Ainge says impending free agency led to Rondo deal

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BOSTON (AP) — Rajon Rondo wanted to avoid rush-hour city traffic so he met at the Boston Celtics suburban practice facility with the man who traded him.

"I shared with him how much I appreciated all he had done for us," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said of that Thursday night farewell.

All that wasn't enough for Ainge to keep the star point guard who could have left as a free agent after the season. Or to reject a Dallas Mavericks offer that gave Ainge more assets to continue shaping the young roster into a contender.

"There was definite uncertainty into what may happen this summer," Ainge said before Friday night's game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, "So that was a big factor."

The Celtics traded Rondo, 28, and rookie forward Dwight Powell on Thursday night for point guard Jameer Nelson, center Brandan Wright, forward Jae Crowder, two draft picks and a $12.9 million trade exception. The three new Celtics were in town Friday night but not active against the Timberwolves.

One night after meeting with Ainge in Waltham, Rondo attended a news conference with his new team which should be more competitive in the tough Western Conference.

"He should be enthusiastic about the opportunity he's going to," Ainge said. "It makes me feel a little better. We have to do what's best for the Celtics. It is, at the same time, a great opportunity for him."

Evan Turner started in his place at point guard. The Celtics also have second-year pro Phil Pressey and rookie Marcus Smart, a first-round pick, to play that spot. But Smart has been slowed by a series of injuries and is not at full strength despite being in uniform Friday night.

Trading the mercurial Rondo "was difficult," Ainge said. "I loved watching Rajon. I loved visiting with him. Our one-on-one conversations were fun, entertaining, frustrating sometimes, always a surprise. The guy was a very unique person."

In his last talk with Rondo, coach Brad Stevens said he told the four-time All-Star and current NBA assists leader, "Thanks for everything you've done. You've left a great legacy."

Obtained by Ainge in a draft day trade after Phoenix chose him in the first round in 2006, Rondo was a member of the Celtics championship team in his second season with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. But the Celtics began a long-term rebuilding project last season when Stevens succeeded Doc Rivers, who left to coach the Los Angeles Clippers.

They went into Friday night's game with a 9-14 record.

Rondo missed the first half of last season after reconstructive knee surgery then broke a finger on his left hand but played in the opener less than five weeks later.

"We clearly gave up the best player in this deal and that's not philosophically what we'd like to do," Ainge said.

But Stevens rejected the notion that Rondo didn't want to stay with the Celtics or that the trade was part of an effort to get a poorer record and a better draft choice.

"We are building every single night to be the best that we can be," he said. "Tonight, tomorrow, the next night. That's never going to stop."

He also said Nelson, Wright and Crowder all could contribute to the team.

Ainge said the trade was not a backward step in the rebuilding process since it provided a trade exception and two draft picks that could be included in deals. Over the next six years, the Celtics have 10 first-round picks and the possibility of two more.

"We have a lot of (salary) cap space this summer," he said, "which the Celtics have never had."

They also have two forwards who can become free agents after the season, leading scorer Jeff Green and backup Brandon Bass.

Might they be traded as well?

"Let's take a deep breath and enjoy the holidays and let's let these (new) guys play, see how everybody fits in," Ainge said to laughter. "We're not actively pursuing anything at this minute."

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