Rajon Rondo is not who you think he is.
I'm not arguing against his status as one of the best point guards in the league, because he is in that category. I'm also in agreement that he is the most talented player for the Boston Celtics.
What isn't he, then?
Untouchable, or rather, he shouldn't be.
Though the narrative surrounding the crafty playmaker has changed by the day in the past, a common assertion has been that he is the heart and soul of this Celtics team, the one who will lead them back to prominence.
But is he?
Personally, I've never seen him surrounded with more talent and yet Boston continues to play sub-.500 basketball. Sure, he's averaging 13.1 points and leading the league with 11.6 assists per contest, but again, the Celtics aren't winning.
Is this to say that all hope of Rondo being the team's savior is lost?
Absolutely not. And it's important that we understand that when discussing why he shouldn't be untouchable.
Rondo could very well be the kind of point guard that leads a team toward contention, or even the attainment of a championship. But it's also time for us to consider that the Celtics may not be that team.
Remember, it was less than a year ago that Boston was reportedly shopping Rondo "aggressively."
Before this season, before last year's postseason and well before whispers of preseason MVP candidacy spread throughout the NBA like wildfire, there was doubt culminating in attempted action on the Celtics' behalf.
Outside of an outstanding playoff performance last season, Rondo hasn't done much to quell such concerns.
Yes, he's the most creative distributor in the Association, but Boston has been unable to parlay such abilities into guaranteed contention. At this point, with the Celtics having entered a justifiable state of panic, the team must explore all avenues of action.
Including ones that lead to Rondo's departure.
I'm not saying Boston should return to "aggressively" shopping Rondo. Forcefully shopping any athlete who hasn't requested a trade is a surefire way to diminish their market value.
Instead, I'm merely acknowledging that Rondo shouldn't be as untouchable as many see him to be.
Because he's not as indispensable as we believe him to be.
Rondo has improved his jump shot, yes, but he's still shooting just 36.7 percent outside of nine feet.
Is that cause enough trade him?
Of course not. With Rondo, you always have to take the good with the bad, knowing in the end that he has a profound two-way impact on the result of the game.
Yet does he?
Boston's defense is actually allowing 1.6 points per 100 possessions fewer with him off the floor. Given that the point guard is widely considered one of the game's best perimeter defenders, that's troubling.
Also noteworthy is the fact that the Celtics are scoring 103 points per 100 possessions with him running the point. Once he hits the sidelines, though, that number falls just 1.8 points to 101.2. For a floor general who many steadfastly believe is the league's best, Rondo is having a fairly pedestrian impact on his team's offense.
To put it in an ever broader perspective, Chris Paul—one of the point men whom Rondo is so often compared with—helps the Los Angeles Clippers put up 115.6 points per 100 possessions when he's on the hardwood. Once he sits down, that number fall to 104.1, a testament to how important he is to the flow of Los Angeles' offense.
Most troublesome about Rondo's unsettling impact is that he's anything but privy to it. Instead, he's questioning (via Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald) his team's ability to turn their season around:
“Even though we’ve gotten off to slow starts the last two or three years and turned it around, each year is different. Each team is completely different. So I’m not banking on that.”
As for the Celtics getting into a pattern where they play well all over the floor almost exclusively when their shots are falling, Rondo said, “Yeah, but that’s every team.”
When it was pointed out that the Celts like to say their defense comes first and that, even if they’re not doing well with the ball, they defy other teams to post enough points to beat them, Rondo offered another cold shower.
“It’s been a long time since that’s been the case,” he said. “For the last couple of years, it’s been, if we score we get stops, and if we don’t it gets ugly.”
Is that really what the Celtics need to hear from their leader right now? You have to appreciate why Rondo is frustrated, but some accountability on his part is a must. What if he's not the right man to lead this team toward prominence, after all?
I won't pretend that Rondo isn't important to Boston's two-way charge. He has great instincts once he gets in the paint and is nearly unguardable in transition. But the Celtics aren't a running team. They average just 13.1 fast break points per game, 15th in league.
Boston, with all its veterans, prefers to run a half-court offense, one that controls the tempo of the game by slowing it down. I mean, this is the team that averaged just 90.4 possessions per 48 minutes last season (21st in the league) and is averaging just 91.7 this season (16th in league).
And it is here that the Celtics and Rondo meet a proverbial crossroads. He is built to run, just as much as Paul, Steve Nash and Russell Westbrook, yet in Boston his natural instincts are hindered by the cosmetic makeup of the team.
Let's not pretend that the Celtics haven't noticed this either. They brought in guys like Jason Terry and Courtney Lee over the offseason in hopes they would provide Rondo with some transitional weapons alongside which he would thrive.
But he hasn't. More importantly, the Celtics haven't.
It's becoming clearer by the day that Boston is in dire need of a prolific inside presence, someone who can improve the team's league-worst rebounding rate while providing Kevin Garnett with some interior relief. They could also use someone who can help stretch defenses wafer thin as well.
What does Boston have, though?
Rondo, an All-Star point guard playing for a team that doesn't fit the bill for his God-given talents to perfection.
As such, with the Celtics (per Sam Amick of USA Today) exploring a trade for someone like DeMarcus Cousins, Rondo shouldn't necessarily be kept off-limits.
Should he be used as part of a complex deal for Cousins? If Doc Rivers and company believe him to be a star big man, then they certainly shouldn't be opposed to it.
Boston has an array of other options to run the point in Rondo's stead. Leandro Barbosa, Terry and the returning Avery Bradley are no stranger to handling the playmaking duties.
Are any of them as naturally talented or athletically-inclined as Rondo?
Definitely not, but bear in mind that the Celtics' offense suffers more when Terry leaves the floor, than when Rondo does.
That's the reality Boston is currently coping with. Rondo isn't having the impact he was supposed to, he's not playing the way he did in the playoffs and the Celtics aren't meeting expectations by a long shot.
Something has to be done. A shakeup of this faction is in order. If this team was prepared to defend or even score the way it was built to, then it would be doing so.
But it's not. Boston is instead left with a handful of odds and ends to go along with a slew of unanswered questions.
Is Rondo the root of the issue? Is he the cause of all their problems? Is he actually holding this team back?
Maybe, but maybe not.
The Celtics have to be open to doing whatever it takes to right this ship.
“I think we’ve got to make a change sooner or later, as far as guys’ mentality," Rondo said.
And that may be truth. Boston may just need to get its mental act together above all.
Or the change it needs may come in the form of personnel, a possibility the Celtics must understand and subsequently embrace.
Even if that "change" comes in the form of Rondo's departure.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of December 30, 2012.
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