Last night, we convened an emergency 3-on-3 panel to deal with the fallout from Rajon Rondo’s injury. We’ll be dealing with all of this stuff in more detail in the next few days, along with, conservatively, a billion trade rumors, but here are our immediate reactions to the end of Rondo’s season and what it means for the Celtics.
Brendan Jackson: It’s almost unbelievable. Typically, when these injuries happen, you see Tony Allen slap the floor in pain or Derrick Rose’s mental anguish as the reality of the situation sets in. We don’t think of a guy who guts out the rest of a fourth quarter, two overtimes, and the next game’s shoot-around before finally submitting to an MRI. While Rondo’s injury drives the very last nail in the coffin of the Celtics season – and likely the Big Three era – Rondo gets the minuscule consolation prize of solidifying his position as the toughest guy in the NBA.
Ryan DeGama: Sometimes Rondo gets playful or cocky with the media but he’s always seemed like a private, sensitive guy. So, watching him come out for the second overtime Sunday against Miami and walking back through the tunnel in the full gaze of the camera, I felt similar to the way I did watching Doc Rivers give his press conference after losing game 7 of the 2010 Finals: it was such a painful moment it was almost inappropriate for pubic scrutiny. It’s hard to imagine how Rondo’s feeling today but it’s easy to guess at the questions that will be lingering in his head. Is he going to be the same player when he returns? Will he ever play with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett again? I feel terrible for him.
Brian Robb: Sheer shock to be honest, based on the circumstances. The point guard has his flaws but toughness is certainly not one of them after he managed to play 12 minutes on a torn ACL and not complain about it until the next game. After getting past that, I’m a bit mixed about the team’s fortunes with Rondo going down. When Rondo wants to be, he’s by far the team’s best player, but we haven’t seen enough of that this year. Instead, it’s been inconsistent play on both ends, and uninspired effort by the rest of the squad. That’s definitely not all on Rondo, but a fresh opportunity for the newcomers on this team, particularly in the backcourt, is probably a good thing in the short term. Playing the postseason without Rondo is another story.
Jackson: Motion, spacing and ball movement. It may seem obvious, but without their shot creator, the Celtics need to reshape their offense in a way that prevents it from being solely dependent on one player. Without Rondo, the parts will need to interchangeable to the point where it doesn’t matter if it’s Pierce passing to Jason Terry on a flare. Or Courtney Lee feeding Avery Bradley or Jeff Green on a curl. Or Pierce spotting up in the corner while Terry drives to the bucket. It’s not going to be easy, but there is hope that the sum total of all the parts will patchwork its way into something resembling what Rondo provided.
DeGama: By force-feeding Jason Collins in the post? Look, there’s no palatable answer to this one. Outside of Rondo, the Celtics have almost no shot creators and playoff-level defense will suffocate what’s left of the offense. I would like to see Boston with a score-first PG who gets to the free throw line. To that end, a multi-category threat like Kyle Lowry, who has fallen out of favor in Toronto despite a 21.32 PER, could be a short term answer. And keep this in mind: we’ll be watching Rondo play sometime before the calendar hits 2014. There’s no need to completely rebuild the offense unless you’re ready to cut bait on Rondo as a core member of the future Celtics. The C’s just need to muddle through.
Robb: Attack, attack, attack. We saw a healthy amount of it Sunday against the uber-athletic Heat as the C’s scored 48 points in the paint. The fact of the matter is even with Rondo, Doc’s offense has been broken for awhile now. Rondo wouldn’t attack consistently and he was setting up too many outside shots for a team unable to hit them. Getting back to basics will be crucial here as the two guards who are best with the ball in their hands (Terry, Leandro Barbosa) will now have the opportunity to create for 20+ minutes a night.
Jackson: Despite Rondo’s season ending injury, whether or not the Celtics break up the band is still dependent on many things. Do Pierce and Garnett want to be traded to a legitimate contender? Is that contender willing to give up a combination of young players and draft picks for them as short term rentals? Would the Celtics get enough building blocks in return for trading the core of their franchise? These questions all hang in the delicate balance between stay-the-course and blow-it-up.
DeGama: Ainge will lie as necessary, but I think his post-game comments yesterday were honest. Whether he moves Pierce (or anyone else) will be dictated by the value proposition. In this sense, he’s like a point guard reacting to the defense. You have to work with what it gives you or you end up forcing something you don’t want. My perspective: the Celtics should consider themselves a storehouse of potential contributors to a title team. As the deadline approaches, a team may decide it’s a Pierce or Lee away from a title. If so, and the value is good, you make a move. If not, you hope the extended minutes your bench guys are about to see will jack up their value and you reset in the summer.
Robb: Danny Ainge will observe what this team does without Rondo and explore the trade market for Pierce and the rest of the roster (outside of KG). It’s important for Ainge to do his due diligence and as much as it pains me to say it, this team should deal Pierce if it gets a strong offer for him and they’re still floating around the .500 mark at the deadline. However, I don’t expect that strong offer to come and Ainge certainly shouldn’t move Pierce just for the sake of moving him and clearing cap room that could come next year with a buyout. Bringing in a point guard who doubles as a scorer (hello Kyle Lowry) and perhaps a rebounding big (Emeka Okafor?) could make this team, maybe not a contender, but a squad that can make some noise in the Eastern Conference. The question will be whether Ainge has enough to add these pieces, because you know he won’t be dealing assets like Bradley or Jared Sullinger.