The Boston Celtics have been way, way better than anyone expected them to be going into this season. They’re in first place in the (admittedly dreadful) Atlantic division, and they look like a potential playoff team in the (admittedly dreadful) Eastern Conference. Even Jordan Crawford, one of the most maligned players in the league for the last three years, has picked up his game considerably, eliminating some of his inefficient habits and becoming a quality starting point guard while the team waits for Rajon Rondo to return.
And there it is…what does this team do with Rondo?
Theoretically, the return of Rondo is exactly what the Celtics need. They’re playing tough ball right now, but they don’t have the personnel to pose a serious threat in the playoffs. Rondo, who is known for putting up ridiculous numbers in the playoffs, could change that. The Celtics still wouldn’t have an arsenal to compete with the likes of the Heat and Pacers, but the possibility of Rondo putting up multiple triple-doubles would at least be interesting, and probably frighten the Big two just a little bit.
On the other hand, let’s consider what we’ve already seen this year. Two of the most hyped storylines were the returns of the Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant. Nether of them are playing right now, having re-aggrivated their respective injuries. And while a similar fate is not guaranteed to befall Rondo, let’s also remember that neither one of them looked like their old self upon returning to the court. The fact of the matter is, recovering from a torn ACL is really freaking hard, no matter how much of a freak athlete you are. No one knows for sure if Rondo will have the same troubles as Rose and Kobe, but it has to be something the Celtics are concerned about.
Let’s look at the entire picture, and ask ourselves: are the Celtics better off if Rondo doesn’t play at all this season? Let’s face facts, while Rondo coming back at full strength would make the Celtics a lot scarier in the playoffs, it wouldn’t be enough for them to seriously contend. They could steal a game or two against the Heat or Pacers, but they still would be outmatched in either situation. And that’s the best-case scenario for Rondo’s recovery. If Rondo re-aggravates his injury, or comes back to soon, and clearly isn’t himself, the Celtics risk losing Rondo for another lengthy period while also spoiling the team chemistry they’ve fostered without him.
Now, let’s look at what might happen if he doesn’t play this year. In this scenario, the Celtics could either make the playoffs with the over-achieving group they have now, and establish themselves as a winning environment, which would do wonders in attracting free agents. or, they fade down the stretch, score a prime lottery pick and potentially build around the likes of Wiggins, Parker, or Randle. Even a lower pick like Aaron Gordon would be enticing.
So, bringing back Rondo makes them better but doesn’t put them in title contention. Furthermore, there’s the chance that Rondo comes back before he’s fully ready, and re-injures himself. Why risk that for a team that has no chance of going past the second round anyway. On the other hand, playing the year without Rondo could create multiple scenarios where the team is better off in the future.
Of course, the team will likely bring Rondo back anyway. And you can hardly blame them. He’s a talent unlike anyone else, and his absence have left avoid not just for the Celtics and their fans, but for there entire league. In spite of everything I just wrote, I still want to see him play this year. But when you ignore emotion, and the simple desire to watch Rajon Rondo play basketball, it makes a lot more sense for the Celtics to keep him on the sidelines.
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