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Time for the Celtics to Blow It Up?

Ray Allen's gone. Now Rondo's injured. Is it time the Celtics started thinking about rebuilding?

Boston point guard Rajon Rondo will miss the rest of the season after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee.

News surfaced Sunday that the four-time All-Star’s injury was much worse than previously anticipated. Rather than take to the court for Sunday’s 100-98 double-overtime win over Miami, the former Kentucky guard was sent to New England Baptist Hospital for further examinations.

The prognosis turns out to be bad for Rondo and the Celtics.

Despite Sunday’s unexpected win, Doc Rivers’ side now faces an even tougher struggle. Currently lodged in the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics (21-23) are looking down the barrel of a losing record and now face the fact that their best player will be M.I.A. until (hopefully) next season.

Rondo departs the season having shone in every aspect of the game. Not only did the seven-year guard pace the Celtics in assists (11.1 per game), he also led the league. Chris Paul is second in that category with 9.7 per outing.

Rondo averaged 13.7 points per game, fewer than only Paul Pierce (18.7 PPG) and Kevin Garnett (15.0 PPG), while also pulling down 5.6 rebounds per game, a category in which he ranked fourth on the team. He also paced the Celtics with 1.84 steals per game (8th in the NBA) and recorded an assist-turnover ratio of 2.8. Only Leandro Barbosa – in much more restricted minutes – topped that on the side. Rondo led the Celtics in minutes, playing 37.4 per game.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the importance Rondo has to the side, but if you need more proof: Rondo was tied for 11th in the league with 20 double doubles, and was first outright with five triple doubles. Those are numbers Magic Johnson and Jason Kidd would be proud of.

Rondo was selected by fans to start for the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Game in Houston on Feb. 17.

As you might expect, Doc Rivers and the Boston front office were quick to point out that the Celtics would not be looking to make a trade to replace the injured superstar. Instead, they’ll give the opportunity to one of those players already on the roster.

Step forward Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, and Barbosa. With Avery Bradley a bona fide starter, those are the options the Celtics have going forward.

Lee made the start on Sunday afternoon, scoring just four points in 26 minutes. Terry had 13 points in 32 minutes of the bench, while Barbosa scored nine points in 30 minutes. The question is then, will this be enough to keep the Celtics in a playoff spot?

Initially, yes. But if Philadelphia (18-25) actually gets Andrew Bynum on the court – his workouts are becoming more rigorous, reports suggest – the Sixers could start making ground. They’re currently 2.5 games back of the Celtics, which is nothing at this time of year.

The Pistons (17-27) have even made a push lately which, shockingly, could prove to be bad news for the Celtics. In fact, the Celtics are only 9.5 games ahead of last place Charlotte (11-32) in the East. Whilst we’re not suggesting the Hornets are going to threaten – they really aren’t – it remains a valid point that in the (very) weak Eastern Conference, the Celtics are by no means cleared for postseason action.

Which begs the question, is it time to blow this whole thing up and start again?

When the Celtics were struggling midway through last season, the general consensus was that the team needed to be broken down. Even then, a disheartened Rondo was potential trade bait. But the Celtics kept it together and went on to within one game of the NBA Finals, losing the Eastern Conference Finals in seven games to the Miami Heat.

In that case, keeping the nucleus together was a good idea, but now?

Rondo is a huge piece to try and replace and it’s hard to imagine Lee, Barbosa, or Terry – who really has been a disappointment since jumping the Dallas ship – making up for the 14 points, 11 assists, six rebounds, and two steals that Rondo gave the team night in, night out. As for the 37 minutes; Terry and Barbosa are hardly spring chickens.

Without Rondo, can the Celtics win?

According to last night, yes. Looking forward, no. Bookmakers have already dropped Boston’s odds of winning the NBA title from 25/1 on Friday to 33/1 today. Likewise, the team’s chances of taking the East have shortened from 12/1 on Friday to 14/1 today.

So, if the team can’t win, is it worth trying? Would it not be better to tender Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for a potential trade?

Both players, while past their prime, have a lot to offer for almost any team out there. You think the Lakers wouldn’t kill to have Garnett in place of Howard right now (maybe not next year but definitely right now)? Do you think that Pierce couldn’t really bolster the likes of Indiana, Dallas, or Atlanta? Sure, he’d look strange in a new uniform, but he has a quality any team should jump at.

Of course, for the Celtics it would be a matter of what comes the other way. Well, it’s unlikely the side would get equal value, but consider that the pairing of Pierce and Garnett will collect almost $28 million next season, and that’s if Pierce even chooses to come back (he has a player option for the 2013-14 season). That’s a fat wad of cash shifted in time for this summer’s free agency merry-go-round.

The summer might not be the marketplace of dreams, but consider the likes of Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Josh Smith, David West, O.J. Mayo, and Al Jefferson have all yet to put ink to contract for 2013-14. Any possibilities there?

Is it time to make the move? Is it time to blow up what’s left of the 2007 “Big Three” and start to put pieces around Rondo ready for next season, or the season after, which will be Rondo’s contract year?

The simple answer is: Hell, yes.

The longer answer is: Oh, hell, yes.

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