Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was adamant during much of the summer and preseason that his team had no interest in trading their star point guard Rajon Rondo. That mindset appeared to shift quickly in the last couple weeks, as the Celtics began fielding trade offers for their captain, before pulling the trigger on a deal Thursday evening with the Dallas Mavericks.
Before Friday night’s win against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Ainge made his first public comments about dealing his best player in a five-player trade that did not net the Celtics any top draft picks or young building blocks. Given the underwhelming return, Ainge made a point to address those criticisms and speak about the rationale for the timing of the move.
Why did the team opt to trade Rondo now? “There was definite uncertainty into what may happen this summer. So that was a big factor. We like the players that we got in the trade. But, you know, listen, I think that with his impending free agency and uncertainty of what may happen this summer, I think that there was – gave us the impetus of wanting to do a deal.”
What [does Ainge] say to fans that think the team is now not competitive without Rondo? “Well, you know, I respect the opinions of fans that feel that way. I mean, Rajon was a terrific player and I enjoyed watching Rajon for the last nine years. And so I respect that opinion. But time will tell. It’s just that simple. None of us can predict what will happen, but we’ll see what these players are and we’ll see how they fit in with our system and we’ll see how players that get opportunities more will play and time will tell. But you know, look, we clearly gave up the best player in this deal, and that’s not philosophically what we’d like to do.”
Does the trade set Boston’s rebuilding plan back? “Listen, I think we created – we have a lot of cap space this summer, which the Celtics have never had, and we have a trade exception, a big trade exception, and we have draft picks. We have a lot of good, young players that are attractive to other teams as well. And so our perspective is always to, and our plan is always to develop through the draft, because that’s what we can control: who we draft with our draft picks and who we sign with free agent dollars and so forth. And as far as trades, we just have to be ready to have assets to trade, and stay opportunistic and make our decisions with those, with our assets.”
How much uncertainty did Ainge have about Rondo’s future with the team? “Oh I think that there’s been uncertainty for a while. You know, as to what kind of team we’d be able to put together. We tried this summer to get some significant players in, unsuccessfully, and there’s a price that we won’t go, either. That we won’t pay, for any player. And I mean, in order to make that happen this past summer. At the same time, there’s been uncertainty as to sort of what his future would be, and there’s been uncertainty as to how he would return and how he’d come back and play. Yeah, I think that he’s understood that and I’ve understood that and we’ve talked about it.”
Timing of the trade so early in the season? “I think that we were trying to see how it all fits. Seeing what kind of player he was. And then it all depended on if we had an offer that was good enough to do it. And then the timing of it; if you choose to make a trade, is this the best time to make a trade? So all those things were well thought-out and we feel like we have a really good pulse of most of our players’ value in the market, and thought this was the time and the place.”
Will team look to trade more impending free agents? “Well let’s take a deep breath and let’s enjoy the holidays and let’s let these guys play, see how everybody fits in. Of course we’re not actively pursuing anything at this minute. I anticipate that there will be a lot of calls coming in in the next little bit and I think that there will be some activity at trade deadline, whether we do a trade or not I have no idea, but we’ll continue to try to improve our team.”