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Celts ready but not desperate to deal

Boston Herald

December 20. 2013 6:19PM

The Celtics, simply because of the way they have been deconstructed, are going to be mentioned whenever the next wave of trade rumors breaks.

As of Friday, Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee — both part of the alleged package of players and picks Danny Ainge was willing to send to Houston for center Omer Asik — remained Celtics.

The Celtics president of basketball operations still has that brimming collection of first-round picks — nine over the next five years — to use as sweetener in any prospective deal. Considering the NBA trade deadline is two months away on Feb. 20, Ainge's busy winter has only started.

But for now Ainge's team is unchanged, just as the Houston roster still includes a certain disgruntled 7-footer. Houston general manager Daryl Morey's attempt at creating a market for Asik failed to launch Thursday.

Depending on who is doing the talking, the Celtics have the best chance of landing the talented defender, who made it clear he does not want to spend the entire season as Dwight Howard's backup.

But Morey, who needed to complete a trade by today to have any chance of trading away any players he acquires in this deal by the trading deadline, pulled Asik temporarily off the market, according to numerous national reports.

And that development has left people with the Celtics scratching their heads. According to a team source, there has been little contact between the Celtics and Rockets over the last week, though Ainge did contact the agents for Bass and Lee to give them the organization's take on negotiations.

Though Ainge clearly could have been waiting for Morey to change his demands — one of the Celtics' two 2014 first-rounders was thought to be the Houston GM's target — most of the recent effort seems to have been generated by Houston.

The front office for the Celtics was wondering yesterday how the most-recent rumor gained so much momentum. Talks, according to the source, were never particularly close.

The Celtics also appear to be content to wait for Rajon Rondo's eventual return from knee surgery — most likely next month — if for no other reason than no one knows how the guard will respond once he starts playing.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has developed a system with Rondo in mind. The idea is to blend the point guard back into the mix as seamlessly as possible.

Of everything that has been on Stevens' mind in his first NBA season, developing a strong working relationship with Rondo has been near the top of the list.

The point guard has been on the bench for every game, functioning as an additional member of Stevens' staff, and fully invested in the progress of fellow guards Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford.

He ultimately will make both players, not to mention the rest of the lineup, better upon his return. Celtics management is anxious to see how the new chemistry works before entertaining any trade scenario.

The mercurial Rondo presents quite the challenge in that respect. He's one of the purest point guards in the NBA — one of the best at making every teammate on the floor a better player, and thus a logical player to be at the core of a rebuilding project.

The operative phrase with Ainge is also to never say never, of course. If a so-called godfather deal comes along for Rondo — an offer he can't refuse — then the atmosphere on Causeway Street is sure to change.

But for now, Ainge, who was in New York to watch Thursday night's game between Duke and UCLA at Madison Square Garden, is more focused on scouting than dealing.

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