Can’t shoot; temperamental; thin-skinned; egotistical. These aren’t the most endearing descriptors, particularly when they’re attached to your starting point guard who, incidentally, also doubles as your best young player and the future of the team. Indeed, to even contemplate handing the reins of the most successful franchise in league history to a character as flawed as those adjectives suggest, seems the very definition of insanity. Aren’t the disastrous tenures of Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Kenny Anderson, Rod Strickland, etc., proof enough that entrusting a team to a crazy, moody point guard is generally a terrible idea?
I will, of course, probably regret publicly stating this opinion in a year or two, when he’s leading a sub-.500 team to the lottery and the center of innumerable trade rumors. Transitioning from a supporting role on a team led by three future Hall of Famers to captaining one hopelessly devoid of talent would, after all, be a tall order for any player, never mind one possessing questionable leadership abilities and an incomplete skillset. In fact, the Celtics’ rocky start is probably an ominous foreshadowing of what awaits the franchise once the Big Three finally rides off into the sunset: Rondo posting mind-boggling stat-lines while the C’s sputter along, depressingly uncompetitive, but just mediocre enough to deny themselves the chance at a high-draft pick.
So clearly, a player like CP3 or D-Will (if either were available) would represent a huge, short-term upgrade, and would likely keep Boston in the playoff picture, if not the title hunt. That Danny Ainge has repeatedly entertained the idea of trading Rondo for a more conventional guard (Tyreke Evans during the ’09 draft; Rodney Stuckey (ugh) that same summer; Paul and Russell Westbrook prior to the start of this season) suggests that Celtics management shares that sentiment. Exchanging a flawed, mercurial, and slightly ornery personality for an equally-talented, and less-distracting, player would represent an opportunity too tempting to pass up for a team looking to ease its way into the inevitably painful post-Big Three era.
But despite these reservations (some of which I share), it’s become perfectly obvious that prematurely relinquishing a player as gifted and unique as Rajon Rondo would be a mistake of monumental proportions, particularly for the reasons that are so often given. Indeed, if Charlie Pierce’s fantastic feature from a couple of years ago is any indication of what irks the Celtics about their young point guard, then Ainge and company should be ridiculed (as Brian Windhorst and Kurt Helin have done) for even thinking about giving up on a guy as talented as Rondo merely because of the occasional missed practice or argument with a coach or teammate. A difficult or strange personality, however aggravating and distracting, doesn’t necessarily equate with a crippling flaw.
For however disconcerting his various eccentricities, Rondo’s quirks are ultimately, and surprisingly, encouraging. Where some would see weakness in his inability to cope with the Kendrick Perkins trade, I see an intense and desirable loyalty; and where others would laugh at his insecurities, particularly in regards to President Obama’s rather innocuous comments about his jumper, I applaud him for taking that criticism seriously, and for recognizing the very real flaws in his game. There are many different shades of headcase, and Rondo seems to fall on the benign side of the spectrum, something which couldn’t have been said for the Marburys or Stevie Franchises of the world.
Furthermore, a Rondo-led team would open up a world of possibilities that Celtics management would be foolish to ignore. Letting him, say, quarterback an up-tempo offense (once KG, Pierce, and Allen are gone, that is) would allow him to maximize his potential and fully utilize his peerless playmaking abilities which, despite his stellar play, have been somewhat obscured by the slow, plodding pace at which the C’s have played for the last four or five seasons. Imagine an unconstrained Rondo, just entering his prime, orchestrating a relentless fast-break, a la the SSOL Suns; if that doesn’t pique your interest, then you should consult your cardiologist, because you probably don’t have a heart.
And provided he’s surrounded with the proper personnel, I can easily see him transforming into Jason Kidd-lite, a slightly-troubled playmaker whose unselfishness, defense, competitiveness, and unparalleled command of the game more than make up for his offensive deficiencies. At only 25 years old his ceiling is, after all, still sky-high, and whereas the league’s other young point guards (Paul, Williams, Rose, Westbrook, etc.) have decidedly mixed postseason track-records, Rondo has already proven himself capable of leading (albeit in a supporting a role) a team to the Finals. Not once, but twice. Such experience will prove invaluable once he’s landed his own team, particularly since (unlike so many other young stars of the past and present) he’s been forced to learn how and when to defer or to take over.
A ruthless competitor, a creative passer, a defensive nightmare, and a loyal, hard-working teammate with the requisite playoff chops: what else could one possibly ask of a point guard (well, besides a jump shot)? As long as he doesn’t start his own shoe line, or film himself eating Vaseline, the Celtics should be more than content with a Rondo-centric future. Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, and Deron Williams may be considerably better right now, but Rajon Rondo could very well end up revolutionizing the point guard position. I just hope he’s able to do it in Boston.