Rajon Rondo Is Right Star to Usher in Boston Celtics Rebuild

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2014

Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo reacts in the final minutes of the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, in Boston. The Nets won 85-79. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

Trading Rajon Rondo has never been an ideal scenario for the Boston Celtics. Point guards of his caliber are few and far between even in a league replete with exceptional point guards. But the typical load of trade deadline rumors makes you wonder.

Are the Celtics serious about building around Rondo? Should they be?

Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher cites leagues sources claiming the organization is "mining interest in both Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo."

According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Houston Rockets have become Rondo's latest suitor but have run into a roadblock on account of "Boston's desire to acquire blossoming Houston swingman Chandler Parsons." Blossoming though Parsons may be, let's get one thing straight—there's a difference between complementary stars and stars of Rondo's ilk.

Boston could make Rondo the centerpiece of a contending roster. It has before. 

It's easy to forget just how valuable Rondo was to the latest chapter of Boston's never-ending dynasty. Surrounded by big names like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, one could be forgiven for believing Rondo was an important but secondary piece of the puzzle. That's largely because he was so effective at making those big names appear as though they were still in their primes.

Boston's 27-year-old floor general is the ultimate force multiplier, a facilitator made in the mold of Steve Nash—the guy who ultimately fooled the New York Knicks into believing Amar'e Stoudemire was worth $100 million.   

He wasn't. And for the record, Boston's big names were not still in their primes. Rondo is tricky like that. He meets his teammates where they are, setting them up and putting them in positions to be far more successful than they'd be if left to their own devices.

Chandler Parsons is a very good player, but he's not that kind of player. Few are.

Other scenarios will of course emerge, perhaps more tempting ones.

But Boston should still err on the side of keeping Rondo unless an absolutely irresistible offer comes its way.

Even if general manager Danny Ainge could get comparable talent in return, it's hard to imagine him acquiring a similar talent. Even among point guards, Rondo is in a class of his own. He's averaged over 11 assists per game in three straight seasons and stands a good chance of doing so a fourth time if his return to action continues to go smoothly.

What's more, they've been quality assists—well-timed, accurate passes. It's not as if Rondo's simply been the beneficiary of great shooters surrounding him at every turn. Even with the makeshift roster currently at his side, he's tallied double-digit assists in four of his last five games.

Proponents of sending him on his way will argue that Rondo is already too deep into his prime to be part of a proper rebuild. These kinds of projects are a young man's endeavor. The best-built teams (e.g., Oklahoma City) begin with youthful cores that can grow together in time. By the time Ainge assembles such a unit, and by the time head coach Brad Stevens polishes it, Rondo might be 30.

But age is relative. When Steve Nash was 30, he wasn't yet a two-time MVP. Expect similar longevity from Rondo, who's never relied upon elite athleticism or speed. Note how Rondo runs the pick-and-roll. Rather than darting for the basket or raising up for a quick jumper (a la Russell Westbrook), he patiently waits for plays to develop, assesses his options and makes the right play.

Rondo's game is fundamentally premised on virtually unmatched basketball IQ, the kind of thing that ages like fine wine.

Of course, keeping Rondo isn't just about Rondo. It's also about the difficulty associated with replacing him and acquiring guaranteed talent. Bleacher Report's Howard Beck reminds us that the point of a rebuild is precisely to wind up with what Boston already has:

This entire rebuilding exercise—the stockpiling of draft picks, the payroll clearing—is aimed at acquiring or luring a franchise star, someone capable of lifting the Celtics back into title contention as soon as possible. Someone mentally tough, dedicated at both ends of the court and committed to making his teammates better. In other words, the Celtics would be looking for someone a lot like Rondo, who at 27 is still in his prime and ranks among the top point guards in the league.

So it's no surprise that speculation leading up to the deadline has ultimately been dubious of a move. NBA.com's Sam Smith wrote in January that all indications were that Boston was more likely to pursue an extension than a trade.

There's something to be said for soft rebuilds. Rather than orchestrate a comprehensive reorganization, Boston should do its fans a favor and pursue success and renewal at the same time. There's no rule saying teams have to bottom out before turning things around. To whatever extent that's typically the case, perhaps we should blame short-sighted front offices rather than some obscure fact of NBA life.

For every expedient rebuild, there are those that seem to last indefinitely—teams that are blown up time and time again, young talent that never pans out, elusive chemistry that only grows worse amidst organizational instability.

Those scenarios are less than ideal for a franchise with a legacy of almost unparalleled success. There's little doubt that Boston will undergo significant change in the coming months and years, but there should be at least one constant. Until Rondo actually wants out, he should be Boston's bridge to the future.

He almost certainly won't be a bridge to nowhere.