Maybe this is how Santa Claus feels. After Boston's basketball season ended in May, we tossed our Celtics mailbag in the corner of the office and, for six months now, the letters piled up. Probably more than we expected, considering the doldrums of a locked out summer.
Now, topped by a monster heaping of letters inspired by the Rajon Rondo-for-Chris Paul rumors, the mailbag is overflowing. Thursday, we debut the 2011-12 Celtics Mailbag with Part I examining all the letters on the potential Paul-Rondo swap. Check back Friday for Part II, which will take a broader look at the start of training camp (get your last-minute questions in HERE).
Q: Do you think the Celtics are still a championship contending team? -- Raissa (Caribbean)
A: Not to take the easy way out here, but it's impossible to truly speculate about the Celtics' potential until they put together a full 2011-12 roster. For the sake of argument, let's assume they don't make a Rondo swap and the core remains intact with the team simply bringing back Glen Davis and Jeff Green, while maybe adding one other impact player with the mini midlevel. Would that be a championship-caliber team? Maybe, but they'd need a lot of good fortune and perfect health to do it. My concern with what amounts to the status quo from last season (sans Shaq) is that it wasn't good enough last year, why would it be good enough this year? To me, the Celtics have to shake things up a little bit and that ultimately might mean utilizing their most valuable trade asset (Rondo). Speaking of which, there's been just a few questions (and many profanity-laced comments) on the rumors about him and Paul.
Q: Why are the Celtics risking giving up Rondo for Paul when they could very well get nothing out of it? Besides the fact that Rondo is immensely talented and has a very favorable contract, imagine how the city will react if Paul decides to leave after one year. Boston will have given up its future for one season with Paul, who, by the way, will have to build a relationship with the Big 3 and coach Doc Rivers in a shortened season. Do you really think this is worth the risk? -- Nick (Massachusetts)
A: I do think it's worth the risk, Nick. I'm just not confident this team can remain a contender this year without some sort of overhaul. I worry about the Big Three grinding through a condensed, game-heavy regular season and having little left in the tank in the postseason. Bringing back the same team from last season would rely far too heavily on things you can't always control (especially health). If I'm Danny Ainge, I get Paul here first and worry about his contract later. As for chemistry, the 2007-08 Celtics put it together pretty quickly in the first year of the Big Three.
Q: Do you really think Chris Paul is better for the C's than Rondo? Paul will certainly score more, but what about on the defensive end and rebounding? -- Bags (Los Osos, Calif.)
A: The Celtics are in desperate need of an offensive jolt and Paul can provide it, taking much of the load off the Big Three. Sure, Rondo is a far better defender, but people seem to forget that Paul was an NBA All-Defensive first-teamer in 2009 (and a second-teamer in 2008 and 2011) and topped the league in steals in three of the past four seasons. Boston might believe it can mask his defensive deficiencies better than it can the offensive struggles of Rondo.
Q: Call it reliving the 'old days' but I was watching the 2008 NBA Finals and this team is nowhere near the same. The video just shows what the stats show, the Big 3 can't facilitate their own offense anymore. They need help. If the Celtics get CP3, great. If not, I'm not sure where the offense comes from on a consistent basis. And without that, unless Rondo plays at 2010 level, I'm not thrilled about their chances. -- Zain (Merced, Calif.)
A: I'm with you, Zain. For two years now the Celtics have been desperate for another scoring weapon, even if it came off the bench. I think that need is diminished a bit if you add Paul to the starting lineup. But let's remember that Big Baby was maybe the team's most consistent scoring option last season and that just can't happen. If Jeff Green sticks around, the team needs him to become a consistent offensive weapon. But this team also needs a backup shooting guard that can provide instant offense off the pine. This squad will always be built on defense with Kevin Garnett in the middle, but it needs an offensive upgrade.
Q: How are the Celtics going to entice Chris Paul to stay in Boston after this year? I doubt Dwight Howard will make it to free agency, he has trade rumors swirling around him and the Magic are going to want something in return for their star center. Your thoughts? -- Stephen Stratum (N.H.)
A: I think the outside perception is that Boston isn't a glamorous place to play -- at least not to the level of South Beach or Hollywood (or even the Big Apple). But once players get here, I think they get swept up in the history and the tradition. More importantly, if you win games, players want to stick around, and a successful 2011-12 season would put the Celtics in the driver's seat for keeping Paul (especially with their ability to offer him big free-agent dollars after the season). The snowball effect there is that guys want to play with Chris Paul and if they see him in Boston, maybe it entices Howard -- or the next big available name next summer -- to endure a little cold weather. Even if Paul doesn't stay, the Celtics will have a lot of cash to wave at free agents.
Q: So I have been following the Chris Paul saga and I do not understand why Danny Ainge would trade Rondo. It just does not make sense to me. The Celtics are all about chemistry, and we saw this when Ainge traded Perkins last year and the Celtics turned into a completely different team and were clearly affected by the trade. I feel like Ainge realized this mistake when he tried to reverse the trade after the NBA Finals. By trading Rondo, you are killing your team chemistry, and you only have 66 games, plus a shortened training camp, to build up the chemistry with Paul. I figured Ainge would have realized this after the Perkins trade. In addition, if the Celtics are able to land Paul and he leaves after one year, they will have a lot of cap space to pursue free agents in the summer of 2012, but when was the last time that a marquee free agent in their prime signed with Boston, or a player publicly demanded a trade to Boston? I just don't see trading Rondo for Paul as a good move for the present or the future for the Celtics. -- Phil (Philadelphia)
A: Let's be clear, the report that the Celtics reached out to Oklahoma City about swapping Rondo and Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins and Russell Westbrook wasn't about bringing those players to Boston. To me, that's a sign of the Celtics trying to get the assets necessary to pry Paul from New Orleans. There's certainly something to be said for chemistry, but I really don't think you'd have trouble integrating an established superstar with the Big Three. What's more, the Heat overhauled their roster last season and got to the Finals just fine with all that star power. There might be some bumps -- the Heat can tell you that -- but talent eventually prevails.
Q: Chris Paul is a better player than Rajon Rondo, when he's playing. Chris Paul = injury prone. This is a statement, not a question. -- KC (Australia)
A: Take away the 2009 campaign and Paul has missed 30 games in his five other seasons (6 games per year). Rondo has missed 26 games in his five seasons (5.2 games per year). Sure, there's reason to be worried about Paul's knee, but he played 80 games last season. And Rondo wasn't exactly the definition of health last year, missing 14 games due to sore feet, strained hamstrings, sprained ankles and jammed fingers (and his back acted up at times). Oh, and he dislocated his elbow in the postseason (though he earned some stripes by returning to play through the pain). Look, that's not all a bad thing; Rondo is a gritty player who isn't afraid to hit the hardwood. But that punishment adds up.
Q: Chris Forsberg, don't send Rajon Rondo to the Indiana Pacers. If you do, Attitude Adjustment for you, Chris Forsberg. -- Scott (Greenland, N.H.)
A: Everyone knows I'm a sucker for a wrestling reference. Can someone ask John Cena where he stands on a Rajon Rondo deal?
Q: Are you crazy? Why would you want to trade Rondo? He has proven that he can be a winner and a playmaker. Sure, he has things to improve on, but I'd be shocked if he were traded. The Kendrick Perkins trade was horrible. This would be worse. -- Rob (Knoxville, Tenn.)
A: In a way, the Perkins trade might have been the first step in facilitating the Paul trade. The Celtics knew they weren't going to be able to pay Perkins, so they got a couple of assets in return (Jeff Green, Clippers' first-round pick) that could aid them in swinging a deal this offseason (or further down the road). It would have been better if the Celtics could have retained Nenad Krstic this season, but the lockout burned them there as he hopped overseas. If we're being honest, health was a far greater concern than chemistry in the playoffs. And, let's face it, Miami might just be a better team unless the Celtics upgrade their talent.
Q: Chris can you clear up some confusion that I have in regards to the draft pick that Danny Ainge picked up last year in the Oklahoma City trade? I know it's supposed to be top 10 protected, but can you explain how the Clippers and Wolves swapping picks this year impacts the C's ability to get the pick? -- Byron (Cleveland)
A: Before the lockout, we took inventory of all of Boston's future draft picks (HERE). Quoting ourselves, the short answer is: Yes, the Clippers' pick is top 10 protected over each of the next four years. If the Clippers end up with a top 10 pick in the 2012 draft, Boston's pick rolls over until 2013 (and again in 2014 and 2015, before finally becoming unprotected in 2016). As for how the Timberwolves get involved, well, that's the long answer. Follow that link for more.
Coming Friday: Part II that previews the start of training camp and all things non-Rondo/Paul.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics and Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.