Much like Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo is entering the final year of his contract this upcoming season. As is commonplace, there was much speculation that Rondo wanted to leave the only team he has ever known, the Boston Celtics, a franchise that is currently in rebuild mode, prior to his free agency next summer. On Thursday night, however, Rajon Rondo fell in his home, leading to a broken hand injury that, ultimately, complicates his future further as he, likely, will continue to be on the Boston Celtics for the remainder of the season.
Rondo’s current injury occurred Thursday night, when the point guard slipped in the shower. To prevent another long absence from the Celtics this season, he underwent surgery on his left hand Friday, where recovery time is expected to be anywhere from six to eight weeks. Due to the timeframe, Rondo will be expected to miss the initial 15 games of the regular season.
With Rondo, it was a far-fetched scenario that Boston would be able to make the playoffs, even in the weak Eastern Conference. Now, without him, even for only 15 games, it will be an even more difficult task for the Celtics to squeeze into the playoff picture. Last season, the first without Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and coach Doc Rivers, Boston was a team without an identity, as they only managed 25 wins for the season.
Beyond the obvious reason of losing their All-Star talent, there was no true leader. Jeff Green was their leading scorer at only 16.9 ppg, with Rajon Rondo’s backup, Avery Bradley (14.9 ppg), along with Jordan Crawford (13.7 ppg), just behind him. Additionally, there were seven players on the Celtics who averaged double-digits, which could be good if they scored more consistently. In reality though, the Celtics were 26th in the league in ppg, with very few players being able to score consistently, resulting in a .435 percentage.
When Rondo came back into the fold, there was only so much he could do. The all-star point guard is at his best when he has a roster full of scorers. He is one of the most effective passers in the game, as exemplified by his 9.8 apg last season, but if his teammates cannot score easily, his role is wasted. Because he is a true point guard, he is not a player who can will his team to victory. He, himself, is not an offensive threat. What he is capable of being is someone who does a little bit of everything. Beyond setting his teammates up, despite his height, he can obtain 10 rebounds in a game, score an acceptable 12 points and be the best defender on the team.
While Rondo is not a Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, his absence certainly impacted the Celtics last season, as it likely will this coming season. Without Rondo, there are few players on this squad, as evidenced by their weak offensive stats, who can create their own shot. Moreover, with the exception of Jared Sullinger (8.1 rpg) and, to a certain extent, Brandon Bass (5.7 rpg), there are few players on Boston who can crash the glass on a consistent basis. The only advantage the Celtics still have, even without Rondo, is that they are still in the top half of the league defensively. However, much like the Chicago Bulls learned in the playoffs, with an arguably better roster, defense will only get a team so far. Without guys who can consistently score, the Celtics will, once again, fall to the bottom of the standings early. Furthermore, they may fall so far early on that, even when Rondo returns, it is unlikely that they will be able to recover enough to make an appearance in the playoffs.
Nothing is guaranteed in terms of Rondo returning. He may be one of the best true point guards in the game, but unfortunately for him, he has not had the best of luck, health-wise, over the last few years. His last full season of play occurred during the lockout season of 2010-2011, where he missed only a single game. Since that time, he has played only 121 regular season games in three full seasons. Last season, in particular, the point guard only played in 30 games, after recovering from ACL surgery.
Another factor, as it relates to Rondo, is his temperament. Between Doc Rivers and the current owner Wyc Grousbeck, Rondo has been labeled as a player who is difficult to coach. It is no secret that he is opinionated and often clashes with coaches and teammates. With only 30 games under his belt with new coach, Brad Stevens, it is questionable if the point guard can even work with his new boss, let alone assist in getting them to the playoffs.
The other question, in terms of Rondo’s ability to continue playing for the Celtics, is whether or not he is even willing to play in Boston. After all, during the late summer, it was reported that the point guard, who is in the final year of his contract, wanted to be shipped out of Bean Town. While Rondo reported that the rumors were untrue, it does not mean the point guard, truly, did not request a trade. After all, it would not be the first time a player denied a trade request that, later, became true. The problem for Rondo and the Celtics, if he does request a trade, is that it will be almost impossible to move him this year. It would be hard to believe that any team would want to trade for an injury-prone player, let alone one who will be a free agent next summer. Because of this reality, thanks in part to his recent injury, it is unlikely that he will leave Boston before his free agency. As such, he is better off proving his critics wrong by playing solid ball once he comes back. If he does, his clout may increase.
Boston has a very difficult season ahead of them in 2014-2015, and it all starts with Rondo. The recent injury complicates any future trade for Rajon Rondo, and the Boston Celtics are likely going to struggle at least another season or two, with or without him. As the point guard approaches 29 years of age, Rondo, eventually, will have to prove his worth both on and off the court. If not, he will remain another player who was unable to recapture the fire of his early years.
Commentary by Simon Mounsey