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Quarterback quandary

Questions at point guard will shadow C's into season

Posted: Wednesday September 5, 2007 10:16AM; Updated: Wednesday September 5, 2007 12:41PM
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The Celtics appear content to begin next season with 21-year-old Rajon Rondo (left) as their starting point guard.
The Celtics appear content to begin next season with 21-year-old Rajon Rondo (left) as their starting point guard.
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With the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Celtics fans are dreaming of the franchise's first trip to the NBA Finals since the days of Bird, McHale and Parish. But while tingling with anticipation, many also realize that there are still big question marks about the team.

No. 1 on their minds: Will Boston be good enough at point guard?

If the season started today, Rajon Rondo would be the team's starting QB alongside Garnett, Paul Pierce and Allen. While it's not necessarily a fatal flaw -- Rondo has considerable potential -- it does make for a major question mark. It's a lot to ask of a 21-year-old second-year player to go up against Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd, Gilbert Arenas and the other top point guards in the East.

What's more, the Celtics don't have a proven backup at the position. Tony Allen, Eddie House and rookie Gabe Pruitt are more combo guards than pure points.

That's why some Beantown hoop heads are howling for personnel boss Danny Ainge to pick up a phone and find a veteran free agent. Troy Hudson. Gary Payton. Charlie Bell. Earl Boykins.

Of this quartet, Hudson is the only realistic option (Payton is too old, while Bell and Boykins can get more money elsewhere). The 10-year veteran, recently waived by Minnesota after accepting a buyout worth about $10 million, is available and willing to sign for peanuts. He can stroke it from downtown, knows how to run the pick-and-roll and is said to be close to Garnett.

"I'm a little surprised [the Celtics] haven't [shown more interest]," said one Eastern Conference assistant GM who wished to remain anonymous. "I think Hudson's still a pretty good player. He's a real wild card off the bench. He's a streaky shooter, but he can put up points in a hurry.

"I thought they'd jump on him immediately."

Ainge must have his reasons for not wanting to take a flier on Hudson. Maybe it has something to do with Hudson's lack of defense or that he hasn't been the same since suffering a series of ankle injuries that seem to have robbed him of his explosiveness.

There's also the fact that Hudson didn't see eye to eye with Ainge's friend Kevin McHale last season. We're guessing the Timberwolves' vice president wouldn't give Hudson a glowing recommendation if Ainge were to ask for one.

Whatever the case, Ainge is holding firm in his stance that his team doesn't need another point guard. He said he's happy with Rondo as the starter and content with Tony Allen and House as the backups. He also told the Boston Globe that Ray Allen can handle the point at times, and that the offense will often run through Pierce and Garnett in the high post.

In fairness, Rondo might prove to be up to the task. Last year the cat-quick former Kentucky standout started 25 games for the Celtics, managing a respectable 6.4 points and 3.8 assists in just 23.5 minutes per game. He was particularly dangerous in the open floor, able to push the ball and find open teammates. Although just 6-foot-1, he is considered an effective pressure defender who can rack up steals with his quick hands and feet.

Rondo, however, is a notoriously poor outside shooter who made only 41.8 percent of his field goal attempts as a rookie, including 20.7 percent (6-of-29) from three-point range. With opposing defenses expected to gang up on Ray Allen, Pierce and Garnett, Boston is going to need its point guard to hit outside shots.

"His Achilles' heel is his ability to shoot the ball," the Eastern assistant GM said. "People are going to run off him and make him prove he can hit the jump shot."

If Rondo can improve his jumper even a little, it might be good enough. After all, the Celtics will have three perennial All-Stars in Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen. With House also around to handle the ball, and the 6-4 Tony Allen to defend the bigger point guards, the Celtics indeed could have most of the bases covered.

Still, Ainge appears to be taking a calculated risk by not looking to add another veteran floor leader to his roster. What if Rondo can't handle the job? What if he gets injured?

It's enough to at least temper some of the enthusiasm among those Celtics fans.