In order for this particular adjective to be attributed to an athlete, so much has to be in place. Becoming indispensable isn't something that can occur right away, and it certainly didn't for Rondo. Quite the contrary in fact; up to this point in his career the Boston Celtics are 27-14 when their point guard is missing in action.
Those 27 wins are obviously a tribute to the depth and talent the Celtics have surrounded Rondo with throughout his career. A few years ago Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were plenty capable of winning games on their own. However, as the years have worn on, that may no longer be the case.
Yes, Pierce and Garnett remain and both still have talented basketball gas in the tank. Up until now, Rondo truly needed them. Things have changed over the past few seasons, though. The system Rondo has fostered with the Celtics clearly revolves around himself. He has the ball; he is making the decisions that ultimately lead to victory or defeat.
Were Rajon Rondo replaced by an average point guard, how many games would Boston win?
The Celtics have become an intricate Rube Goldberg-esque machine, in which Rondo is the builder that keeps the ball rolling. While there are obviously other pieces to the machine which carry through commands, it is the builder who is indispensable. He sees the endgame of every maneuver.
Indispensable doesn't mean the best leader, or even sometimes the best player. Rondo may never lead by example as well as Pierce does or be as historically significant as Garnett. That doesn't change the fact that he is the most important piece to the Celtics' title hopes, and that is an understatement.
Since Rondo burst onto the scene a few years ago, Boston has struggled to find a suitable backup to spell him. The lack of this player has allowed Rondo to assume complete control of the offense. Watching a Celtics game, no one appears to be in more control of the proceedings than he is. More than 30 possessions each game finish as a direct result of Rondo, whether they be shots, trips to the line, turnovers, assists or failed assists.
Rondo has shown so much over the past couple seasons that his backup has become less of a priority. The less emphasis that is placed on a player's backup directly influences just how dispensable they are.
Taking Rondo out of the Celtics lineup is a death sentence at this point. Rondo has bridged the gap from the old guard to the young guns. Without a bridge, both figuratively and literally, there is no crossing. Rondo was on the 24-win team that preceded the Allen and Garnett acquisitions. He will also likely be on the team after Garnett and Pierce hang up their sneakers.
Likewise, he is the bridge from the starting unit to the reserves. Rondo can play more minutes than the rest of his starting teammates, which allows him to continue the flow of the game with the second unit when Pierce and Garnett sit.
To be indispensable, a player must do more than anyone else. His absence must be both noticeable and missed in multiple areas. When Rondo leaves the court, the Celtics don't just lose their point guard. They lose the best distributor in the league, as well as a great rebounder, defender and solid scorer.
With so many things being taken off the table when a player exits a game, it becomes harder and harder to survive without that player.
Rondo has added value for how he makes his teammates better. With the drop in distribution after he is gone, the rest of the team isn’t getting the ball where they are accustomed to, and scoring slows. Rondo has been with enough of his teammates long enough to know their tendencies and preferences like the back of his extraordinarily large hands.
He also often represents the Celtics only advantage over elite teams. Boston’s main challengers in the Eastern Conference have been Miami, Indiana, Chicago and Atlanta. Three of those four do not have elite point guards.
With Rondo able to take advantage of his matchups with the likes of Mario Chalmers, Boston doesn’t need to dominate at the other positions. Against a player like Derrick Rose or this year, what will be Deron Williams, Rondo gives the Celtics a fighting chance. His defensive prowess allows him to slow these players while taking advantage of their defensive weakness on the other end.
Being indispensable is about more than on-court performance. There has to be an attitude and desire. Rondo is indispensable not because anyone else made him so. Rondo is indispensable because he wants to be.