It’s decision time for the Boston Celtics. About halfway through Sunday’s game against the Miami Heat, Rajon Rondo’s diagnosis was made public. Boston’s all-star point guard had a torn ACL that will basically put him on the shelf for about a year.
The entire chronology of how the day unfolded can be read here but it’s safe to say the impact of social media was on full display. The MRI machine had barely been turned off and it seemed like people following on social media outlets knew that Rondo would be out for the season before he did.
Doc Rivers said that he had an idea of how serious the injury was before the game, but that his players did not and if you watched the post game interviews you could see Paul Pierce’s unfiltered reaction when he heard the news.
So now what for the Celtics? General manager Danny Ainge has steadfastly maintained that he does not want the franchise to go the way of the early to mid-’90s when Larry Bird and company were on the decline and the Celtics became an afterthought in the world of the NBA.
The decision comes down to this: do you blow things up by making trades or do you make a deal to try and patch it together? Rebuilding on the fly is difficult in the NBA. Skill level, attitudes, egos and chemistry sometimes make it very tough to slide to the bottom of the playoff ladder and then make a meteoric rise back to the top.
The trade deadline is about three weeks away and the Celtics are still in a playoff spot. They are not the dangerous first-round seed that they may have been without Rondo but as long as Garnett and Pierce are around they still have the potential to push a contender. I know some of the numbers say that the Celtics are better without Rondo but that doesn’t pass the eye test on this front.
Rondo has almost 50 per cent of Boston’s assists this season. True, others will now have an opportunity and it may be a time for Boston’s other backcourt players like Leandro Barbosa, Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley and Jason Terry to start producing more. There is even talk that former Celtic, Keyon Dooling, who retired at the start of this season may step back into the fold.
Without Rondo there is going to be a change in the style of play. Look for more ball movement, fewer screen-and-roll sequences and Pierce making more decisions with the ball. There will be subtle changes with the way the offence is initiated and the challenge will be to keep Garnett actively involved as Rondo provides him with easy scoring opportunities. The “Big Ticket” punches home easy shots with Rondo on the floor shooting just under 68 per cent from inside of five feet when Rondo is on the court. That number drops by almost 13 per cent when Rondo is out of the game
A trade for a serviceable piece, or a move like bringing back Dooling, could keep the Celtics in the playoffs. In these eyes a post-season berth is important because of the message it sends not only to the fan base but to potential free agents, telling them Boston is not a dead end. Look at what happened over the last three seasons as Chicago, Indiana and Philadelphia have finished eighth and then were able to make moves to improve the team the following season. Unfortunately for the Sixers, the Andrew Bynum deal has not worked out.
But what about the other option, you know: blow it up and start over. There are teams that would take Garnett and Pierce as veterans with championship experience. The result would be cap relief for Boston. However consider the optics of the situation: do KG and Pierce deserve the respect to retire as Celtics? Good question but remember, last season at the trade deadline, Ray Allen was headed to Memphis and Pierce was on his way to New Jersey for a pick and an expiring contract until the deals fell apart. How’s that for loyalty? So in a sense, Boston has considered that route before but was forced to turn back. Pierce in particular is a touchy situation since he will have his number retired at some point and is all over the franchise record books with names like Bird, Robert Parish and John Havlicek.
The business man in me says make deals, get the cap room and rebuild knowing you will eventually have a healthy Rondo in the future. Just look at the Bulls without Derrick Rose as they have held it together and once they reintegrate the star they could take off again. But the other side says why venture into the uncertain? You know what you have with Pierce and Garnett leading the team and a few tweaks may just do the trick.
Difficult decisions for Ainge but it says here, try to make a deal to get to the post-season party and then see what happens. There will be no Rondo, who helped propel them to the brink of the NBA Finals last season, but don’t undersell Doc’s coaching ability.
Perhaps the time to make moves and rebuild the team comes in the summer after one last run has been made. All teams seemingly eventually have to rebuild at some point but do you take a chance and voluntarily regress and try to do it now? What if you don’t or have a protracted recovery period?
Regardless, without Rondo, we will see a different Celtic team for at least the next calendar year.