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Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley: A Backcourt Set In Stone

For those who don’t believe the NBA’s regular season matters, look no further than the 2012 Boston Celtics. A clashing mixture of grizzled warriors, self-aware journeymen, and still developing flowers on the cusp of a grand spring bloom, this unit grew into their individual roles, remodeling from a top heavy bag of creaky bones to a versatile, well-muscled monster in just under six months.

Very few basketball teams are able to squeeze out every single drop of talent like these Celtics just did. From Kevin Garnett’s resurgence as one of the NBA’s most valuable, and dominant, two-way forces, to Rajon Rondo making his final emphatic steps from economy to first class, to Ray Allen and Paul Pierce limping with gritted teeth through the most physically exerting action their sport has to offer, to timely gut checks from the likes of Greg Stiemsma, Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling, and Brandon Bass, all that was asked for was delivered; in a way, watching it take place was even more fulfilling than a championship—although one of those would have been warmly embraced.

Today, that group and their season is permanently in the rearview mirror, and neither is ever coming back. As Danny Ainge looks ahead to the team’s most significant offseason in half a decade, several options lay at his feet, the most (un)popular being for him to “blow it up.” I never understand what people mean when they use this term for the Celtics. When the Charlotte Bobcats traded Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace, they blew it up. When the Portland Trailblazers fired their coach, hired a new general manager, and traded two veteran starters for a sack of unproven bench players and draft picks, they blew it up. When the Orlando Magic finally decide to deal Dwight Howard, they too will have blown it up.

To me, blowing it up means purposefully sabotaging a team’s infrastructure by replacing key figures with the hope of building a brand new foundation through the draft and cleared cap room. Blowing it up is becoming bad on purpose so that one day you can be really good. When you just came within one cold eight minute stretch of breaking into the NBA Finals, a complete overhaul probably isn’t the answer, and because of two crucial mid-first round draft picks made in the past six years, I don’t believe Ainge could if he really wanted to.

The two players I’m referring to are the aforementioned Rondo, who I could literally praise for days, and Avery Bradley. With them both onboard, the Celtics have a known strength that’s young, uber-talented, and only getting better. No matter what happens with anybody else on the roster, the Celtics will have Bradley and Rondo making up their backcourt next season, and an argument can be made that those two are not only be the league’s fiercest defensive guard tandem (the only comparable duo I can think of is the Grizzlies’ Tony Allen and Mike Conley), but overall, its best.

Let’s start with Rondo, who during the Eastern Conference Finals was knighted as a superstar by the superstar of superstars, LeBron James. From a viewpoint of predictability, Rondo might be the most difficult player in the entire NBA to game plan against. In the open court and in “no play” type situations (where the ball is loose or hanging in the air off a rebound), he’s impossible to stop. The strategy to lay off him in the half court has long been popular among head coaches throughout the league, but in doing so you’re giving up a wide open mid-range jump shot, which is increasingly becoming a not-so-great option (Rondo shot 46% from 16-24 feet in the playoffs. Taking into account the microscopic sample size, Chris Paul was 43.6% from this same range). If you play off him, not only do you give up a shot, but you make Rondo more comfortable than you or I watching on television from our living rooms. There’s no ball pressure, and no stress for him to force anything. You submit angles and openings for the game’s best passer, which when said aloud sounds idiotic. If he’s covered tight, bear witness to a blinding speed that either forces the defense to collapse—creating a wide open opportunity for someone else—or allows a one on one scoring opportunity at the rim—something Rondo is getting better and better at each year.

There’s much debate as to whether or not you can build a team around Rajon Rondo, and taking into account both sides of the fence, I believe you can for the simple fact that he directly makes teammates better. He might not lead his team in scoring (although it wouldn’t be shocking to see him do it next year, as his inability to do so is caused by self-restraint and not defensive scheme), but he takes over games in so many other ways that if he’s surrounded by the right pieces, the Celtics could definitely win a championship with him as their leader.

Rondo will be a legitimate preseason MVP candidate for the first time this summer. He is far and away the best player on the Celtics, and every free agent acquisition and draft pick should have “compatibility with Rondo” in mind as a priority. This means everyone on the court needs to have a respectable jump shot. This means the team’s primary offensive attack can now be a delayed transition with the addition of more young legs running up and down the court off of missed baskets. This means the entire defensive philosophy that favors “getting back” and setting up a brick wall in the half court can be tweaked to allow more atheltic players to hit the offensive glass, improving the team’s number one weakness. When one of the league’s top three point guards is entering his prime and under contract until 2016, it’s very difficult to blow anything up.

Now onto Bradley, a second year, 21-year-old defensive demon who changed the entire dynamic of Boston’s team after the All-Star break, vaulting them to the status of legitimate title contender. As everyone who’s seen him play already knows, the defense is more than capable of stacking up against any player at his position in the league, and the offensive development—alongside an intellectual play maker like Rondo—should be a joy to study. At 6’2″, Bradley is undersized, yes, but guess what? It doesn’t matter. Eric Gordon and Dwyane Wade are 6’4″, Kobe Bryant is about to retire, and when the Celtics go up against an elite point guard, Bradley can check him full court. Even when he doesn’t steal the ball, the impact of his ball pressure strains communication between the point guard and his coach as the two try to set up a desired play, while also taking crucial seconds off the shot clock so that when a play is finally run, it’s rushed and sloppy. For this reason and many others, Bradley is biological weaponry that no team can match.

Honestly, this is exciting. To have two limitless players working together on every possession at two crucial positions is something Celtics fans should more than look forward to over the next few seasons. Not to say Bradley and Rondo have flown under the radar by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re organic creations, which creates a distinctly different pride in terms of how a fan base treats them. (Not that Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett weren’t accepted by Celtics fans, but these two have a more protective feeling about them.) Because of these two players, Boston can dismiss the idea of “blowing it up” or re-tooling on the fly. They have the center piece and his side kick already in stow. Now it’s time to build around them.

Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

  • ally al

    my feelings exactly .everyone i know is bummed out not me i see a bright future for the celtics rebuild around avery and rajon.that combo will be good enough to stay with the heat or bulls.resign bass and make him a starter [double double]pierce has two more yrs in him kg one year all we need is a center when garnett retires and a power forward and scorer.the celtics have the money and draft picks to not just rebuild but to make a powerhouse that can overtake the heat and the bulls easily.enough with the rondo trade rumors as theres no better point guard in nba

  • Im lookin forward to nxt season!! Rondo is tha most exciting player to watch,add Bradley to tha mix n ooooh boy!! Bigups to tha Big3 #TEAMGREEN

  • GreenM&M

    Great points! How many other teams can say that they've got their back court situation pretty much solved for the next few years?

    Man would I have liked to see AB healthy in the ECF. It's difficult to understate how much we missed him. We wouldn't have had to trap wade (giving up those open 3s to Bosch). And his cat-quick cuts to the basket would have opened up the offense a bit too.

  • noche

    I give you +1 Mr. Pina. Well said.

    • noche

      But now that I think about it, how long will it take for AB to return to his post all-star break form after MULTIPLE shoulder surgeries? Anyone ever had that type of surgery and can shed some light? I know shoulder surgeries are pretty brutal and hard to recover from.

  • Jason

    I'm calling it. The new core will be Rondo, Bradley, Jeff Green. And then they will get Josh Smith in 2013. Garnett and Pierce become mentors in the 2013 and retire together.

    • yeah

      Oh gosh please not Josh Smith
      I know him and Rondo are great friends but pleaseeee not Josh Smith

      • Dubya

        I think the Celtics culture has a natural impact on players to become more mature and team-focused.
        Personally, i've been wishing a J-Smoove acquisition for a long time. He is uber-talented, a superb defender, has a respectable jumper and post game. His defense is not young KG, but once he buys into Doc's system, I don't expect there will be a material difference. Smoove has had some bad times in the spotlight, but seeing him in the playoffs this year and how he played after the all star snub.. I think he's matured. I hope he becomes a Celtic

  • ben

    Avery bradley has been traded for the 5th pick in the draft and harrison barnes. oops.

  • High Rollers

    Great thoughts, Mr. Pina.

  • Ryan

    As much as i love them both, AB cannot stay on the court. We need another strong 2 or #18 is never going to happen

  • LACelticFan

    As much as I still want to believe we need a bigger SG either off the bench or to start and bring AB off the bench, I do think you are right, Mr Pina. A new modern day Isiah and Joe.

  • zach

    AB's strength, length, and athleticism compensate for his height. Only the really big 2's give him problems. A Pietrus type would be a good backup. It is exciting to think about what he can do next year. On top of his freakish athleticsm he has a great shooting stroke. He kind of reminds me of those great athletes in high school that were not totally dedicated to any one sport – his basketball skills had seemed oddly deficient until midseason but are now maturing and making him pretty amazing.

    • will

      like who? D-wade? he seemed to do alright with him…
      Kobe is the only one I can really think of, and I don't think we'll be seeing the lakers more than twice a year anytime soon (they are not gonna topple the thunder as the class of the west, the torch has been passed).

      • John V

        Bradley had that great block against DWade, and he really does a great job stopping Wade's drives. However, Wade did take him into the post, and scored on him pretty easily. That didn't happen much, but I partially attribute that to Spoelstra. He is so slow to adjust to anything. If Bradley is the full-time 2, I'd be concerned that the Heat would send him a steady diet of Wade post-ups.

        My bigger concern is that teams will go big, and force him to guard someone who is normally a 3. I worry they can do that because I'm not sure Bradley can make them pay for it on the offensive end.

        I don't mean to be pessimistic; Rondo-Bradley-Pierce-Bass-Garnett looked fantastic this year. I'm just not sure I would "set it in stone" (Pina's phrase) just yet.

  • skeeds

    great read. I hope we can finally put the Rondo trade rumors to sleep. I cannot conceive of a trade for him that would make sense. Neither Dwight, nor DWill straight up are good enough trades. Not after this kid put up Magic Johnson numbers this post season.
    The fact that he has an excellent partner in crime, able to cause this chaos Rondo thrives in, makes it all the better.
    And for the first time, Ainge has the flexibility to really build a team that plays to Rondo's strengths. Let's hope he pulls it off!

    • zach

      random thought what about Rondo for Westbrook? Westbrook is younger and could carry a bad team better. Plus watching OKC it seems he may need his own team – he really is a D Rose clone talent wise. Rondo gives OKC the veteran leadership they need. I love Rondo but might do this

      • Darren

        If we traded Rondo for Westbrook, we could never beat OKC. Rondo would take that personally, and we know how scary a motivated RR is. We would have to watch the Rondo/Perk/Ibaka/Harden/Durant monster gobble us up.

        • John V

          I think Rondo would be better on a team with Kevin Durant, whereas Westbrook almost certainly would be better on a team without him. That being said, as a Boston fan, I don't want Rondo traded, and if I were an OKC fan, I wouldn't want Westbrook traded. There's a lot to be said for sticking with your guys.

      • Dubya

        I'd choose a smart player average-atheltic player over a low bball-iq atheletic monster anyday.
        First of all, a smart player can play through ailments and still have an impact.
        Secondly, I don't think WB can even begin to digest what Doc's playbook requires from his PG.

        And after his mistake in the final seconds of the Finals game 4…. he's definitely not smart….

        Rondo uses to the rules to his advantage in crunch time (ie throwing the ball off Wade for a fresh shot clock)…. surprising everyone

        I would have considered the trade during the trade deadline, but not anymore.

        But it would be great to see Rondo in OKC, and be part of a Dynasty… but doens't make sense for my Celtics

  • skeeds

    I'm too much of a Rondo fan to want anything to do with that trade. But trying to see things as objectively as possible, I still can't see the "SG in a PG's body" as a great thing to invest in.

    Westrbrook, like Rose, as you very well point out, is a volume scorer. Which is not a good fit for a PG.
    Rose has shown exceptional playmaking ability, even if only sporadically. Westbrook, on the other hand, as the Heat have exposed brilliantly in these Finals, is a bad playmaker to say the least. He misses Durant on fastbreaks, he misses mismatches in the post, he can't pass well out of traffic when they collapse onto him.

    The good thing with pure playmakers like Rondo on the other hand is they're ideal guys to build around, because everyone else's job can be simple. You can have your assortment of bangers, cutters and shooters, put Rondo in charge and it'll work, because he rewards each one of them with passes right in their comfort zone. We've seen that with every guy he's played with. If there's one way he can score, Rondo'll make sure he gets that shot.

    • John V

      They may be ideal guys to build around, but neither John Stockton nor Steve Nash ever won an NBA title, and Jason Kidd didn't win one until he was a role player. Building around a point guard who is not a great scorer isn't something which has been very successful.

      • Dubya

        Hmmmm is it too premature to compare Rondo to Magic? Cuz Magic's got some bling :)

        • skeeds

          oh no no, I'm not comparing them as players. The kid often fills up the statsheet in a way that only Magic did, that's all.

          I believe that Magic is the most fantastic thing to ever exist in basketball, in my lifetime at least. There has been no other so devastatingly skilled player in all aspects of the game, before him or since him. Lebron is physically and skill-wise close, but as you said. Bling. Without the jewellery, there's no comparison.

      • skeeds

        I don't know man, these theories are always just theories. I mean, elite PG's aren't supposed to win it all right? (except Magic and Zeke) But truth be told, Stockton's Jazz would've won a ring in any other period of time, except against the peaking Jordan…
        Nash, AI, Kidd, all these guys suffered from bad management, bad coaching and inadequate support from their teammates.
        So much other stuff comes into play, that there's no conclusion to be made.

        Still, on paper, I think it makes more sense to have a guy to control the offense and facilitate, and another guy to handle the scoring load. When your PG focuses on the 2nd, no matter how good he is, the rest of the offense is too problematic. Even Rose couldn't pull it off, and he's far more skilled overall than Westbrook.

        So basically, this trade would make a lot more sense for OKC than it would for Boston…

  • zach

    Yeah, I basically agree with this. Westbrook does have an amazing ability to score though – his pull-up is deadly and he gets it whenever he wants it, and he is dynamite going to the rim. The thought of Rondo trying to dish to second tier talent (in the post big 3 era) kind of scares me a bit, as does his longterm potential to break down physically, but if we can somehow surround him with good players I agree he is an other-worldly playmaker. A more athletic Nash/Cousey

    • skeeds

      Yeah, if OKC manages to find another guy to run the offense, or change their scheme, (triangle, anyone), and let Westbrook worry about his shot, they'll be much better off.

      Good thing with guys like Rondo, is that they really don't need what you'd conventionally call prolific scorers to work with. I mean yeah, a Carl Malone would be AWESOME , but a guy like Kaman who can simply convert good looks and grab the crazy pass on the pick n roll, will have no trouble averaging 15 points. Look at Stoudemire, or Brewer. In their previous teams, (with Nash and Deron respectively) they were trully unguardable offensively. Take away the PG, and they're mediocre, at best.

      One thing's for certain. Rondo must at all times be the 3rd most athletic guy on the floor for the C's, at best. He might run faster than everyone and drop the layups now, but eventually, it's better to have other guys attack the rim on his behalf. His job is to get them the ball.

  • Huliof

    The thought of Rondo trying to dish to second tier talent (in the post big 3 era) kind of scares me a bit, as does his longterm potential to break down physically, but if we can somehow surround him with good players I agree he is an other-worldly playmaker What do you mean? top weird essays