BOSTON -- Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said lingering uncertainty about Rajon Rondo's future in Boston, along with the team's inability to immediately surround him with impact players, contributed to his decision to trade him to the Dallas Mavericks.
The Celtics shipped the four-time All-Star point guard and rookie power forward Dwight Powell to Dallas on Thursday night for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, two future draft picks and a $12.9 million trade exception. And while Ainge admitted that giving up the best player in the deal ran counter to the team's typical philosophy with swaps, he believed it was the right move for the Celtics moving forward.
The Mavericks had called Boston to inquire about Rondo's availability in the years since former point guard Jason Kidd's departure, while the Celtics had asked about Wright and Crowder in recent seasons. A deal came together quickly in recent days when both sides revisited those talks, even as attempts to add a third team fizzled.
"There was definitely uncertainty into what might happen [with Rondo as a free agent] this summer," Ainge said Friday night while addressing reporters for the first time since the swap. "That was a big factor. We liked the players that we got in the trade. But, listen, with his impending free agency, and the uncertainty of what might happen this summer, I think that gave us the impetus of wanting to do a deal."
Encouraged in part by Rondo's desire to be part of a contending team, the Celtics explored adding impact players this offseason -- Kevin Love among the most notable -- but were unsuccessful, and a team that won 25 games last year continued to struggle in the early stages of the 2014-15 campaign.
Ainge noted the team was also eager to see how Rondo performed this season, further removed from ACL surgery and as the focal point of a young team. While Rondo dazzled as a distributor, he failed to take over games -- particularly in the fourth quarter -- the way an elite player on the verge of a maximum contract might be expected to.
It all added up to Thursday's swap, though it still wasn't easy for Ainge to bid farewell to the last remaining member of the team's latest Big Three era.
"It was hard. Yeah, it was very difficult to move Rajon," Ainge said. "I know it's a business in professional sports, but you really develop a lot of close relationships and I loved watching Rajon, I loved visiting with him, our one-on-one conversations were fun, entertaining, frustrating sometimes. And always a surprise.
"The guy was a very unique person. But watching him grow and watching him develop as a man and as a person and as a basketball player, I just enjoyed my interactions with him. It was an emotional time as we met last night. It was not an easy thing to do. But I believe it was the right thing to do."
Both Ainge and Celtics coach Brad Stevens met with Rondo at the team's practice facility Thursday evening in the aftermath of the trade and wished him well.
"We all feel like Rajon had a tremendous impact -- and I'm understating it and stating the obvious here -- but he had a tremendous impact on this organization, this city, certainly as a championship member of the Celtics and I think, to a man in that locker room, the coaching staff and the players certainly wish him nothing but the best," Stevens said. "I had a chance to talk with him briefly last night, certainly wish him well.
"It's the hardest part between being a pro coach and a college coach, where you kinda know the timeline when [players] are going to leave and you can mentally prepare yourself for that. Sometimes in the throes, with trades, you can't prepare as well. From our standpoint, we look at it more as, when someone is traded, as more of the person than the basketball player. That's an emotional time any time."
What did Stevens say to Rondo?
"It was just, 'Hey, Rajon, thanks for everything you've done. You've left a great legacy,'" Stevens said. "To be some place 8½ years, to have that kind of outpouring of emotion that you're going to have in leaving, it says what you did. I wish him nothing but the best. I think he's going into a great situation, a great coach, great players, and I'm sorry we have to play one more time -- because certainly I don't want to play against them. But it was more just that, and, 'Thanks.'"
The Mavs visit the Celtics on Jan. 2.
Stevens stressed that he never felt like Rondo disengaged from the team and praised the point guard's efforts leading a young squad despite Boston's struggles to consistently win games.
"Credit to him, he was always a part of the team and wanted to be part of the team and did his best," Stevens said. "It's part of the reason why we're so appreciative of what he meant to the whole group."
Rookie Marcus Smart said the trade caught the team by surprise, but that Boston's young core was eager to show what it can do.
Ainge said he was happy to deliver Rondo to a championship-caliber situation with Dallas.
"I shared with him how much I appreciated all he had done for us and how much I enjoyed our relationship. I'm rooting for him," Ainge said. "I think that, like Paul [Pierce] and [Kevin Garnett], when they were traded they were going to what everybody thought was a really special opportunity. I don't think, through any fault of their own, it didn't turn out like they hoped. But I think they were enthusiastic and excited.
"And I think Rajon hasn't gotten to that point yet, but I think he should be excited, I think he should be enthusiastic about the opportunity that he's going to. It makes me feel a little better -- we have to do what's best for the Celtics, but it is, at the same time, a great opportunity for him and I think he appreciates that he's getting a chance to go to a terrific opportunity."
ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo contributed to this report.