Rajon Rondo didn't die Sunday, but the Celtics' five-year run surely did. Yes, pour a little Irish whiskey out today for the Boston's Big Three and salute them for a rollicking and robust era. Then step aside and make room for the bulldozer, driven by none other than GM Danny Ainge.
The dismantling is coming, although the Celtics won't admit anything right now because that would seem so … insensitive. From a practical standpoint, holding onto the past does nothing for a team with a good excuse to finally play their rebuilding card. With an era now over, the Celtics can begin a wholesale cleaning out process and the fans, coaches, Red Auerbach somewhere in green heaven and even Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the proud holdovers from better days, will understand. Everyone should.
OK, maybe not everyone. "You can write the obituary, I'm not," huffed Doc Rivers, after learning about Rondo's season-ending knee injury. Which is what you'd want your coach to say. But not your general manager, whose responsibility is to ensure the short- and long-term health of the club.
And Ainge sees what we see, a team in need of change. With Rondo, the Celtics were barely a break-even team this season but held onto hopes of making the playoffs and possibly pulling a surprise. Without him, they're the Pistons with grit. Sorry, that's just not enough to justify doing nothing at the trade deadline and clinging to the concept of "Celtics Pride," the attitude that separates the Celtics from most contenders. Since they're no longer a contender for a title, they might as well be a contender for the No. 1 draft pick this June. Why stay stuck in the middle?
Rondo will require knee surgery after tearing his ACL and recovery is usually a seven-to-nine month ordeal. That would put him on pace to begin next season, and yet the Celtics might need another month or two to see if he's back to his normal self on the floor. By then, they could be well underway to remaking the roster and giving themselves a chance in 2014-15. That's the right way to go. Bottom out for two years, grab two lottery picks and flush the salary cap of Pierce's and KG's contracts. They can give Rondo, who's 27, more than enough time to heal -- and a contract extension to ease his pain during rebuilding. The fans are smart and should begrudgingly accept this fate. Rebuilding is never easy or fun, but in some cases it's understandable and a lot better than the alternative.
Pierce has one more year left on his deal, KG has two. In a fairytale world, an all-time Celtic great like Pierce would wear only one uniform his entire career, as Bird and McHale and Russell did. And maybe the Celtics could make that exception in his case. But they'd also find a few contenders willing to take Pierce, who's averaging 19 points per game. If Boston finds Rudy Gay's two years and $38 million contract a little rich, they can go a different route. The best-case scenario is getting a package that includes a young and unproven player for Pierce. Same for KG.
They're the only assets of any value on the roster, but because of their age, the only demand will come from a half-dozen teams ready to win now.
"He needs to take care of himself," Garnett said about Rondo, which is code for: No rush, take all the time you need and then some. Even KG realizes the end is near.
Whenever they throw the last shovel of dirt on the Big Three run, memories will reflect fondly on the Celtics. In 2007, they decided to get Pierce some help -- great timing, because Garnett was ready to leave Minnesota and the Sonics, ready to move to Oklahoma City, were selling off Ray Allen. Also, they had acquired Rondo in a 2006 draft-day deal and watched him slowly work his way into elite point guard status.
It was a good run that, coincidently, ends with an injury, because injuries prevented the run from being even greater. The Celtics won one title but should've had two or maybe three. KG was hurt in 2008-09 and they lost in the East semis. Kendrick Perkins pulled up lame and missed the decisive Game Seven in the Finals in 2010. The last two years they lost to LeBron James -- no shame there -- although they had two chances to send The King home last June.
But for the Celtics, it's time. Time to give Jared Sullinger a 30-minute run a night. Time to see what Fab Melo can or cannot do. Time to usher in the Jeff Green Era. Time to load up on draft picks and hope another Paul Pierce is walking through that door. Time to give Rondo the time he needs to become an All-Star again.
Time to wave goodbye to the past because, as Yogi Berra would say, the past is history.