The franchise decided to put him in its history books instead.
After spending nearly 12 full months rehabbing from a torn ACL, Rondo returned for Boston's 107-104 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday. While he couldn't pick up a victory in his comeback, he did manage to walk away with a new title before the night was over—captain of the Boston Celtics.
Public address announcer Eddie Palladino worked his way through Boston's four other starters before giving the TD Bank Garden faithful what they'd spent the last year waiting for and giving Rondo what he'd earned over the last seven seasons.
"And now," Palladino bellowed, via Marc D'Amico of Celtics.com, "at the other guard, 6-foot-1 from Kentucky, the captain, number nine... Rajon Rondo!"
He's just the 15th player to earn that honor. The group he's now joined isn't built with just Celtics legends—it includes some of the greatest to have ever played this game: Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Larry Bird and Paul Pierce.
So what led Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens to give Rondo that level of respect? It's simple, according to Stevens: Rondo gave it to himself, via D'Amico:
I've always believed that captains name themselves with their leadership on and off the court. This isn't about us naming Rondo captain. This is about him earning that title through his play as a Celtic, his accountability as a leader of this team, and his commitment to the Boston community.
The 27-year-old just started his eighth season with the Celtics. He's already been a four-time All-Star selection, a four-time All-Defensive team member, a two-time assists champ and the starting point guard for an NBA champion (2008).
He can appreciate the magnitude of this moment but also understands that he's done a lot to deserve this, he said per Brian Robb of CelticsHub.com:
I’m just definitely honored, following Paul Pierce who was our last captain, and he held the seat for a long time. And so, it’s definitely something I’m very proud of. I think I’ve earned it, but at the end of the day, you know, it’s not just me as a leader; it’s honestly a lot of guys who lead this team.
It will be interesting to see if this honor officially takes him off the rumor mill. The Celtics still need more pieces to fuel their rebuild, and Rondo is easily their biggest trade chip.
But Ainge has been adamant that he sees Rondo as a pivotal piece of Boston's present and future. Not to mention, Rondo would barely have a month in the captain's chair before the Feb. 20 trade deadline rolls around.
"It's hard to imagine the team bestowing the captain's crest on Rondo, then turning around a month later and dealing him for future assets," ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg wrote.
That doesn't mean other teams won't try. Or that the media, myself included, won't keep plotting Rondo's exit.
But Ainge sees Rondo as his building block, the foundation to build his franchise around.
The executive's been singing that tune all season. But those words carry even more weight now that they're describing Rajon Rondo, captain of the Boston Celtics.