Breaking Down How Rajon Rondo's Return Will Impact Boston Celtics' Future

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Breaking Down How Rajon Rondo's Return Will Impact Boston Celtics' Future
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Of course the NBA's mystery man, Rajon Rondo, would go the riddle route to hint at his return date.

Rondo could see his first NBA action since last January when his Boston Celtics host the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. He made that announcement on Twitter, although he did it without directly saying anything of the sort:

Thanks to a bit of number crunching, it seems like this is one of the few obscure, late-night NBA tweets that we can actually figure out:

"Rondo appears to have even calculated the exact differential in time between his surgery and tipoff on Friday," ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg wrote.

This cannot be called an official announcement, nor even a firm commitment. At the least, though, it would seem to indicate that his return is coming sooner than later.

What will happen when that time comes? What kind of mark can the four-time All-Star still make on this season, and what will his presence mean for the franchise's future?

 

Backcourt Shakeup

With nearly 12 full months of rust to scrape off, it will be some time before Rondo looks anything like the player he was before the injury.

"I'm not coming back playing 38 minutes a night," he said, via Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. "I will have an impact on the game, but not like I used to have when I first come back."

Besides the rust, he also has a new supporting cast around him, a new coach (Brad Stevens) feeding him the game plan and a new role to master. It might feel more like his first day than his return to work.

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Still, Boston will need him to get up to speed quickly. As soon as he's comfortable, he's looking at as many minutes as he wants.

That's great news for Avery Bradley, not so good for Jordan Crawford and awful for rookie Phil Pressey.

For Bradley, a restricted free agent-to-be, this is his chance to show Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge that he belongs in Boston's backcourt moving forward.

Always a hard-nosed defender, Bradley is starting to leave his fingerprints at both ends of the floor. It took him a while to find his rhythm (12.7 points on .433/.279 shooting in his first 19 games), but he's been in a groove since the start of December (16.5 points on .475/.457 shooting over his next 20).

His offensive ceiling is raising, but there's still a cap on its upward mobility.

He's at his best when his offensive responsibilities are lightened. He doesn't create well for others, as evidenced by his 1.4 assists per game this season. He's a much more lethal scorer when someone is setting him up (1.32 points per possession on spot-up shots, 10th overall) than when he's forced to find his own scoring chances (0.74 points per possession on isolations, 74th overall), per Synergy Sports (subscription required).

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

With Rondo at the wheel, Stevens could take the same "say when" approach with Bradley's playing time. Their styles mesh at both ends of the floor, something that can't be said for the players behind them.

What started as a dream has quickly become a nightmare for Crawford. Since a surprise Eastern Conference Player of the Week nod for Dec. 2-8, he's reverted to his unabashed gunning ways. And the Celtics have paid the price.

From Dec. 10 through Jan. 13, Crawford shot just 36.1 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from deep. The Celtics dropped all but three of those 17 contests.

This frigid spell has likely sapped any trade value the 25-year-old might have built earlier in the year. He's the Celtics' problem from here out and will likely be serving part-time duty with fellow water-faucet scorers Jerryd Bayless and MarShon Brooks.

Short term, Stevens can ride the hot hand on a nightly basis. If Ainge can find anything in return for any of the three, he won't hesitate to make the call.

The glass slipper has shattered for undrafted Cinderella rookie Phil Pressey. His .244/.143/.571 shooting percentages make Crawford seem like a knockdown shooter. If he's seeing any action after Rondo's return, those minutes will likely come with the Maine Red Claws, Boston's D-League affiliate.

 

Opening the Trade Market

Rondo's injury may have eased the decision for Ainge to hit the reset button, but it didn't make things easy on the executive.

With the Celtics' championship window closed, Ainge could move on from his veteran pieces. But without his best player on the floor, he couldn't get a great assessment of his young talent.

Which players have seized the opportunity in Rondo's absence, and which are simply filling a stat sheet by default?

Those answers will get clearer the second Rondo returns.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Does Jared Sullinger really have a "Kevin Love of the East" ceiling like Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert thinks, via CSNNE? If another team sees that kind of potential in the sophomore, is this the ultimate sell-high chance this franchise needs to take?

Would a step out of the spotlight help Jeff Green rediscover his potential? Clearly, he's not a No. 1 option (15.8 points on 43.8 percent shooting), but will he ever show the aggressiveness needed to be a reliable No. 2?

Rookie Kelly Olynyk could come under the microscope. A star during summer league, the big man has struggled mightily since the real season started (6.4 points on 40.7 percent shooting). Would a real point guard like Rondo help Olynyk find his rhythm, or should Ainge think about scrapping the former Gonzaga star for spare parts?

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Which, if any, young players can help get Boston out of its bad contracts—namely, Gerald Wallace (three years, $30 million) and Brandon Bass (two years, $13 million)? Should anyone be considered untouchable?

Ainge needs assets. Badly.

Not only does this mean he needs to be active on the trade market, he also needs to be creative. He doesn't appear to have much to sell to anyone.

As ESPN Insider Chad Ford wrote (subscription required), "Unless you think Avery Bradley or Jared Sullinger is a savior, the cupboard is pretty bare."

It's Ainge's job to get that cupboard stocked quickly.

If he wants a look at his team full strength, he'll have a little more than a month before the Feb. 20 trade deadline. Anything and everything should be available to the highest bidder.

Well, anything other than Rondo. Ainge cannot trade him.

Yet.

 

Complete Reset

Ainge started to move this franchise forward, but he tried to catch a middle ground that could have sped up this rebuild.

It's time for him to forget that idea.

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Boston needs difference-makers. The kind that aren't available in trades or free agency. This franchise needs a home run draft pick. Back-to-back jacks would be even better.

The best thing Boston did was give Stevens a six-year deal to start his NBA coaching career. Now it needs to give him a roster properly built for a rebuild.

This group is heavy on experience and short on potential. There aren't enough pieces to be developed. There are too many veterans who understand that they're playing for their next contract.

Rondo is a transcendent talent. As soon as he reminds the rest of the league of that fact, then Ainge needs to send him packing. By the time this team is ready to compete for anything substantial, what's the likelihood that the 27-year-old is still performing at an All-Star level?

For so many years, Rondo was the glue that kept Boston's championship picture together. Now, he needs to be the bridge that leads this franchise on its next title race.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com. Salary information obtained from ShamSports.com.

 

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