Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

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Farewell to Mr. Excitement – Saying Goodbye to Rajon Rondo

Just last night, I was at my first Celtics game of the year, watching the mercurial Rajon Rondo lead the sorry-looking 2014-15 Celtics to a win over the Magic. Rondo appeared uninterested from the start, turning the ball over at an alarming rate in the first quarter. But then, like in so many other games, he started playing with an intensity that few can match. Suddenly, midway through the third quarter, he was just three rebounds away from a triple-double. He was streaking down the court to create shots left and right. He was fighting on the offensive glass. And he was attacking the rim.

But now, Rondo is packing up and headed to Dallas, traded today for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson and a future 1st and 2nd round pick. What is surprising is not that Rondo was traded, but the swiftness in which this move happened. I’m left stunned at the fact that he’s gone, that I had a chance to say goodbye, but didn’t even know it was going to be necessary. In many ways, this trade was inevitable, but it still comes as a surprise after so many years of seeing him take the floor.

Rondo did a lot of spectacular things on the basketball court. He also did a lot of agonizingly stupid things. But on the whole, he was a player worth watching on a nightly basis. And he was an absolute competitor, one right up there with Kevin Garnett as the type of player you could guarantee hated losing more than you hated sitting in traffic. Rondo played through all sorts of injuries, and routinely put his body on the line.

Watching Rondo play the last two years has been tough. He was put in an environment where he simply wasn’t going to win based on the roster around him. Because of that, I believe he started playing games with himself, trying to keep his assist-streaks going and going for triple-doubles because he wasn’t getting the necessary competition on the court. He was so competitive that he needed to avoid losing, even if that meant beating challenges he set for himself. It was almost like he had to detach himself from the reality of the losses in order to stay motivated and engaged.

Many people like to criticize Rondo for all sorts of things. But I’ve always given him the benefit of the doubt. Regardless of what his motivation was every night, he put on a show, which helped the team way more often than it hurt. Sure, it would have been nice had he learned to shoot free-throws, but he helped the team in so many other ways.

Rondo was never going to be the superstar that so many people wanted him to be. Whether it was his inability to accept coaching or his refusal to redevelop shooting mechanics, most true Celtics fans have always known Rondo needed a running mate to be successful. He may have been the official team captain, but he was not Paul Pierce by any means. He was Rondo, the player capable of anything. He was not Rondo, the player capable of leading the Celtics to a championship by himself.

The moment I knew a trade was coming was when Kevin Love went to the Cavaliers. After two seasons of rebuilding and losing, the Celtics were not going to be able to convince Rondo to come back in free agency. I don’t think he would have accepted even a max deal from the Celtics knowing more losing was on the immediate horizon. So while the return from this trade isn’t what you’d expect for a player of Rondo’s potential, it was a deal the Celtics had to make if it was truly the best offer out there. It was either this or losing him for nothing in the summer.

I’m going to miss Rondo on a number of levels. I’ll miss the competitor who wouldn’t even lose Connect-4 at charity events.  I’ll miss the fiery, grudge-holding Rondo, going against top point guards on national TV and relentlessly attacking their pride. I’ll miss triple-double seeking Rondo cleverly getting his shooters open looks as I saw one final time last night. And finally, I’ll miss playoff Rondo more than anything, but the circumstances suggested we weren’t going to see that any time soon.

Like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Doc Rivers, and Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo did spectacular things in Boston that made the city a basketball town for a number of years amidst tremendous sporting success across the board. Rondo brought excitement to the Garden night after night and produced some unforgettable moments.

Think about the dunk on Jason Maxiell. Think about Game 2 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals when Rondo poured in 44 points, while adding 8 rebounds and 10 assists. Think about his 29 point, 18 rebound, 13 assist game vs. the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010. Think about all the times he faked the behind-the-back pass. Think about that championship.

The Celtics have a long way to go before they will return to the era that Rajon Rondo helped define. But this trade is a necessary step towards that next era, a move made without a trace of nostalgia, as Danny Ainge has avoided doing in a big way. Rondo’s exit marks the official end of a remarkable era to be a Celtics fan. I’m going to miss these guys a whole lot in the years to come, but ultimately, I have faith in what Ainge is doing.

One final question I’d like to pose is whether Rondo deserves a place in the rafters. Pierce will be there for sure. Garnett will probably be there. But will Rondo’s number 9 join them? He was not dominant on the 2008 team, but in the years and playoff runs that followed, it can be argued that Rondo was the catalyst of everything that went right or wrong. And more often than not, it went right. For all his critics, Rondo was one heck of a Celtic.

It is with a great deal of sadness that I bid farewell to Rajon Rondo as a Celtic. It’s been a fun 9 years.

Do you think Rondo deserves a place in the rafters? What are your thoughts on the trade overall? Please comment below. 


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Analyzing the Celtics First Round Draft Picks and the Big Night for Nik Stauskas

I had built up a lot of hope about the NBA Draft tonight for the Celtics. I allowed myself to believe Kevin Love might come to Boston a couple weeks ago. And then I allowed myself to think that Joel Embiid might fall into our lap. Then there were the moments tonight when I hoped the Celtics might trade up, or when I thought they could potentially wind up with Dante Exum. But then pick number six arrived and none of whom I wanted was still there. I should know not to get too excited when it comes to the Celtics and the Draft.

When Marcus Smart put his Celtics hat on at number six, my first thought was that this rebuilding process is going to take a while. I think Smart will be a good player, but probably never an all-star. I can see him being a defense-first point guard on a contender in a few years, one who needs to play alongside a scorer to thrive. Ideally, he will develop a jump shot at some point, but right now he’s not going to light it up offensively in the NBA.

I’m afraid this pick will signal the end of the Rajon Rondo era, if not now then later this season, and that’s a bit sad to think about. A long rebuild with Smart manning the point could lead to another great time for Celtics basketball in a number of years, but count me as one who would have liked to see Rondo given another shot with a star player in Boston. This pick also was the second time recently that the Celtics have taken a probable number one pick the year after they should have come out of college, with Jared Sullinger being the other. I guess that’s a good thing – but maybe there’s a reason these guys have fallen out of the top spot after another year in the spotlight.

At number 17, the Celtics pick of James Young was another case of drafting a guy who had the talent to be picked a lot higher. Personally, I was never very impressed with Young when I watched Kentucky play – which was a lot. He of course was immensely talented, but like the Harrison twins, I always wanted him to do more. As a shooting guard, he is not a pure shooter, and at that position, I would have liked the Celtics to have added a more consistent shooter.

I would have taken Gary Harris or Rodney Hood ahead of Young. For me, if Young works out, he’ll be a double-digit scoring energy guy off the bench on a good team. Best case scenario he becomes a Reggie Jackson type scorer. His performance in the NCAA Tournament was sensational, but it’s hard for me to ignore how many bad shots he took over the course of the regular season. In Kentucky’s two losses against Arkansas, his reaction to any adversity was to huck up threes. That doesn’t do it for me. But at pick seventeen, his upside as a scorer is great, so I shouldn’t complain, especially having watched the Celtics’ second-unit struggle to score for much of the latter half of the season.

In the current state of the Celtics, these two first round picks won’t change much for next season, and I don’t see them being cornerstones for the future. They can certainly contribute going forward, but Danny Ainge will have his work cut out assembling top line talent in the next few years that Smart and Young can complement. At this point, if Love isn’t coming, I say trade Jeff Green and see if you can get any assets for him. Keep Rondo for now, until an offer blows you away. Trading Rondo for fifty cents on the dollar right now would be a huge mistake.

I would also like to congratulate Nik Stauskas on his meteoric rise to the number eight pick. I saw him play a couple years in high school and always knew he was a player, but the speed at which he took over the spotlight from his high school teammates Alex Murphy and Kaleb Tarczewski (two top-ten recruits) was incredible. I’m proud to say I was the official statistician for Stauskas’s high school team’s league, emailing his stats out to Boston newspapers every week and once telling his coach in an email that he was “probably the best player in our league.” That same New England prep school league also produced Shabazz Napier, who himself was taken in the first round as well. Needless to say, it’s a big night for the Independent School League. I’ll be rooting for Stauskas every step of the way with Sacramento.