Boston Celtics' Future Hinges on Keeping Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley Together
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce aren't going to be around much longer. At 36 and 35 respectively, their days in Beantown are drawing to a close. Retirement or a trade will strike at some point.
Which leaves Bradley and Rondo, the team's two most prized youngsters, both of whom the Celtics have no intention of trading.
Or at least, that's what Danny Ainge says (via Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com):
Floated that scenario during a call to Boston sports radio WBZ-FM (98.5 the SportsHub), Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge brushed off the suggestion while stressing how much the team likes the Rondo-Avery Bradley backcourt combination moving forward.
"I don’t know what you're insinuating because Avery is not Rondo and Avery can also play 2 guard with Rondo and those guys have been extremely effective together," Ainge said. "I know that we haven’t had them together much this year and I think that Rajon loves playing with Avery Bradley for a lot of different reasons. I think that combination last year proved to be spectacular, they just didn’t get a chance to get together much this year, so it's a little bit unfair."
Later, Ainge was asked more directly if he'd ponder trading Rondo or Bradley in the offseason given the way his team has performed.
"I can’t envision any scenario, no," Ainge said. "I love those guys, where Rondo is right in the prime of his career, and Avery's not even there yet, he's continuing to get better. I think they are a great guard combination and to ever consider doing something like that, it would have to be something significant."
Ainge isn't the most candid of general managers (are there any at all?). He tends to play things close to the chest and let the anonymous sources do their job. That in mind, we have to trust him here.
Even if the Celtics wanted to, splitting up this dyad isn't a legitimate option.
Aside from Garnett, Bradley is easily Boston's best defender. He makes sharp and accurate lateral movements, and is one of the best in the league at closing out on shooters. According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), the 22-year-old lets up just 0.69 points per defensive possession, 12th best in the league.
Boston has long been a team built upon the success of their defense. When your offense ranks 24th in efficiency, you kind of have to be.
Dealing Bradley then makes little sense.
Some of the same can be said for Rondo, but much of it can be countered.
The Celtics have both scored more and allowed fewer points with Rondo off the floor this season. Superstar or not, there is a case to be made that their 16-7 record since his injury is more than just a coincidence.
But, in the name of common sense, we can't focus on such conjecture. With Garnett and Pierce approaching the end of the line, parting ways with a crafty and incisive floor general like Rondo also makes little sense.
Knowing that the state of his ACL has now been compromised, it would also be near impossible to match his value on the trade market.
And so, Boston has this backcourt tandem to build around. Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger will be building blocks as well, but Bradley and Rondo are the team's primary pillars.
As it turns out, Ainge wasn't just blowing smoke when he said this is a productive coupling.
The numbers this season don't support Ainge's claim. In nearly 240 minutes of action together, the Celtics were being outscored by 3.8 points per 100 possessions with both on the floor.
Normally, I abhor excuses, but Bradley and Rondo have a legitimate one. The former didn't make his first appearance of the season until January, and the latter was sent to the sidelines less than a month later. Their sample size, though significant for the amount time both were simultaneously healthy, is not indicative of how well they complement each.
Last season, the duo was one of Boston's most productive two-man combinations. When both were on the floor together, the Celtics outscored opponents by 13.4 points per 100 possessions.
While you'd like to see both players improve the state of their distance shooting, they make for a promising perimeter attack.
Rondo, though not exactly Bradley-esque, serves as a dynamic perimeter defender as well.
He's mastered the art of forcing steals both on and off the ball, and is one of the best at fighting over screens and cutting off opponents who take him off the dribble. Per Synergy Sports, he was allowing just 0.77 points per defensive possession before going down, putting him in the top 50.
Together, Bradley and Rondo make up an outside defensive entity that should be able to force turnovers and create scoring opportunities, which the Celtics need.
Boston ranks fourth in defensive efficiency and seventh in points allowed (95.8). Defense isn't this faction's primary issue. They can play it; they excel at it. The offensive end is where the most work needs to be done.
In addition to ranking 24th in offensive efficiency, they're 18th in points scored (96.2) and in the bottom half of possessions used per 48 minutes (91.5). As the two primary options at point guard, they'll both be tasked with instilling some life into what is often a stagnant offense.
Think of the Celtics like the Miami Heat. No, they're not a superteam, but just as the Heat's success depends upon the performances of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Boston's livelihood will be dictated by the harmonic success of Bradley and Rondo.
Life sans Garnett and Pierce is coming. And soon. Maybe not for another year, or even two, but it's coming. In some ways, it's already here.
As we've already seen, Garnett is beginning to succumb to the wear-and-tear that comes with a 36-year-old body playing 30 minutes. And Pierce, well, he's averaging a respectable 18.5 points per game, but it's also the third-lowest mark of his career.
Are Bradley and Rondo enough to carry the Celtics moving forward?
Age will eventually prevail if it hasn't already. The Celtics were considered Rondo's team even before the season started, and that consensus will only grow stronger with each passing game, injury and all.
But he won't have to do it alone.
He has Bradley, a budding prospect on the precipice of what Boston hopes is a breakout. Him, along with a healthy Rondo, will carry Boston.
They are the future of the Celtics. Where Boston goes from here hinges on them.
Both of them.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports, 82games.com and NBA.com unless otherwise noted.
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