One by one the Celtics filed into the home locker room on Sunday, the euphoria of a double-overtime win over Miami washed away by sobering news delivered by Rajon Rondo: The All-Star guard was done for the season with a torn right ACL. "Man, that hurt," said Kevin Garnett. "It's tough—tough on everybody."
Toughest, perhaps, on team president Danny Ainge, who is now faced with some difficult decisions. Even with Rondo, Boston wasn't exactly lighting up the league: After Sunday's win the Celtics were 21--23 and clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They ranked in the bottom third of the NBA in points per game (21st), three-point percentage (28th) and rebounding (29th). Take away Rondo's offense—13.7 points and a league best 11.1 assists—and Boston can only get worse. "Rondo carried them," says an Eastern Conference scout. "He was a playmaker. You can't replace that."
Going into a full-scale rebuild is an option, though moving high-priced stars Garnett and Paul Pierce won't be easy. At 36, Garnett's value remains high—"He would fit in on any contending team," says an Eastern Conference personnel scout—but the $23.5 million that Garnett is owed over the next two years will scare off teams looking to avoid the stiff luxury-tax penalties that will kick in next season. Pierce, 35, is more movable because he is still an elite scorer (18.7 points per game) and only $5 million of his $15.3 million salary next season is guaranteed. Boston has shopped Pierce in the past and most likely will do so again.
Still, the economics of today's NBA make megadeals difficult; more probable is that Boston will look to make minor trades to add some depth. The Celtics were in the market for a center before the Rondo injury—they inquired about Phoenix's Marcin Gortat, according to an NBA source—and will turn to defensive-minded guard Avery Bradley to run the offense in Rondo's absence. In the meantime, coach Doc Rivers will point to Sunday's win against Miami as proof that even without Rondo, Boston can still compete with the best. "You can write the obituary," said Rivers. "I'm not."