Keepsake: Boston Celtics Season Preview

(Posted on behalf of blog brother AO)
 
Starting Five: TBA (Editor’s note: to begin the season, only F Jeff Green and G Avery Braldey are really assured of starting roles. But in general, it’s all in flux right now)
 
Key Bench Players: Undetermined
 
Notable Offseason Additions: PF Kris Humphries’ expiring contract, PF/C Kelly Olynyk, SF Gerald Wallace, G MarShon Brooks, three first round picks from the Brooklyn Nets.
 
Notable Offseason Subtractions: PF Kevin Garnett, SF Paul Pierce, G Jason Terry’s corpse and head coach Doc Rivers.
 
FACT OR FICTION: The Celtics are rebuilding.  They have cleaned house of everyone except Rajon Rondo.  To really commit to the rebuild, they must trade Rajon Rondo.
 
FICTION.  FICTION! FICTION!!! 
 
This is a popular yet misguided thought among NBA heads.   I disagree so wholeheartedly that we’re going to rip through the other Celtic summer league headlines in one summary sentence:  Olynyk was the Summer League Jesus, Humphries’ expiring is a huge deadline card to be played, and RIP Ubuntu.  Now, the three reasons why Boston should absolutely not trade Rondo:

  1. His unique combination of team-first, fiery competitor, big balls, unafraid—is something that is rare and game changing.  Teams talk about players like KG who change cultures.  I believe Rondo is the same type of guy, only we haven’t seen it because he’s existed within the Ubunto-Doc-KG culture.  With all of the aforementioned out the door, and Boston hiring a rookie head coach, the floor is truly Rondo’s.  He will be the leader of this team.  He will set the example.  His rage and obsession will no longer be blanketed by KG’s.

    Having the over-the-top competitor gene is a rarity alone.  But to pair that with a team-first basketball style is something I don’t think I’ve seen before.  Mental analogs for Rondo are: MJ, KG, Kobe  None of those guys were particularly known for their desire to have their teammates succeed.  They were killers that were so ruthless that they basically scared their teammates into following them down the path to victory.  Rondo on the other hand, exists almost solely as a device that triggers other certain devices to work (insert cliché here ala ‘key that turns the engine’ ‘straw that stirs the drink’, etc).  The assist per game totals for the his three years: 11.2, 11.7, 11.1.  People who complain about his scoring or shooting are missing the point.  That’s not who he is.  And he excels at what he does do (direct traffic, set up teammates, break down defenses) even though the defense knows that’s the plan.  Anyways, his ppg have trended upward, although slowly, for the past 3 years: 10.6, 11.9, 13.7.   He shot 48% from the field before he got hurt last year, a very respectable number for a guard.

    On the defensive end, he’s a pest.  His transition game is dominant.  And he understands the complexities of an NBA system (Brad Stevens is foaming at the mouth right now) the way Peyton Manning dissects NFL defenses.

  2. So, we have this special ball of wax that Rondo is.  But, the amazing part, is we’ve never seen this guy as a focal point of a team!  Sure, he’s played like it before.  I mean, anyone who can put up 44, 10 and 8 in Miami in the playoffs, that’s a damn focal point.  But, my point is the team was never built around him, neither in physical Xs and Os (think Ray and Pierce running off those screens all those years) nor in psychological terms (it was all Doc and KG).  Those reports of him transitioning to be a leader last summer were bullshit.  As long as Pierce, Garnett and Doc was there, Rondo was the 4th wheel.  His time has come to lead.

    A large argument for trading Rondo, after the cap space argument which we’ll get to later, is that the pieces around him don’t inspire or don’t make sense.   I don’t disagree with this.  This is not the roster that Rondo can inspire to contender status.  But they are well positioned to have a roster that looks nothing like the current one within two years.  This year and next year the Celtics have multiple draft picks and expiring contracts to dangle.  And assuredly they will also use some of those draft picks (side note: the way the 2014 draft looks, of course I’d be secretly rooting for losses if I was a Celtics fan this year).   And if there’s a GM who can mold a team around Rondo, it’s Danny Ainge.  He’s been with Rondo every game of his NBA career and knows what he needs.  And if Ainge is afraid of the big deal, then Rondo is afraid of the Heat.  What I’d like to see is Ainge target young, athletes with a little competitive spark in them.  Build this force of speed and tenaciousness, kind of like the Bulls with Rose but more athletic (Boozer, Noah, Deng not great athletes).

  3. Rajon Rondo is a transcendent player.  There are only a handful of them in the NBA.  You don’t trade transcendence for more cap space with the hope of acquiring transcendence.  People argue that the 13 million off the Celtics cap next year enables them to sign a max player and pair them with whatever stud they draft in 2014.  What a silly argument.  They have the main piece of the puzzle in Rondo!  They should be operating through a lens of “what works around Rajon”.  Even if they stay where they are at for the 2014-15 cap (currently 48m on the books), they have plenty of room to make 2nd tier impact moves, draft their 2nd banana, and roll over their cap space for another year.

Best Case Scenario: Rondo comes back after Christmas and the Celtics limp to a bottom 8 record in the league, assuring themselves of a quality lottery pick in a loaded draft.  Rondo uses the half season to establish himself as the unquestioned leader of the team, and Brad Stevens’ best buddy.  Ainge somehow unloads the horrendous Gerald Wallace contract.  After they draft Andrew Wiggins, the Cs squash any Rondo rumors by signing him to an early max extension.  They go into next year with Rondo, Wiggins and cap space.  Watch out.

Absolute Apocalypse: They trade Rondo and miss out on building around one of the real game changers of this generation.

Expected Outcome: 28-54, 4th in the Atlantic, 13th in the East.

 


Do you smell what MAMBINO is cooking? Check out the rest (so far) of our 2013-2014 NBA Season Preview series:

Central Division

Chicago Bulls
Cleveland Cavaliers
Detroit Pistons
Indiana Pacers
Milwaukee Bucks

Southeast Division

Atlanta Hawks
Charlotte Bobcats

Miami Heat
Orlando Magic
Washington Wizards

Northwest Division

Denver Nuggets
Minnesota Timberwolves
Oklahoma City Thunder
Portland Trailblazers
Utah Jazz

Northwest Division

Dallas Mavericks
Houston Rockets
Memphis Grizzlies
New Orleans Pelicans
San Antonio Spurs

Atlantic Division

Brooklyn Nets

 

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