When Rajon Rondo tore his ACL 38 games into the 2012-13 season, the Boston Celtics were forced to accept a new reality. Their reign as the league’s most durable band of brothers was finally coming to a close.
Now, about to enter his eighth season, Rondo remains polarizing. But his numbers are not. From 2010 through last season, Rondo was the only player in the entire NBA to tally at least 2500 points, 2500 assists and 1000 rebounds.
During that time Rondo was one of the most mesmerizing athletes on the planet, always coming to battle with just enough preternatural flair to subdue some of the blemishes (namely a resistant jump shot) that kept him from undisputed nobility.
Named to the past four All-Star games, he averaged at least 11 assists per game in each of the past three seasons (again, the only one to do so). Whenever he comes back, the question surrounding him will be: can he pick up where he left off now that the supporting cast has considerably less basketball talent?
With only two years remaining on his contract, and the refurbished Celtics no longer in a position to compete with title contending teams, Rondo needs to remind everyone just how unique he is, and valuable he can be.
Biggest Narrative Surrounding Rajon Rondo?
Um, how about, "will he be traded?" Is that big enough? Despite being one of the best overall players in basketball over the past few years, Rondo has seen his name surface in an abundant number of trade rumors.
Those rumors should continue until the day he signs his next contract, or the day Boston actually trades him. Whichever comes first. Once/if he returns to the court in 2014, how Rondo fares will dictate his value on the trade market. Despite repeated claims by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge that his franchise point guard isn’t going anywhere, no player in the league is truly off the table (except LeBron James) in the face of a Godfather offer.
Will Boston hang onto him and solidify their point guard position through this season with an All-Star in his prime (trading Rondo the year before he hits free agency won’t bring back as much)? Or, will some team knock Ainge over with a tidal wave of an offer between now and the trade deadline?
What’s On The Line For Rajon Rondo and the Boston Celtics?
For Rondo, this season is all about his health. With the team facing their lowest expectations in years, there’s no reason for him to come back too soon, risking further injury and devaluing his name.
That might mean sitting out the whole season, but it’s unlikely.
Everyone’s body is different, and different players have different recovery times. Most recently, Ricky Rubio and Iman Shumpert each took about nine months to come back from their respective ACL tears, while Derrick Rose infamously took about 18 months off between his appearance in a professional game. (That of course factors a few months of offseason, but had Rose returned during the playoffs, his layoff would’ve been about 13 months.
Rondo underwent surgery in mid-February, so using the information we have from three younger NBA guards who suffered the same injury, conservative estimates would peg Rondo’s return sometime around the All-Star break.
By then, how well the Celtics are playing should factor into the decision. If it’s past the trade deadline (February 20, 2014), Rondo has yet to make his season debut and Boston is drowning in the Atlantic Division, what purpose does him playing that season have (apart from an offseason trade bait showcase)?
From their end, the Celtics aren’t going to jump at the opportunity to pay Rondo a max contract once his current one expires two years from now. (No team—especially one in the midst of a renovation—wants its highest paid player to be a point guard on the wrong side of 30.) But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll trade him now just to gut the entire roster and be as bad a team as possible.
How they play this year, what other trades they make at the deadline and who they draft next June should make Rondo’s future with the team much clearer. Acting before that may be rash, and the Celtics know it.
Scouting Report for 2013-14 Season
Rondo is a magician when concocting ball fakes, either freezing the weakside of an entire unit or getting a single defender to fly by him through the air. He’s basketball’s trickiest fisherman, and the ball is bait.
One move in particular occupies more highlight reels than any other. It's his signature, a "now you see it, now you don't" tease that forever lives in the nightmares of its many victims.
It's a play that can't be executed without massive hands and headstrong creativity. But defending it is even tougher, especially for big men who are trying to corral Rondo in a pick-and-roll.
The chart above shows Rondo's PER numbers from the past seven years. He's always been an unselfish player who enjoys watching his teammates score over putting the ball in the basket himself. But that unwillingness to score at will—like nearly all of basketball's other great point guards—has made him easier to defend than Rose, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, etc.
Rondo shot 48 percent from 16-23 feet last season (the league average is 38.4 percent), so his mid-range jumper is no longer a liability, but his inconsistency from the free-throw line and nonexistent three-point shot will hinder his overall contributions until they come around. But with no improvement from either spot on the floor over the past seven years, that may never happen.
For this season to be a success, Rondo would need to return ahead of schedule (a week before Thanksgiving would peg his sabbatical at around nine months) then proceed to eviscerate his individual matchup each night while still making those around him better.
The Celtics would make the playoffs as a seven or eight-seed, and give either the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers or Brooklyn Nets all they can handle in a first round series, with Rondo averaging a triple double through the six or seven-game affair. That’s the absolute best case scenario.
On the other end of the spectrum (the more realistic outline), once Rondo returns, he’ll avoid the paint even more than usual (dropping his already-low free-throw attempts per game to Andris Biedrins’ level) and take 15-20 games adjusting to a new cast of teammates.
The assists will still hover in double digits, because Rondo sees the floor as clearly as anyone in the world, but his scoring won’t go any higher than 12-15 points per game.
Worst case scenario? He doesn’t play a game.