The Boston Celtics will soon be faced with a decision that will shape the future of their franchise.
Whether it's for the rise or fall of the franchise will be determined by how they handle it—that is, what they decide to do with All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics are still carefully working Rondo back into the lineup after he spent much of the past year rehabbing from surgery on his torn ACL.
When healthy, Rondo is one of the best point guards in the NBA. No one is mistaking him for an elite scorer like Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers or Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets, but you have to go beyond his scoring ability to see his true impact.
Rondo led the NBA in assists in each of the past two seasons and finished second in 2011, and his streak of 37-straight games with 10 or more assists in 2012 is tied with John Stockton's 1989 streak for the longest in NBA history, according to Basketball Reference.
At the end of the 2013 season, Rondo had the third-most double-doubles by a point guard in the NBA since the start of the 2009-10 season. Only Deron Williams and Steve Nash have more, according to ESPN. Rondo also has the second-most assists (2,694) in the NBA since 2009 behind only Steve Nash (2,782).
Rondo's ability to set up his teammates is as good as any player in the NBA. He's also an efficient scorer with a career average of 11 points per game, but prior to tearing his ACL in 2013, he was averaging a career-high 13.7 ppg and grabbing a career-high 5.6 rebounds per game. He would have led all PGs in rebounds per game had he not torn his ACL and missed 38 games.
Back in September of 2013, Hall of Fame PG Gary Payton said Rondo is only one of the three true PGs in the NBA today, via Tom King of MassLive.com:
We don’t really have point guards in the NBA now. We really have (shooting) guards – and that’s a fact. I think there’s only three true point guards that play like point guards. I think Chris Paul is one, I think (Rajon) Rondo is one, and I think Tony Parker is the other.
Rondo's age is also a big reason why the Celtics should build around him going forward. He'll turn 28 on February 22, meaning he should have at least five years of his best basketball left in him.
In comparison to Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton, there's hope Rondo can play at a high level for many years to come.
Stockton led the NBA in assist percentage 15 times, including his last season in 2002 at age 40, according to Basketball Reference. He also didn't stop averaging at least 10 assists per game until he was 35.
Isiah Thomas, another Hall of Fame NBA PG, didn't see a drop-off in his play until his 13th season at age 32, which turned out to be the year he retired after he tore his Achilles tendon.
This is just a small sample size of players to show that there's plenty of reason to believe Rondo will be playing at a high level for at least the duration of the next contract he signs.
The Celtics should look to extend him for four or five more years since his current deal ends in 2015. Rondo is the best player they have right now, and building around him now will help this team contend for an NBA championship sooner, rather than trading him and prolonging this rebuilding phase the franchise is going through.