Why Boston Celtics Should Consider Sitting Rajon Rondo for Entire 2013-14 Season
That's a lot of pressure for any player to carry, let alone one with only a single healthy leg to stand on.
Rondo's 2012-13 campaign came to a screeching halt when he suffered a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Since then he's witnessed the departures of former faces of the franchise Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett along with the mastermind that knew how to make all of Boston's pieces fit, Doc Rivers.
Reality has certainly shifted in the Boston basketball scene, expectations have been forcibly changed. Just two seasons removed from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance, the Celtics will enter 2013-14 with an optimistic goal of scratching out one of the final postseason berths.
Boston will also likely start the season without a healthy Rondo.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg he'd be "shocked" if the All-Star signal-caller is ready for the team's Oct. 30 season opener. He also spoke on the importance of keeping Rondo's return as stress-free as possible:
We've just seen examples of why we shouldn't give dates of expected return. We'll just take it week by week, and he'll continue to get evaluated...I don't think we would ever succumb to the pressure of bringing back a player from an ACL too soon. We've got to do what's right for him...We can't afford to make any mistakes in judgment on when to bring him back.
An ideal return date may not arise as soon as Celtics fans might hope. Keeping Rondo sidelined for the entire 2013-14 season would benefit both the player and his new-look team.
Time to Get Selfish: How a Lost Season Helps Rondo
ACL injuries have taken on new life thanks to Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. The All-Pro raced through his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in Dec. 2011, returned to the field less than nine months after his surgery and promptly bulldozed his way to a league-best 2,097 rushing yards in 2012.
But Peterson is the exception to the rule, a medical miracle even with today's scientific advancements in treatment.
The problem is that he's often viewed by other athletes as the new standard for recovery, even if the bar he set has proven to be impossibly high.
Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III returned eight months after his reconstructive knee surgery. Griffin has rushed for only 62 yards through his first three games—all three of them Redskins losses—or 136 fewer than he had at this point last season.
New York Knicks guard Iman Shumpert came back from his torn ACL on Jan. 17, less than nine months after the injury derailed his 2012 postseason. His numbers were down across the board from his rookie season. Knicks coach Mike Woodson told Newsday's Al Iannazzone that Shumpert was playing "like he wants to do it, but he's reaching, he's grabbing to get where he wants to be instead of moving."
Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio gave his torn ACL just over nine months to heal. Rubio struggled when he got back on the hardwood; his coach, Rick Adelman, said that his body was overcompensating for his knee problem. "I think when you go through something like that, you just wonder (if you can trust the knee), and you have problems in other areas," Adelman told ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedall.
The last thing that Rondo needs is to return from this injury only to be shut down by another. He wasn't exactly the model of health even before this latest trip to the trainer's table. After missing just 12 games over his first four seasons, he's been sidelined for at least 13 in each of the last three.
He's always been a player that needs aggression in his game to be successful. Without a reliable three-point stroke (career 24.1 percent), he's found efficiency in strong drives to the basket and his ability to finish plays around the basket (career 48.1 field-goal percentage).
And that aggression will need to be featured like never before whenever he returns. Boston's cupboard is nearly barren in terms of proven production. Rondo will have to handle more of the scoring load than he ever has and work even harder creating offense for others, given the talent that the Celtics lost this summer.
There are no championship hopes in Boston. The Celtics' best-case scenario doesn't even extend beyond the opening round.
For as little as there is to gain, there is so much more at stake. Rondo is 27 years old with two years left on his current contract. He should be in line for a major payday over the summer of 2015.
But if he's forced to explain two (or more) serious injuries at the negotiating table, a rushed recovery would be literally costly.
Progression in Regression: How This Helps the Celtics
You can debate the merits of tanking all you want, but both sides of the argument should be in agreement on one thing: If ever there was a time for it, this would be the season to do it.
The 2014 draft class is packed to the brim with potential franchise cornerstones. Just look at NBADraft.net's NBA comparisons for the top five players in its current mock draft: Scottie Pippen (Andrew Wiggins), Carmelo Anthony (Jabari Parker), James Harden (Marcus Smart), Chris Webber (Julius Randle) and Penny Hardaway (Dante Exum).
Think the Celtics couldn't use one of those pieces in their rebuilding project?
But the benefits for Boston go beyond a potential draft-day jackpot.
With Rondo out, someone would need to pick up his slack at the point guard spot.
In other words, Avery Bradley might finally find his NBA home. For as talented as he is defensively, his offensive game is still very much a work in progress (career .438/.335 slash, 1.4 assists against 1.1 turnovers).
First-year coach Brad Stevens already spoke of Bradley's potential in a lead guard role and his curious fit alongside Rondo, via Forsberg:
Avery is a guy I really believe in. I think Avery has a lot of opportunity to be a very, very good player on both ends of the floor. I don't know exactly how we'll progress from here, as far as that goes with regard to if Rajon is in, who's in what role, but I know Avery will be on the court. I think he's a guy that, when you look at him on both ends of the floor, he's a guy that I think we can fit in well offensively at the point guard spot.
If Bradley turns that potential into production, then Rondo moves atop Boston's growing list of attractive assets. The Celtics already hold four future first-round draft picks for the Pierce, Garnett and Rivers swaps. For Boston fans eager to see a rapid rebuild, the ingredients are in place.
And Bradley isn't the only one who would benefit from Rondo's absence.
Jeff Green, a player who has tantalized in a supportive role, would have ample opportunity to find consistency at the offensive end. He averaged 20.1 points on 52.3 percent shooting from the field as a starter in 2012-13, and there weren't nearly as many touches to go around on that team as there will be with this Celtics group.
The rest of the roster should gain from this trickle-down effect. Ball movement will replace ball dominance; any number of players could lead this offense on any given night.
Jared Sullinger will have the chance to show that his per-36-minute production was no fluke (10.9 points and 10.7 rebounds). Ditto for rookie Kelly Olynyk and his sizzling summer league stats (18.0 points on 57.8 percent shooting).
A year with Rondo might help elevate their production, but a year without him would force them to become more complete players.
So, Is It Worth It?
To properly weigh whether the Celtics could afford to play without Rondo for the entire 2013-14 campaign, you first need to set the ceiling for this team with a healthy Rondo.
The top five postseason seeds in the Eastern Conference are already claimed. The order is yet to be determined, but those five spots will be held by the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. There shouldn't be a debate on this.
Should the Celtics keep Rondo out for the 2013-14 season?
The last three playoff berths are up for grabs, but Boston's hardly alone in that pursuit. The Cleveland Cavaliers appear to have a leg up in that race, and if Andrew Bynum is healthy, they're another postseason lock.
That leaves just two playoff tickets unclaimed. The Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards are all in the mix. And none has any many question marks as Boston does with or without a healthy Rondo.
So the prize at stake is, at best, being the No. 7 seed and serving as a sacrificial lamb in the opening round.
Is that really worth risking Rondo's health? Or stunting the development of Boston's up-and-comers and being left out of what could be the best draft lottery since 2008?
It just doesn't make any sense. Not for Rondo and not for his Celtics.
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