I'll admit it.
Whether Danny Ainge ever actually did or not, when the Celtics were reportedly shopping Rajon Rondo to other teams entering the season, I completely agreed that he wasn't worth keeping.
I entered this season with the Celtics not expecting them to be even close to competing late in the playoffs. I still don't expect them to be championship contenders, but no longer do I view their immediate future after the initial reign of the "Big Three" comes to an end with heightened pessimism.
Prior to the all-star break, I remained in favor of blowing up the Boston based side and developing for the future.
When it comes to the NBA, my views are simple: It is an all or nothing league. Being mediocre is the worst curse you can contract in a league which admires champions and rewards losers. Wasting seasons is something I never want any franchise to do. Foresight and the ability to act proactively opposed to retroactively regretting in hindsight is always a better way to run a team in any professional sport.
This year I feared that the Celtics were wasting a season destined for mediocrity without any rewards to contribute to future success. The big three are slow and old, they have been for some time, but no longer did they look capable of overcoming those limitations with quality depth.
Back when Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Nate Robinson, Tony Allen and Marquis Daniels formed the support structure to the Big Three(+ Rondo), the team was still capable of challenging for titles based on their dominant defense and contributions from the bench.
The loss of Perkin and Allen severely limted their defensive capabilities while Nate Robinson's instant offense and Rasheed Wallace's guarantee of five hard fouls in the playoffs set the tone for the second unit.
Despite the best efforts of Greg Stiemsma, Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and Mikael Pietrus, the Celtics' eight man rotation isn't championship worthy this season. Despite the fact that the team will lose the chance at adding a lottery pick in what is a talented crop of prospects entering this year's draft, the Celtics' have put in place a plan to move forward after this season.
Rajon Rondo is of course going to be pivotal to that.
Rondo's performances this season have seemingly taken on even greater significance to the Celtics fortunes. With the Big Three's roles significantly being altered as Ray Allen is now the team's sixth man and Kevin Garnett must play center, the Celtics team as a whole is much less talented than in recent years.
Despite that, Rondo is still averaging a career high in assists this year with an incredible 11.6 assists per game. Even as he continues to set up his teammates, Rondo is also averaging 12.1 points per game which is the second highest average in his career so far.
At 26 years of age, he appears to have attained a certain level of maturity on the court at least that has been developing over the past few seasons.
Entering the season, my greatest concern with Rondo was his inability to shoot outside which allows defenses to adjust to him and play the whole team in such a way that limits their effectiveness as a group. While Rondo hasn't improved in this area at all, averaging roughly 20 percent from behind the arc and having the worst field goal percentage since his rookie season at 44 percent, he has continued to put the ball in the basket without sacrificing assists for his teammates.
Rondo is benefiting from an era in the NBA which favors the smaller quicker guards as hand checking is no longer allowed and big enforcing forwards are ejected for too flagrant fouls. If Rondo had played in a previous era, he would not have gotten into the paint with as much ease as he does today because his body would have been punished by stocky centers and forwards. Guards would also be better equipped to defend him.
Today's NBA rules allow him to flourish and play to the elite level as a point guard.
My other greatest worry with Rondo was that he was benefiting from playing with great players. It's substantially easier to get assists when your teammates are two of the best shooters in history and one of the best shooting big men in recent memory. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett definitely made it easier for Rondo to adjust to the NBA early in his career, but the way he plays these days intimates that he could rack up assists on any roster in the league.
No longer is Rondo benefitting from the big three as much as the big three is benefitting from him.
While Rondo still needs to improve his outside shooting, his rebounding, defense and ability to attack the basket should allow him to be the focal point of the team's future. With Avery Bradley, Jeff Green(potentially returning as a free agent), Brandon Bass, Greg Stiemsma, who are all 26 or younger, and the potential for Paul Pierce to play on for another few seasons with Ray Allen potentially returning as a role player, the Celtics should have a seamless transition from the Big Three to a new era under Doc Rivers.
Because Rondo is locked into a cap friendly contract, with Ray Allen's $10 million and Kevin Garnett's $21 million contracts ending after this season, the Celtics will have a lot of room to build around Rondo moving forward.
That is a level of optimism which was lacking entering this season.Cian Fahey is a columnist for the Guardian, Irishcentral, FFBLife and Steelersdepot . You can follow him on twitter @Cianaf.