As a die-hard Boston Celtics fan, there’s something I need you to understand about Rajon Pierre Rondo – he is a different man with every passing day. Sometimes he is happy, other times he is sad, angry and irritable. His emotions often dictate the way he acts, and even plays on the court. When asked about the temperament of the man who was his starting point guard until early Sunday afternoon, Doc Rivers responded by saying, “I don’t care if he’s stubborn or moody, but he’s also a genius”. Like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, Rondo’s thought patterns are both the reason for his success and failures in his profession. In my life as a sports fan, I have never rooted for anyone more strange, more inconsistent, and more perplexing than the man who’s torn ACL may have halted the Celtics’ already small chances of making a deep playoff run this season.
His actions may be funny and amazing to the casual onlooker, but they can be down right frustrating to New Englanders. He leads the team in assists, is currently the league leader in assists per game this season (and last season), but at times it almost seems that he is aware of his legacy as a passing point guard. Last year when Rondo was seemingly lighting the world on fire with his streak of 10-assist games, it appeared obvious to fans such as myself that his individual performance was not directly contributing to wins. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Rondo was simply “being unselfish” the same way Wilt was when he attempted to lead the league in assists (and did).
Boston’s point guard also has the ability to take it to the hoop on anyone, at any time. However, as many Celtics fans will attest, he tends to miss plenty of big, important layups. According to truhoops.com, Rondo’s average field goal percentage at the rim is about 61% for his career, which is better than that of Derrick Rose (57.8%) and Deron Williams (59.7%). Here’s the thing though: Rondo’s lack of a jump shot and poor free throw shooting ability make him more of a one-dimensional player than the aforementioned point guards. With the amount of layups Rondo attempts at the rim per game (4.5) versus the shots he takes at, let’s say, 3-9 feet from the basket (1.3), one would hope that he could convert just a bit more. Also, if stats for “percentage of FG’s his teammates complete when Rondo turns an easy layup into a more difficult pass to a relatively unsuspecting trailer” existed on truhoops.com, I most certainly would have included them as well. I feel that it is unnecessary to talk further in depth about Rondo’s shooting woes, but I feel it is necessary to point out that his shooting percentage seems to improve when the shot clock is winding down to zero, presumably taking all pressure off #9. While there may be no supporting statistical evidence I know of to back this up, I have seen it happen enough times to conclude that once again it is Rondo’s mentality that gets in the way of his abilities to perform on the court.
Aside from things that directly affect the outcome of the game, Rondo tends to have quirky aspects of his on-court personality that continue to baffle me on a daily basis. He occasionally head-butts the basketball after tip-offs just for kicks. He continues to wear his “NBA” headband upside down, even after repeated warnings from commissioner David Stern. His suspensions are starting to pile up, whether they come from arguing calls verbally or coming into contact with officials. He lies on the ground for an extended period of time after every semi-hard foul as if he played for Juventus. Most frustrating of all, everyone in Boston knows about his innate leaping ability (he is first in the NBA this year in defensive rebounds among point guards with 4.3/pg, and tied for third in offensive rebounds with 1.1/pg), yet Rondo continually refuses to dunk the basketball on breakaways, which often results in missed layups. Rajon Rondo does so many things that frustrate Boston Celtics fans that it seems nearly impossible that there hasn’t been more than one occasion where he “almost” got traded for a “more conventional” point guard such as Chris Paul. But just as men for centuries have given beautiful women second, and even third chances, we as Celtics fans keep coming back for more when it comes to Rajon, because the splendor of his game is unmatched to any Celtic since Larry Bird.
Rondo sees passing lanes that others simply do not. I am pretty sure that someone with 4-dimensional vision wouldn’t be able to see some of the angles that Rondo makes visible on a nightly basis. His patented “up-fake” move looks more or less the same every time (those insanely huge hands of his cradling the basketball as he fakes a layup and swings his arm backward at an odd angle, only to whip the ball to a wide open teammate), yet defenders look silly against it as if they’ve never seen it before. Every now and then Rondo can go off for 40 or more points, just like he did in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Miami Heat. He is loyal to his teammates, almost to a fault at times. His assist numbers, even if intentional, are absolutely staggering, and so are his rebounding numbers for a man of his size. When he wants to be aggressive with the basketball, he is nearly impossible to defend.
For minutes at a time, Rondo is the best basketball player in the NBA, and while he milks many-an-injury, he is responsible for probably the gutsiest sports performance of my lifetime. In 2011, during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Heat (in a game the Celtics needed to win since they were down 2-0 in the series), Rondo went down with what looked like a season-ending elbow injury. Not only did Rondo stay in the game, his arm hanging limp like a zombie’s from The Walking Dead, but he continued to make plays down the stretch for Boston, dribbling, driving and shooting with the only healthy hand he had left. When the game had ended and the Celtics had won, I thought to myself, “This is the moment in time when Rajon Rondo solidified his legacy as a Celtic”. No one could ever again question his dedication to that team, and the game of basketball. That Rondo performance was one of the greatest sports moments I have ever witnessed, and moments like this one are why he is an irreplaceable piece to the Celtics puzzle.
So, with all this being said, you can understand why I had mixed emotions when I heard that Rondo’s 2013 campaign was over as of January 27, 2013. Later that day, the Celtics achieved what was most likely their most impressive win of the season: a double-overtime victory against the defending champion Miami Heat. After the game, I had a short conversation with my buddy George, a huge Celtics fan, about the state of the Celtics. Here is what he had to say about the Rondo-less C’s:
“It speaks to how confusing of a player Rondo is. He is our MVP and most dangerous, talented player. Rondo is thought of the player that makes the Celtics capable of beating teams like the Heat. Yet you can make the argument that the Celtics are somehow better when he’s out?”
Similar to Rondo’s temperament, the future of this year’s Celtics team is rather volatile. Now, am I saying that the Celtics will be successful without Rondo a la the Ewing Theory?* I would say absolutely not, because I believe that the Celtics ceiling is raised the instant Rajon Rondo enters the game, and players such as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will be asked to step up their minutes as well as scoring. This is something that I doubt can be done consistently, given their age. What I am saying however is that the theme of the Celtics with Rondo healthy was that they would go as far as he took them. The Celtics inconsistent play this season (losers of four in a row, then winners of six in a row, only to lose six consecutive following the win streak) corresponds with Rondo’s erratic play. For instance, the Celtics were 2-5 when Rondo scored 20 points or more this season, according to espn.com. Perhaps with Rondo sidelined, the Celtics can form and maintain a stronger identity during these months. Whether or not that identity will be a losing one remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to watch the direction in which team moves in.
For the meantime, I remain as dumbfounded about the future of the Boston Celtics as I do about Rajon Rondo’s game. The team could completely tank without a productive point guard, and even trade away some of their key pieces to build for the future, and I would not be surprised. They could also rally around the veteran presence of Garnett and Pierce, and see improved play from Jeff Green and the surging Jared Sullinger, and be a very tough out in the playoffs. Of all the uncertainty running through my mind about the future of this Celtics team, one thing is for sure: Rondo’s impact will never be understood. Everything about Rondo makes me want to scream bloody murder, and pump my fists and shout in the fashion Tom Brady has patented over his career. Like so many things we love and hate at the same time, we often realize their true worth only once they are absent from our lives. Perhaps the same can be said about the man who’s greatest enemy seems to be himself. Only time will tell.
*The Ewing theory was created by a man named Dave Cirilli, and popularized by sports columnist Bill Simmons. According to Simmons, the theory states that a team performs better once “ 1. A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest, and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series), and 2. That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement) — and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.”
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