Why Boston Celtics Shouldn't Give Up on Rajon Rondo

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2014

The biggest cop-out when discussing this era of the Boston Celtics is saying you can't win a title with Rajon Rondo as your best player.

This statement is made time and time again by tanking aficionados, detractors and radio hosts, all of whom want to avoid an actual discussion or debate regarding the merits of having him on this team.

Maybe you can win a championship with Rondo at the helm and maybe you can't, but is that really the end of the discussion?

For nine years, the Celtics couldn't win a title with Paul Pierce as their best player. Chris Paul has been the best player on his teams for going on nine years and doesn't have a ring or even a trip to the conference finals.

It joins the "Rondo can't shoot" and "Rondo is a stat-padder" refrains as the great myths about this wonderful, reclusive point guard.

Was he a terrible shooter when he entered the league? Yes, but he has worked hard to better himself in that area and has hit 20 of 40 shots between 10 and 19 feet this season.

Did he look to pad assist numbers during that double-digit assist streak last year? Of course, but that doesn't mean the streak was worthless or that he is constantly more concerned with getting assists than winning.

Rondo cares about winning more than just about anything, and you can find evidence of that in various interviews and observations of the man in more walks of life than just on the basketball court.

"The fans are great here. And Danny has been straightforward with me. This is my team," Rondo told The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes. "Why would I want to leave? Why would I want out? I never really backed away from a challenge."

When the captaincy was awarded to him this season, it brought on a new wave of discussion. Now Rondo was definitively supposed to be the leader of this club, by decree of the franchise itself.

That obviously doesn't sit well with Rondo critics, who view him through the lens of those suspensions in years past for intimidating referees, shoving other players and shunning the media.

That doesn't sit well with staunch NBA historians who sometimes shape the public's conscience, using their position in the media or league hierarchy to set agendas.

Basketball is a fluid game, both on the court and off. Each season starts anew, with all the teams even at 0-0. Likewise, it is important to view players like Rondo as a current commodity, or entity, if you think commodity sounds too positive. 

This is why front offices always try to avoid paying a player for past performances. They are what they are for that one season and beyond. Looking backward can create and accentuate many pitfalls—especially with a player like Rondo, who hasn't had the smoothest or most likable of formative years.

This season has been frustrating, but many have taken solace in being awarded a lottery pick in a draft we're all told is superb.

We've only gotten to witness Rondo for 19 games thus far in 2013-14. There was a four- to five-game adjustment period, but he has been solid-to-great since then. He can stat-pad all he wants when he is going for 11 points, 18 assists, three steals and zero turnovers in a win over the Detroit Pistons.

This rebuild is going to take time—something fans have to remember just as much as Rondo does. What Danny Ainge has done is somewhat remarkable in such a short time. Playing most of the season without Rondo, Boston was 41-40 last season and threatening to make the second round of the playoffs.

One year later the Celtics have two first-round picks and a treasure chest of future assets and doubloons, and the team will likely shed about $20 million in salary this summer. However, the best player on the roster is still Rondo, and that doesn't make the team into an instant contender.

Boston people aren't typically accustomed to immediate gratification. The wait for this pleasant Boston Red Sox run was 86 years long. The Big Dig began initial planning in 1982. It took this generation's most beloved Boston Celtic, Pierce, 10 years to win a ring, and driving from west of Boston to Cape Cod on a summer Friday usually seems to take 86 years.

I'm not sure how the idea of trading Rondo gets you anywhere faster. Riding in the breakdown lane is going to get you caught by a statie.

Sure, he could bring back a sizable haul, but how did trading their best player work for the Philadelphia 76ersOrlando Magic or New Orleans Hornets?

They couldn't win a title with Andre Iguodala, Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, but building through the draft is an arduous process that rarely works.

Since LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, they have drafted four players in the top four picks of three drafts. Cleveland is three games ahead of the Celtics right now at 25-40 in a putrid conference.

Teams need at least a quality point guard to win. Of the top five teams in basketball right now, three have an elite point guard. Of the other two, one is James' Miami Heat, and the other is the Indiana Pacers, where George Hill is no slouch.

To give up on Rondo is greedy and short-sighted. If one thinks Boston should get rid of Rondo because it can't win a title with him as its best player, what is the expected return? If your opinion of Rondo is low, your opinion of the return can't be high. Draft picks are great, but expecting a pick to immediately be a top-five player at his position—as a healthy Rondo would be right now—is absurd.

Pick your favorite cliche of the treading-water, purgatory, mediocrity sayings of NBA teams stuck in the middle, where you can't win a title or get a top draft pick. Those same cliches should apply to dealing a very good player for a first-round draft pick.

Swapping Rondo with the hope of landing an early lottery pick, with the hope the player you want is still available, with the hope that player some day turns into a star, with the hope his star is somehow brighter than Rondo's, is treading water at its finest.

Relying on just the draft to form a contender doesn't work that well and could lead to years and years of misery and 50-50 lottery picks. Boston can't rely on state-tax help, weather or big-market fame to lure free agents, either.

If you can't win the title with Rondo as your best player, do people really think you can with Joel Embiid or any of these other prospects?

Without some sort of star power on the roster, Boston holds little to no hope of adding through free agency, either. 

What it can rely on is the respect Rondo holds around the league. Whether it is Kobe Bryant joking about his similarities with Rondo, Carmelo Anthony's willingness to take less money to possibly lure him to New York, or Josh Smith still pining over an Oak Hill reunion, Rondo does have pull in the NBA. 

"He challenges everybody to be able to increase their knowledge of the game," Smith told Holmes. "It might be intense sometimes, but he doesn’t mean any harm or anything negative by it. He wants the best out of each and every player that he plays with."

What self-respecting NBA player wouldn't want to side with that type of competitor?

Ainge can create the assets and free up enough money for the best free agents to join the Celtics, but that isn't going to be the lure. Boston has to rely on Rondo's play and talk to serve as bait.

"To be able to defend and make plays for other guys, that’s big," Indiana Pacers general manager Larry Bird told the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett about Rondo. "He makes a lot of players that are not really good look pretty damn good. And that’s a key. If you can make people around you better, it makes you one of the top players in our league."

Boston's roster was flooded with big-name players and side veteran additions for the entirety of Rondo's career. Winning that title and helping the team during years of contention has earned him some time to flex his own muscle, independent of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers.

In recent history, one could argue that Dirk Nowitzki's Dallas Mavericks were the only one-man-show team to win an NBA title. Still, Jason Kidd was an All-Star replacement and Tyson Chandler was on the All-Defensive second team. Outside of 2011, though, teams seem to require at least two All-Star-caliber players to win a title.

The Miami Heat have had three for their recent titles, and Shaquille O'Neal paired with Dwyane Wade to win in 2006. The Lakers had Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, San Antonio had Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the Detroit Pistons had a crew of All-Stars, and Boston's 2008 title should be obvious.

Can you win a championship with Rajon Rondo as your best player? Probably not—we don't really know right now, but that isn't reason enough to give up on him. It is reason enough to give him a chance to find that best player and join forces. 




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