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.