"What if the Celtics are 11-14 halfway through December? Mid December is the targeted return time for one All-Star point guard. What if the C's are on the edge of the playoff race when Rondo comes back? Where can they go from there?"
Rondo's return is still a little ways off, but Boston did go 11-14. However, I drastically underestimated how bad the Eastern Conference would be. Now 12-14, not only are the Celtics well beyond "the edge of the playoff race," tonight they host Detroit in a battle for the East's 4th best record.
As far as postseason contenders go, at this point I think we can safely write off Orlando (8-17), Philadelphia (7-17), and Milwaukee (5-19). That means in order for Boston to miss the playoffs, five of the following eight teams will have to pass them in the standings: Detroit, Washington, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Toronto, New York, and Brooklyn.
It wouldn't surprise me that much to see the Pistons and Nets finish ahead of the Celtics. A decent case could be made for John Wall's Wizards and Kyrie Irving's Cavs too. But then it gets dicey. Can the Knicks recover? The Bulls don't seem to be the same Rose-less Bulls they were a year ago. Toronto just dealt away Rudy Gay and looks to be headed for tank-ville. The Bobcats? They may actually be the most likely of this bunch, but they're still the Bobcats. Honestly I'm not convinced any of these clubs will have a better record than Boston, let alone five of them.
The Celtics are constantly getting better. As Sean Grande pointed out today, they're 5-2 in games against teams they've already played (which bodes well for the Pistons rematch this evening). And Rondo will eventually come back as well. Unless this squad is decimated by trades or injuries, the way things are going it's hard to envision them ending up in the lottery. And even though I know the playoffs are probably not in the franchise's best long term interests, it can still be a fun ride. If you're having trouble getting on board with this, try reading this post from mid-October: