Breaking Down Why Rajon Rondo Defines Boston Celtics' Future
You could call Larry Bird overrated, mispronounce chowder (it's "chow-dah") or even point out that the New England Patriots have been a pretty disappointing outfit since they stopped secretly videotaping opponents. But none of those inflammatory acts is as sure to spark a heated exchange as an opinion on whether or not the C's should trade Rondo.
It doesn't even really matter which side of the Rondo question you favor; you're bound to run into staunch resistance either way.
One thing everyone can agree on, though, is that the way the Celtics deal with the Rondo conundrum will be the biggest factor in the team's future prospects.
Do they build around him, or do they ship him out and really start over? Put up your dukes as we examine both sides of Boston's big dilemma.
A Celtic for Life
Well, now that Paul Pierce—whose blood might actually have started to turn green after 15 years in Boston—is set to finish out his career with the Brooklyn Nets, it's probably not safe to say anyone is going to be a Celtic for life.
Instead, let's discuss how things should go if Rondo remains a Celtic for a really long time. That seems safer, right?
Anyway, Boston's decision to ship Pierce and Kevin Garnett (and Jason Terry, but who cares?) to the Nets was a public admission that the team was done trying to hold things together for one more run. It was time for a new direction.
If the Celtics would like Rondo to be the guy piloting the franchise in whatever that new direction is, they're going to have to figure out the best way to surround him with complementary talent.
That's going to be tricky because the success Rondo and the Celtics have enjoyed since the 2007-08 season came with a roster that won't be easily duplicated.
That team was a collection of desperate veterans who were willing to work together, defend at an A-plus level and grind their way to wins. Boston isn't interested in getting older these days, so it'll have to construct a team around Rondo in a different way.
That's fine, though, because the old Celtics' slow-down style never really took advantage of Rondo's real talents. This time around, the Celtics need to pick up the pace and let Rondo lead a faster, more aggressive offensive attack.
To do that, the Celtics will need to surround Rondo with shooters. We're far enough into his career to know that Rondo's jump shot is never going to come around. If that elbow isn't pointed at the target yet, it's hard to imagine it ever will be.
Assuming Boston embraces an uptempo attack with younger players on the wings, some of the resultant chaos will help hide Rondo's broken jumper more effectively than the old Celtic teams that relied on half-court execution did. Nonetheless, spacing is an absolute must with any team that features Rondo.
Defenses are still going to sag off and ignore him as a weak-side threat, so there will need to be at least two knockdown shooters on the floor at all times.
That's bad news for Avery Bradley, an excellent defender, but not a good enough sniper to consistently pair with Rondo in the Celtics' backcourt of the future.
At the same time, it's very good news for rookie Kelly Olynyk, who could develop into an excellent stretch-4 and an even better pick-and-pop companion for Rondo.
Jeff Green is athletic and displayed a sound enough perimeter stroke (38.5 percent from long range in 2012-13) to fit as part of the rebuilt Celtics as well. But other than that, there really isn't any current player on the roster that works as an ideal running mate for Rondo.
So Boston is going to have to make the most of its assets on the trade market and do its best to position itself in the loaded 2014 NBA draft. It should be able to manage both tasks at once by dealing its more costly live bodies (Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, etc.) for draft picks and dead weight. Doing so will lead to fewer wins this year and, theoretically, a better chance to hit the lottery jackpot.
Perhaps some of these suggestions lack specificity.
But with so many question marks surrounding the Celtics—not the least of which is the health of Rondo, himself—it's extremely difficult to know what the best course of action for Boston is, assuming it keeps its point guard around.
If the Celtics would prefer to eliminate some of those questions, they could certainly swing a deal to do so.
Shipping Him Out
Celtics president Danny Ainge has been adamant that the team won't trade Rondo. But hypothetically, what if Ainge got an offer that he couldn't refuse?
Surely he'd reconsider his stance then, right?
It's hard to say what that offer might be, but based on what Boston has been doing since breaking up its veteran core, it seems as though draft picks and cheap, young talent would have to be involved. The problem is that the teams that have assets like that want to keep them. In fact, most franchises who have those things are in positions that very much resemble the one the Celtics are in.
And it's pretty rare for teams at the bottom of the totem pole to swap parts, so don't expect the Phoenix Suns or Philadelphia 76ers—two clubs with assets the Celtics should be interested in—to offer up first-rounders for Rondo.
I guess there's also the possibility that the Celtics and Sacramento Kings get together on a potential Rondo-for-Demarcus Cousins swap. But chances are Cousins will use the first part of the 2013-14 season to prove what most of the civilized world already suspects: that he isn't a franchise player.
So while it's nice to imagine Boston getting a major return in a deal that sends Rondo packing, realistically, it's just not going to happen.
All That Matters
Whether the Celtics do their best to build around Rondo in a way that suits his skills (likely) or take back a package of future considerations in a trade (unlikely), the seven-year veteran is the linchpin to the Celtics' future.
In other words, whether he stays or goes, he's all that matters.
The smart money seems to be on the Celtics investing in Rondo as the leader of their new era. And for what it's worth, the point guard has the endorsement of one revered former teammate.
According to Jay King of MassLive.com, Garnett responded as follows when asked if he thought Rondo could carry the Celtics back to glory:
Absolutely. I'm sure he's going to push them to make the team better, and (president of basketball operations Danny Ainge) is going to do just that. The franchise has always been used to winning. They have a new coach and new system up there, so I'm thinking that's going to be a plus.
Most rebuilding teams don't have the luxury of starting the process with a potential franchise player already in place. Boston has that in Rondo.
Where they go from here will depend almost entirely on him.
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