Why Rajon Rondo Can Thrive as Boston Celtics Franchise Centerpiece

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 19, 2013

WALTHAM, MA - SEPTEMBER 30: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics poses for a picture during media day at the Boston Sports Club in Waltham, Massachusetts on September 30, 2013. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Rajon Rondo can't solve all of the ills afflicting the Boston Celtics, but cutting ties with the four-time All-Star only adds salt to this rebuilding franchise's wounds.

Rondo might not be a perfect player, but he's the perfect centerpiece for Boston's future.

Still without a timetable for his return from a torn ACL, he's been nothing more than an observer during the team's 4-7 start. Despite expanding his practice work of late, via Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald, it seems unlikely that he'll keep the Celtics out of the 2014 draft lottery.

But keeping Rondo in Celtics green has nothing to do with his 2013-14 impact. The 27-year-old floor general is well-equipped to guide this team through these turbulent times.

No Interest in Spare Parts

Jan 11, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) dribbles the ball against Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin (right) during the second half at TD Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics team president Danny Ainge almost seems insulted by the question. The pennies-on-the-dollar offers running through the rumor mill only add to his outrage.

No, Rondo's name is not being shopped on the open market. The incessant trade speculation is just that—mindless chatter.

"What's real is, he's going nowhere," Ainge told Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe. "That's what's real."

According to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, the New York Knicks have come calling with a package that includes Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert and Amar'e Stoudemire. Isola also surmised that the Houston Rockets could offer a deal centered around disgruntled big man Omer Asik and reserve point guard Jeremy Lin.

Take a quick second to see which of those names belongs in the same breath as Rondo's.

Still searching for an answer? Of course you are, because it doesn't exist. Rondo is head, shoulders and freakishly large hands above the rest.

"In the NBA, four quarters do not equal a dollar," Bulpett wrote as a blanket dismissal of these rumors. "One great player is infinitely more valuable than a package."

Jan 24, 2013; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Knicks forward/center Amar'e Stoudemire (1) recovers a loose ball in front of Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) during the second quarter at TD Banknorth Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Ainge has a right to feel disrespected. Offering afterthoughts for Boston's prime piece challenges is a backhanded attack at his competency to fill his executive seat.

Rondo isn't an immovable object on the trade market. Few players this side of LeBron James are.

In fact, Ainge dangled his point guard in front of rival execs as recently as 2011. His asking price then? No less than MVP candidate Chris Paul, per SI.com's Sam Amick.

Was Ainge overselling his own point guard then? Perhaps, but not nearly to the extent that opposing teams are trying to undersell Rondo now.

Rondo can still net an All-Star—maybe even a superstar—for Boston, but not before teams are comfortable with the health of his right knee.

Ainge has no reason to even field offers before that time, let alone actually consider them. Dealing Rondo for Lin and Asik is like swapping a silver dollar for a pair of nickles. Crazy, right?

Crazier still is the fact that the price of silver may be going up. Rondo's already established himself as a special kind of talent, but his best basketball might still lie ahead.

Once in a Generation

Rondo's ceiling is only getting higher.
Rondo's ceiling is only getting higher.Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

There's always been a segment of the basketball world that tries to undermine Rondo's talent.

They acknowledge his assists crowns but credit those to the players around him. They recognize his defensive gifts but question his motor.

News flash. Those players around him (namely Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) left and haven't been the same since. NBA players take plays off; some skip out on entire nights.

Rondo is a supremely talented player. His combination of length (6'9" wingspan), quickness, agility and court vision goes unrivaled in this league.

He's a ball-hawking safety and run-stuffing linebacker mixed into one. He throws bullets at the other end of the floor and made himself a scoring threat (career 11.1 points per game on 48.1 percent shooting) without the aid of the long ball (24.1 three-point percentage).

Rondo converted 59.8 percent of his shots at the rim last season.
Rondo converted 59.8 percent of his shots at the rim last season.Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Ainge has tracked the development, recognized the production. If fans want to discredit Rondo, Ainge has no interest in sharing those warped views, via Bulpett:

I think a lot of people forget that Rajon was the starting guard on the Eastern Conference All-Star team last year. Rajon has been really good. I think him and Brad (Stevens, the new coach) are developing a great relationship, and he’s just a huge part of our future. We’re building around Rajon.

The real excitement, though, is the fact that Rondo is still building himself.

He doesn't have the same safety nets of past seasons. When this offense has needed his scoring before, he's delivered in big ways.

But wait. A big piece of the Rondo story is missing, isn't it? Sure he's a gift on the court, but where's the mention of his feud with Ray Allen or almost physical fight with Doc Rivers?

Well, Allen and Rivers aren't in Boston anymore. But Brad Stevens is, and he's been forging a relationship with Rondo from his first day on the job.

The first-year coach visited Rondo's basketball camp in Kentucky over the summer and never masked his appreciation of the point guard's skill. "There is no bigger fan of Rondo than me," Stevens said, via Holmes.

It's been a perfect match ever since that appearance. "Me and Brad have become best friends," Rondo said at the Celtics' media day, via Gary Dzen of the Boston Globe. "We talk every day, we laugh and joke...He has my full support."

The Celtics might have more cracks in their structure than they're used to, but removing Rondo from the picture takes out the main support beam holding this foundation together.

Even a rebuilding team should never sacrifice a player with this kind of skill.

Creating His Own Path

Ainge and Rondo must work together to rebuild Boston as an NBA power.
Ainge and Rondo must work together to rebuild Boston as an NBA power.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

It feels like decades have passed since Boston made the last addition to the TD Bank Garden's rafters in 2008. The names now in place are recognizable only for the one that stretches across the front of their jersey.

The lone exception is Rondo. He's the lone championship holdover, and the one with the biggest say in restoring this organization's relevance.

As if recovering from a devastating injury wasn't hard enough, he's undergoing his rehab with the weight of a franchise on his shoulders. A franchise that just so happens to be one of the richest and proudest in NBA history.

It's a sink-or-swim season for Rondo, but he's deserving of a dip in the water. He played a pivotal role in the Celtics' past and holds the biggest key to their future.

He needs help, but that's where people like Ainge and Stevens enter the equation. The executive is throwing water on these trade fires. The coach is clearing a path to the most prominent position in his rotation.

Rondo needs a clear head. His skill set is so unique, his contract is so valuable (two years, $25 million remaining) that Ainge can't silence those trade talks.

If Boston takes a three-headed approach to this rebuild, if Ainge, Stevens and Rondo can work together in this restoration, the results could be magnificent.

Rondo was made to fill this role. For this city. At this exact time.

He's a franchise centerpiece by any definition of the phrase. And he'll still be occupying this spot when the Celtics start climbing back toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings, one heroic Rondo highlight at a time.

*Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.


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