One of the most overused and beaten up narratives this summer is how Rajon Rondo is going to react without his Hall of Fame teammates there to back him up, along with his date of return from his ACL injury. When will he return? How will he do without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett? Can he lead the team without them as safety nets? Will he be the same player when he does return? Can he lead the team in scoring? Will he still lead the NBA in assists? Can he find the cure for cancer? Yeah, not the last one, but you get the idea.
Some of the expectations placed on him are fair, and it’s easy to see why people expect these things. On the other hand, these angles have been beaten to the ground and overanalyzed in every possible way by every possible person with a blog. Sure, those questions need to be answered, but we’ve asked them enough. Isn’t it time we looked at other things? That said, it’s still important to look at those aforementioned questions and more, but in a different light. What is Rondo’s objective next season? Where does he want to take the Boston Celtics? The answers to those questions will determine how the answers to those questions will play out.
How do we determine Rondo’s objective? We don’t, and that’s the point. It’s our job to sit and think about whether this team is tanking, or if that team is concerned with making the Playoffs, or any other headlines that you hear in the offseason. The thing is, we just don’t know. In a way, I’m contradicting myself here, because “we don’t know” is one of those over beaten narratives attached to Rondo. There’s so much unknown when it comes to his situation, and here’s why:
Derrick Rose, Ricky Rubio, and Iman Shumpert. Besides all of them tearing their ACL’s, what do they have in common that Rondo doesn’t? When they returned (or will return, in Rose’s case), they came back to teams similar to the teams that they were a part of pre-ACL injury. Although there have been a plethora of minor changes to Chicago’s roster, when Rose laces up his sneakers on October 29th to face the Miami Heat, he’ll be joining the same core that he left in April of 2012. There’s a comfort level that these guys will have that Rondo won’t have to the same extent. Sure, he still has Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, and (the second-longest tenured Celtic) Avery Bradley, among others. Besides that, though, Rondo will be asked to lead a group of guys who largely are leaders, and that’s difficult. It’s especially difficult, for he can’t even work out with them.
Last summer, the overused Rondo narrative was him establishing himself as more of a leader as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett grew older. If you remember, Rondo actually organized workouts in L.A. that summer, and even threw in a football game for fun to increase team bonding. That would have been perfect this year, but obviously, Rondo can’t be out there throwing touchdown passes. Can you imagine being that guy who sacked Rondo which forced him to miss even more time with rehab after a mere recreational activity (erhm, Andrew Bynum)? Not a good idea. Rondo has, though, spent time with his new teammates, which shows that he really wants this to work. Let’s focus on that:
All this tanking talk? Yeah, that needs to stop. Rajon Rondo is one of the NBA’s most competitive players. In the last Playoff series that he played, the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, Rondo went toe-to-toe with LeBron James (kind of. You know what I mean), and he was actually out-performing James for most of the series (Game 6 is the obvious exception. Game 1 as well). Before you light up the comments section condemning me to Siberia (it’s happened before), look at the stats, and look at the fact that Boston arguably outplayed the Heat for four straight games (Games 2-5). Rajon Rondo could not be stopped. Why? He’s a competitor, and he hates losing. Need more proof?
Game 3 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. That iconic play where Rondo poked the ball loose, and then proceeded to run and dive between Jason Williams’ legs (out-hustling Williams by a lot) and getting the floater off of the backboard (no, Mike Breen, he did not spin). Dislocated elbow? No problem for Rondo. Although not nearly as efficient, Rondo battled through a dislocated elbow in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Heat. Trade rumors? He’s still got it. Staring at a billion trade rumors at the time, Rondo torched the New York Knicks for 17 points, 18 rebounds, and 20 assists in a win at the Garden in the March of 2012 . Remember when he dropped 44 points? Yeah, he also grabbed 8 rebounds and tossed out 10 assists. What’s my point?
As long as Rondo is on the court, regardless of the result, he’s going to compete. As long as Rondo is on the court, this “tanking” concept won’t prevail because that’s not the type of guy he is. Since he’s the leader, he’ll be tasked with making sure his team thinks the same way. It’s certainly possible for the Celtics to make the Playoffs. If they don’t, however, it won’t be because they didn’t try. All of those questions from the outset of this article will solve themselves when Rondo steps on the court, so that’s why it’s pointless to think about how much he’s going to score, or whether or not he’ll lead the league in assists. The biggest thing this year are the intangibles. If they make the Playoffs, that’s great, and the city of Boston has something to root for in April. If not, they get a lottery pick in a stacked draft. This season is a win-win for Boston. The bigger, overarching issue is how Rondo turns out. This year will be the year where we determine if he’s the future of the Celtics or not. Being the competitor that he is, though, this shouldn’t be an issue because the pressure is on. When the pressure is on, Rondo is at his best.