What to do with Rajon Rondo?
As it turns out, this was the perfect season for Rajon Rondo to become the face of the Celtics franchise. It doesn’t matter that Rondo has only played four games, including Friday’s 101-83 loss against Oklahoma City. Being a Boston fan this year has been more about debating (to tank or not to tank) than rooting, and the polarizing Rondo is nothing if not debatable.
Rondo is unlike any other player in the league, maybe ever, so he naturally elicits varying opinions on his value. So when Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge revealed during his weekly Thursday appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub that the team was talking to Rondo about a contract extension, it reignited discussion about Rondo’s future in Boston. Should the rebuilding Celtics keep Rondo and construct around him, or should they trade him to acquire more building blocks?
It seems unlikely Ainge will deal Rondo before the Feb. 20 trade deadline. His value is low because he’s just coming off an ACL injury that kept him out for a year, and teams will want to see him in some extended action to verify his health. Plus, the Celtics made him the team’s captain when he was introduced before his first game back on Jan. 17, and trading him a month after naming him the leader would seem like very strange timing.
Then again, it wouldn’t be beyond the crafty Ainge to name Rondo a captain in order to smooth over Rondo’s leadership/locker room image. Rondo has been painted as moody, sensitive and difficult during his time in Boston. But he’s also intelligent and confident and rises to the biggest occasion.
That extreme mental dichotomy is matched by a physical skill set that also touches both ends of the spectrum. Rondo is a gifted and creative playmaker, but he creates spacing problems because defenses don’t respect his outside shot, although Kirk Goldsberry showed Rondo isn’t as bad of an outside shooter as many think with this piece on grantland.com. On the other end, Rondo can be a disruptive defensive presence, but he can also take too many risks and too many possessions off.
Debating Rondo’s worth and his place in the league is understandable, especially during this season of debate in Boston. But the feeling here is that he’s worth keeping. Rondo is one of the few players capable of swaying a playoff series all on his own, and the amount of offense he can create for teammates is also a rare commodity. Maybe he couldn’t be the top player on a championship team, but he could be the second-best player, or he could orchestrate an ensemble cast of not-quite alpha dogs to a title, a la Chauncey Billups and the 2004 Pistons.
As for the leadership role, there was a time when Paul Pierce was viewed as a malcontent and a bad example, but he matured into a championship-caliber captain and an all-time Celtic. It feels like Rondo is both smart and savvy enough to make that same leap.
Ainge has already stockpiled a horde of draft picks and young players to use as building blocks as he chases the next banner. Why not keep the one piece that’s left from the last title to use as a foundation?
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)