With the rash of injuries to many of our favorite All-Star players, the NBA season went from exciting, to, well, quite boring. Fans thought they would watch the likes of Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook battle this year for an NBA championship. Instead, these superstars are doing the same things as the fans: watching. The Eastern Conference boasts three teams with winning records, out of 15 total teams, and four teams which have lost at least twice as many games as they’ve won. One of those franchises is the Boston Celtics, who just received a late Christmas gift: The return of their franchise player, Rajon Rondo.
In a league dominated by perimeter shooting and scoring, Rajon Rondo is a flashback. The floor general that values assists more than points, passing up every opportunity to score if he can put his teammates in the same position. The NBA is in the age of the scoring point guard, the guard that averages close to 20 points and seven or eight assists. These are the “point” guards that are being discussed as the top point guards of the NBA. Besides the play of Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo is on another level compared to everyone else. Rondo is the Peyton Manning of point guards — it doesn’t matter who is on the court with him, he will put them in position to succeed.
Even rookie head coach Brad Stevens is aware of how important Rondo is.
“Listen, when Rajon’s on the court, I’m telling you, everybody has a better idea of where they’re supposed to be because he helps remind them and point them in that direction,” Stevens said, via The Boston Herald, following a recent practice session in which Rondo predictably raised his intensity. “He’s a natural point guard. He’s a natural leader. He’s one of the best in the business at it. And that’s what the best are supposed to do; they’re supposed to make others better, and he’s really good at it.”
Even though he’s never averaged over 14 points per game in his seven-year career, he is considered among the elite point guards in the NBA for a reason. For the past three seasons, Rondo hasn’t averaged less than 11.0 assists per game. Rondo led the league in assists per game in 2012-2013 (11.1) and 2011-2012 (11.7), while finishing second in 2010-2011 with 11.2 assists per game. Entering his eighth season with the Celtics, Rondo boasts career averages of 11.1 points, 8.3 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals.
But Rondo is coming back to a Celtics team he is not familiar with. The last time Rondo suited up for the Celtics, he was still throwing passes to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and running plays from Doc Rivers. Rondo is not returning to a team similar to the one he won an NBA championship with in 2008. These are uncharted waters. Rondo is taking the reins of a team right in rebuild mode, stashing away picks and trading away once valued players like rapid fire.
Kobe Bryant understands this and said of Rondo: “From what I understand, he’s an a**hole like me, so he’ll manage”.
When healthy, Rajon Rondo is unquestionably a top-five player at his position. Trade rumors about Rondo are premature and ludicrous. Rondo is only 27 years old, the same age that Paul Pierce was when the Celts “tanked” during the ’06-07 season. The Celtics would be smart to keep Rondo and build around him, especially with Rondo having a few years left on his deal. Plus, what NBA GM wants to trade for a player coming off of a major knee injury that will command max money when his current deal is up?
Either way, this isn’t about the future, this is about right now. The Celtics are currently in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at 14-28 and have won just two games since before Christmas, but are still only 3.5 games out of the eighth seed in the East. The playoffs are still a very serious reality for Boston. With a conference as horrid as the East, a five or six-game winning streak could bring the Celtics out of purgatory.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are no longer in Boston and for the first time in his career, Rondo has the chance to be the unquestioned leader of the franchise. Rajon Rondo will have to prove his greatness, with a less than stellar supporting cast, compared to the Hall of Famers he’s use to working with. However, one of the reasons Rondo is such a game-changing player is the fact that he makes everyone around him better, not just himself. Plus, there is still talent in Boston.
Kelly Olynyk recently had the best game of his career, scoring 25 points and adding seven assists and five rebounds. Jeff Green is averaging 15.6 points this season and Avery Bradley is averaging 14.7 points to complement his tenacious defense. Jared Sullinger is having a career year, recently recording a 25-point, 20-rebound game (which was the first 20-20 game since Kevin Garnett in 2007-2008) while averaging 13.2 points and 7.7 rebounds this season. These players can only improve with Rajon Rondo on the floor. Rondo will create more open looks and even if they aren’t open, he will find a way to get the ball to them.