We're five days removed from their loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals and the speculation about the Celtics future is swirling rapidly, like a house fan in a heat wave.
Will coach Doc Rivers be back? Is Rasheed Wallace really retiring? Is Ray Allen returning? What will Paul Pierce do about his opt-out?
What is certain among all the uncertainty is no matter the coach and the composition of the Celtics next season, this team's success is now tied to Rajon Rondo's. That major change has already transpired.
Two years ago when the Celtics won Banner No. 17, Rondo was an unproven point guard charged with getting the ball to the Big Three, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, and getting out of the way. Now, he is an All-Star point guard and it is the Big Three that must get the ball to him and stand back a bit.
That is a tricky transition game that is crucial for the future of the Celtics.
It's hard to dispute that the Promethean point guard was the Celtics' best all-around player through the two-month playoff run. In 24 postseason games, the 24-year-old averaged 15.8 points, 9.3 assists and 5.6 rebounds, while shooting 46 percent from the field. The numbers never tell the full story with Rondo ... well, with the exception of his triple-doubles and his abhorrent free throw shooting.
Rondo put up respectable stats in the NBA Finals -- 13.6 points, 7.6 assists and 6.3 rebounds -- while being guarded by the best player on the planet, Kobe Bryant. But it was interesting that when push came to shove in the closing quarter of Game 7 and the Celtics' season was on the line, the offense reverted.
It wasn't running through Rondo. It was going through Pierce and a struggling Allen.
There was a moment late in the game when Rondo's rise became quite evident, more of a mandate than his $55 million extension, Sports Illustrated cover or matchups with Kobe and LeBron. Allen missed a 3-pointer and Rondo grabbed the rebound, stepped behind the 3-point line and drilled a trey with 16.2 seconds remaining to trim the Lakers' lead to 81-79. That's the type of last-gasp shot that is usually reserved for a team's best player and Rondo took it without hesitation.
It was a statement shot by Rondo.
The Big Three understand what is happening. Pierce made a statement after the Celtics won Game 2 to hand the Lakers their first and only home loss of the playoffs that was profound. That game is remembered for Allen's 32 points and NBA Finals record eight 3-pointers, but Rondo had a triple-double (19 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) and 10 fourth-quarter points.
"That's the key for us -- if we can get stops and we can get Rondo out in transition, that's big for us," said Pierce, standing on a chair in the corner of the cramped visitors' locker room. "He did everything tonight -- he rebounded, passed, controlled the tempo. That's how we got to play. Let him get the ball in his hands and let him make things happen."
Let him get the ball. Let him make things happen. Let him go.
At times, that Pierce proclamation felt like lip service, though.
The Celtics' greatest strength, balance, was also an anchor that weighed them down. With so many options on offense, including arguably the greatest pure scorer in franchise history in Pierce, it wasn't always clear where the Celtics should be going on crucial possessions.
Never was that more evident than the final possession of the first half of Game 5, when Pierce, thinking Rondo was ignoring him, waved off Rondo in disgust and pulled a walk-off at the precise moment Rondo tried to give him the ball. The play was an awkward and public example of the team's evolution to a more Rondo-centric one and some of the resistance that change faces.
Regardless of where you think Rondo stands on the pecking order of NBA points guards -- I think he's third behind Chris Paul and Deron Williams because Steve Nash can't defend and Derrick Rose isn't really a point guard, more like a mini-Dwyane Wade -- he is a great facilitator and creator. But you can only facilitate and create with the ball in your hands and the trust of your teammates.
Pierce is the player who will have to adapt the most to Rondo's role change, on and off the court. He has been the Celtics' savior for more than a decade and the automatic go-to guy. Garnett and Allen often get their offense off feeds from Rondo, alley-oops to Garnett and pinpoint passes for Allen off picks. But Pierce is still a player whose offense is best initiated when he has the ball and room to work.
There should be a realization that Rondo is the only way to extend this team's run. The ageless Allen tired out covering Kobe and averaged 14.6 points while shooting only 36.7 percent from the field. Two years ago, he averaged 20.3 per game against LA and shot 51 percent from the field.
Pierce learned facing LeBron in the second round that he can no longer expend himself at both ends and produce like he did two years ago. KG proved in the Finals his career is far from over, but also that the phase of his career where he can dominate on both ends night in and night out is probably over.
Confirmation that Rondo has arrived as a face of the franchise was there for all to see during the NBA Finals. On a giant green banner on TD Garden that faced 93 southbound were Garnett, Pierce, Allen, and ... Rondo.
Rondo forced the expansion of the Big Three to the Core Four, but the truth is Rondo is now The One.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.