The Celtics are 12-14, and their best player has been out all year. Logically, it follows that the Celtics will get considerably better once their best player returns, right?
Not so fast, according to Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio, who went through the same thing.
“It’s hard,” Rubio told reporters after the game Monday night. “It depends on how he feels and how much he trusts his knee. It is something I have been through and I can tell what I have been through, that it wasn’t easy. Even when I was playing it took a long time for me to be myself again.”
Rubio isn’t wrong. It doesn’t show in his statistics which only took a minor dip, but Rubio struggled last season. He looked hesitant trying to explode off either foot, uncomfortable both moving fast and slowing down. He looked like he was thinking too much about a game which he usually directed like a virtuoso conductor, putting the pieces together and creating something beautiful.
Rondo is a similar basketball player, although he has advantages over Rubio.Both players’ games are predicated on ball-handling and court vision, but Rondo also played with incredible athleticism both around the rim and in the open court. His jump shot has been developing yearly despite what naysayers on Twitter and in the media may say, and he can actually score inside the restricted area — something Rubio has been unable to do in the NBA. None of this is meant to tear down Rubio, who is an inordinately fun and exciting player, but rather to show that a healthy Rondo is an NBA superstar.
But, and I’m sure you are aware, therein lies the caveat. “Healthy” Rondo may not be back for a while. Healthy Rondo stops on a dime, twists and turns his body, moves at 100 miles per hour in a stealthy stop-and-start way. Healthy Rondo can get up high enough to dunk over Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh. But if Rondo returns in January, it might be March or April before healthy Rondo returns, and Rondo’s game really begins to flourish.
Rubio was starting games before he was fully healthy, but the Timberwolves were trying to make the playoffs last year, and Luke Ridnour was starting ahead of him. Ridnour is an admirable backup point guard, but not a starter on a playoff contender. The Celtics (probably? It’s hard to tell right now…) aren’t a long-term playoff contender, and even if they are, Jordan Crawford is playing well enough to keep the Celtics afloat. Rondo is afforded an excellent opportunity to recover on his own time.
This is the biggest reason why trading Rondo this season seems both unlikely and unwise. Rondo’s trade value will be low, and when he comes back, his play right out of the gate might make it even lower. Further, if the Celtics are still looking for a high draft pick, Rondo’s return probably won’t jeopardize their tanking efforts.
Recent rumors have tied the Miami Heat to interest in Crawford, but the Celtics shouldn’t trade Steez. They shouldn’t trade Rondo. They should ride the one-two combination, allowing Rondo to recover on his own time and allowing Steez to hold them above water (or below it, if the team hits the tanking button). Rondo’s recovery will be difficult, but the Celtics have the pieces to make it a lot easier.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.