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Bob Ryan

Turning around the Celtics is going to take awhile

Some time around 9:45 p.m. this Wednesday — barring, God forbid, an overtime in Game 82 — the excruciating ordeal that was the 2013-14 Boston Celtics season will come to its merciful conclusion.

It really was as predictable a season as the Celtics have ever known. We all knew the team would be taking a big step backward in the standings. What we did not know was the exact path the team would take in order to arrive safely in Lotteryland. The never-ending late-game collapses became a team trademark. I suppose that was better than losing by 20 every night.

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The draft is on every fan’s mind, but before we get to that, Danny Ainge, his front-office brain trust, and, of course, Brad Stevens must decide which, if any, of the incumbents are worth keeping. I mean, the 2014-15 Celtics won’t have 12 new players, right?

Nah. I think.

It all begins with Rajon Rondo, and it’s all up to Danny. To re-up him as The Man for a long time to come or to find him a home elsewhere? Aye, lads and ladies, that is the question. Can he really be the best player on a really good team, or is he a fascinating piece of a championship puzzle, as he was, and isn’t this hard to grasp, six years ago? Did Birthdaygate matter? Questions, questions, questions . . .

From afar, it does appear that Rondo likes being in charge, likes being the go-to guy for all team media inquiries, and likes being viewed as a mentor by the young’uns. He is not, and never will be, a Chris Paul or healthy Derrick Rose kind of explosive scorer first, floor leader second. Rondo’s personal offense is quirky and absolutely sui generis. There just hasn’t ever been anything quite like him. When he’s got it going, there is no more entertaining point guard in the league. He clearly represents the face of the team to this generation of Celtics fans. Trading him would rankle a lot of folks.

You’ll note I haven’t actually taken sides here. It’s hard, dammit. Rondo is so much fun to have around. I’m glad it’s Danny’s decision. That’s why Wyc and Steve pay him the big money.

Are there any keepers among the rest? Yes, well, kinda. There are no untouchables, but there are useful players who could have a place on a superior team.

I would start with Jared Sullinger, who has assets you can’t teach; namely, good hands and good feet. He is the best low-post threat the Celtics have had since Kevin McHale, and already he is one of the best inside scorers in the entire league. Throw in his rebounding knack and his surprising range when he does face up and how can you not like him? It is now a given that this is a pivotal summer for him. If he wants to be great, if he wants to get really rich, and if he wants to be a champion, he will get a trainer and work on that body.

Kelly Olynyk should be in this league for a long time. He needs to hit the gym, too, but he already has one valuable asset in place and that’s his passing ability. A good passing big man is like a smooth-fielding first baseman. You don’t know what you’re missing until you stumble upon one, and then you say, “Hey, this is really cool.”

Kris Humphries restored his reputation this season after being dumped on in New Jersey. There are many contenders that could use him in their rotation. He deserves that. I’d hate to make him wait around here, just getting older, while the Celtics rebuild.

You might think I’m burying the lead with Jeff Green, but I think we’re all on the same page with him. He is, and always will be, a colossal tease. He should be admired for his excellent comeback from heart surgery, but you almost wish he’d stop throwing in those occasional 30-point games if he’s intent on following them up with 2-2-6 the next night, because WE CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!! He is not a leading man. Please, Danny. Pick up the phone. Do something. That’s an order.

Tease No. 2 is Avery Bradley. He is the Clay Buchholz of the Celtics, a really nice player who can’t stay healthy. (I didn’t intend two baseball references when I started — honest.) What I must keep reminding myself is that Bradley will be just 23 when the next season starts, which is way too soon to be making definitive judgments on him. But I will say that I envision his best role as being a super-duper No. 3 combo guard on a good team. He has a lot to offer.

Brandon Bass? Solid and useful to a point and totally expendable.

Phil Pressey? Yes, he can play in the league. If he’s a good soldier and never rocks any boats, he should find a job on someone’s roster. But wherever it is, he will always have to rent, not buy.

As for the coach himself, he seems to have impressed everyone in the league by the way he carries himself. I must admit I got a little worried by those nightly fourth-quarter disasters down the stretch. Couldn’t some of that be traced back to him? Then again, it truly didn’t matter. He was never expected to win much. This season.

So, now we get to the much-discussed draft. Danny already has tried to put a lid on expectations, saying it’s not the wonderful, talent-rich crop everyone seemed to think it would be in November and December. And if Jabari Parker doesn’t jump in, the top of the lottery is even more diluted. The Celtics could wind up picking anywhere from 1 to 4 or 5, so that means there could be a Parker, Andrew Wiggins, or Julius Randle in their future.

What we don’t know is how highly valued the two Bigs in the mix are, or even how valuable old-fashioned Bigs are to modern general managers and coaches. But if you are looking for a potential rim protector, as they say, both Joel Embiid of Kansas and Noah Vonleh of Indiana qualify. Both are coming off injuries, both are young, and both might be in need of a long shakedown cruise when they enter the league. We are not talking Wilt Chamberlain or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar here.

My advice to any Celtics fan seeking instant gratification is to seek out some tapes of the 1985-86 or 2007-08 Celtics. You can’t go wrong there. Any steps the 2014-15 Celtics take toward championship No. 18 will be itsy-bitsy baby ones.

Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.
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