Rondo: Cassel's a 2
Sam Cassell should be here for dinner on Monday, and so the great Celtics renaissance continues. Once, they all ran from Boston. Now, they cannot wait to visit.
This is the move that Danny Ainge can make now, seven months after the life-altering experience that was the Kevin Garnett trade. This is the move the Celtics director of basketball operations needs to make, too. The one glaring weakness on this team is the absence of a backup veteran point guard, with all respect to Eddie House, a shooting guard who was being asked to do something he should not have been asked to do.
Soon, Rajon Rondo will have his safety net. And the Celtics formally will begin final preparations for the playoffs.
``(Ainge) asked me how I felt about it,'' Rondo said last night at the Garden, where he recorded a career-high 16 assists (coincidence?) in a 108-100 victory against the Charlotte Bobcats. ``I told him I thought it would be a great idea. It can only help me.''
Which means it can only help the Celtics.
Cassell is not a Celtic, at least not yet, though it all seems a formality at this point. The 38-year-old almost certainly will clear waivers at 6 p.m. on Monday, by which point he should be at The Fours waiting for a phone call. Presumably, the Celtics already have a space reserved for him at their table.
Once again, Ainge has played this all masterfully. Before the season started, Ainge might have had Troy Hudson or Brevin Knight as a backup to Rondo. Now he gets the far more accomplished Cassell instead. In the interim, Rondo has turned into the point guard of the future and the present.
Don't you see? Back then, before the Celtics played a game, Ainge didn't want Rondo looking over his shoulder. Now the C's have the best record in the NBA and Rondo is more established, and it is the Celtics who do not want to second-guess themselves come playoff time.
If Rondo starts games and Cassell finishes them, so be it.
And no matter what happens this spring, Rondo still will be here next fall, while Cassell may not.
``If he were to come here,'' a playful Kevin Garnett said of Cassell, with whom he played in Minnesota, ``I don't think it would be a problem.''
Let's back up here for a minute. When the Celtics played the Detroit Pistons at the Garden on Dec. 19, the absence of a true backup to Rondo was glaring. So, too, was Rondo's relative inexperience. When Rondo was in the game, Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups thoroughly exploited the matchup on Detroit's offensive end of the floor. When Rondo was out of the game, the Celtics couldn't consistently get the ball up court. With Cassell in Boston, even House benefits. Whatever minutes House loses to Cassell at the point, he will gain in efficiency at the shooting guard position. The bottom line is that House may not be on the floor as much as he has been throughout this resurgent Celtics season, an average of just under 20 minutes per game, but he will be a better player for those minutes he is.
And what is playoff basketball about if not maximizing efficiency?
Not so long ago, remember, the Celtics were a roundball laughingstock. The only things missing were Will Ferrell and a three-colored ball. Then Ainge traded the No. 5 pick in the draft for Ray Allen. Then he traded almost everyone else for No. 5, Garnett. Then House and James Posey - and now Cassell - decided to come to Boston.
Now the Celtics have legitimate championship aspirations and Ainge has fortified the roster with Cassell and recently acquired forward P.J. Brown. A year after a wanting Doc Rivers hopelessly looked down his bench, the coach of the Celtics now has more players than he might know what to do with.
As for Rondo, there will be those moments when he gets to play alongside Cassell, who is not here to replace him so much as he is to help, particularly in the eyes of the starting point guard.
``He'd be at the (shooting guard),'' Rondo mused.
Even for Cassell, it would beat the alternative.
At another time, in the same place, he wouldn't have been there at all.