip? Ainge seems to be leaning towards the latter.
Rondo is the item Ainge puts in Boston's storefront window to draw in potential customers. He's under contract for three more years at an average of $12 million per year, and is a 26-year-old three-time All-Star.
Allen has appeal, but he's a rent-a-shooter for most teams. Pierce is expensive and isn't playing well right now, shooting 39.5 percent in February and just 29.5 percent from the 3-point line. No one is going to take KG's 21.2 million salary on board, even if it looks like he spent the All-Star break at the Fountain of Youth.
The Rondo rumors have a dual purpose for the Celtics. If the right deal to reboot the team comes along, Ainge can pull the trigger. If it doesn't, being tossed around as a trade chip seems to be the only action that gets Rondo to play nice with his teammates and coach Doc Rivers these days.
Rondo has to be one of the most confounding athletes in the history of Boston sports. No one can look more uniquely talented or limited, sometimes in the same game. It's quintessential Rondo to follow up a scoreless game with five turnovers and 11 assists with a triple-double. Since his back-to-back 30-point games against the Bulls and Pistons in which he went to the stripe a combined 22 times, Rondo has gone to the line 10 times total in six games.
He is one of the smartest people to ever have a recorder or a microphone shoved in his face in this town, almost Belichickian in how he can toy with questioners. But like a lot of very intelligent people his intellect causes him to constantly clash with authority, whether its Rivers, referee Sean Wright, or the imaginary conspirators who originally kept him off the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
If you need three stars to build a contender, where does Rondo fall on the star meter? He has to be at least a No. 2 in Ainge's estimation to make him a central part of the rebuilding because the likelihood of drawing two All-Star caliber players better than Rondo to Boston is not that great, and Pierce is at a point in his career where he would fit nicely into the No. 3 star role.
Dealing Rondo for Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who has a plethora of ankle problems, is not the same as sending him away to get Paul or Deron Williams. But Curry can shoot and score and has the ability to mature -- always an operative word with Rondo -- into a second star.
One thing we should all be able to agree on at this point is that while Rondo is sublime, he is a notch below the Paul, Williams, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook group. He could change that, and in keeping Rondo that's the bet Ainge would be making.
The most compelling reason to keep the core together at least through the end of the season is the play of Garnett. In his last three games, KG is averaging 22 points and 10.3 rebounds per game while shooting 55 percent from the floor.
If Garnett is going to play that way it takes scoring pressure off Rondo. With this KG, the Celtics would have a good shot of moving up to the No. 3 or No. 4 seed and catching Philadelphia, which has a three-game lead over Boston, for the Atlantic Division crown.
Plus, Pierce can't possibly shoot as poorly as he did in February, and with the return of power forward Brandon Bass the Celtics are as healthy as they've been all season.
If you want to find reasons to believe it's easy, but Ainge should know better.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.