Jordan Crawford recently said he wasn’t surprised when the Celtics traded him in January.
Why? Because Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had actually warned the guard before the season that he could be moved at some point.
Sure enough, that’s what happened: As part of a three-team deal, Crawford was shipped to Golden State.
Such is the life of a player on a rebuilding team: There’s always some degree of uncertainty as the front office works to reshape the roster.
It’s an unsung challenge for rookie coach Brad Stevens to keep his players united even though they know they might be on unsettled ground.
Likewise, it’s an unsung challenge for the team’s captain, Rajon Rondo.
And around the time Rondo returned to action in January after missing nearly a year following a knee injury, former Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he brought up this topic with his former point guard.
It’s not unusual for the two to talk, even with Rivers now coaching the Los Angeles Clippers. They have history, with Rivers coaching Rondo from 2006-07 until last season.
“I speak to Doc all the time,” Rondo said. “I’ve talked to him on the phone. I’ve talked to him after games, text-wise. He gives me advice all the time.”
This particular chat, Rivers recalled, focused on a theme that Rondo has heard plenty about lately: patience during a rebuild.
“That’s all it was about,” Rivers told the Globe. “I said, “You’re going to have to have patience.’ ”
But within the confines of that subject, Rivers brought up the task of leading players who know they might not be sticking around.
“Everybody is not going to buy in, because all they hear is that they’re all getting traded because they’re in the middle of a rebuild,’” Rivers said he told Rondo. “So you’re going to go in there and talk about, ‘Hey, let’s buy in as a team,’ and half of them are going to say, ‘I’m not even going to be on this team.’ ”
“Well, the first concern is to make it through the trade deadline,” Rondo said.
Indeed. The Celtics made two swaps before the deadline. And though he involved in numerous rumors, Rondo wasn’t moved.
But the roster is by no means settled.
The Celtics figure to be especially active this summer, and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck recently told the Globe, “This June there could be some fireworks.”
Technically speaking, only Rondo, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk, and Jared Sullinger are on guaranteed contracts for next season.
Jerryd Bayless, Kris Humphries, and Avery Bradley will become free agents, though Bradley will be restricted, meaning the Celtics can match any offer he receives.
“For the most part, guys are playing for contracts,” Rondo said. “It’s not a matter of being here. It’s a matter of staying in the league.”
That pressure can weigh on a player.
“If a guy is not under contract, obviously he wants to play well every game,” Rondo said. “He wants to make all his shots, do all the intangibles.
“I’m not necessarily saying that a guy under contract won’t do all those things, but obviously it’s amplified when you’re playing for your life or you’re playing for your career.”
Leading a locker room in which players might be playing for their career is new for Rondo, but Wallace recalled being in that situation in Charlotte.
In 2004-05, his first season there, the team was rebuilding (it finished 18-64) and most of the players were set to become free agents. Ideally, Wallace said, players buy into the system, but that’s easier said than done.
“It’s a big challenge,” he said, “because even though you don’t want to think about that, once you start losing, you start thinking about your career — ‘Oh, I’m up next summer, I’ve got to figure this [expletive] out.’
“Guys start thinking about that, so it’s hard trying to balance the two and trying to keep them in between, but I think the guys that really buy into it are the guys that benefit from it.”
Wallace praised Rondo’s leadership in that regard, saying, “He’s done a great job.”
Wallace also said that, as a leader, Rondo is easy to follow.
“I think so, because he competes,” Wallace said. “Anybody can talk, but actions speak louder than words, and guys that go out and do as much as they talk are easy to follow.”
Bradley agreed, saying that Rondo leads by example.
“That’s all you can do,” Bradley said. “You don’t want to strip anybody’s confidence. You don’t want to seem like you’re yelling at people all the time. So all you can really do is lead by example, and I think he does a great job of that.
“Somebody you know that’s going to go out and play hard for you every single night — all you can do is respect that.”
Rondo said his approach to leading hasn’t changed even though he knows some players might be unsure how much longer they’ll be playing for the Celtics.
“I think they know that I want the best for them overall,” Rondo said. “Hopefully they would think that.
“Everything I tell guys or any advice I give is for the betterment of them and the team. I don’t benefit from it — well, maybe from getting an assist — but I want them to be in the right rotation defensively. I want us to all be on the same page. And then when we win, we all win.
“When we win, everybody gets paid.”