Rajon Rondo missed 50 games last year, 44 straight to end the regular season as well the Boston Celtics‘ six-game loss to the New York Knicks in the 2013 playoffs. The Celtics allowed head coach Doc Rivers to bail for Los Angeles, replacing him with a rookie straight from the NCAA. With Ray Allen hitting the biggest shot of the playoffs for the Miami Heat, Danny Ainge officially pulled the plug on the Big Three era by shipping Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn.
In 2012, Rondo made the All-NBA Second Team, his first such selection. He also made his third straight Eastern Conference All-Star Team, his fourth straight NBA All-Defensive Team and led the league in assists per game. The Celtics were up 3-2 on the eventual champion Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals with Game 6 at home. To that point, Rondo had already recorded three triple-doubles in the playoffs (the Celtics won all three games) and an epic 44 point-10 assist-8 rebound-3 steal performance in a controversial overtime road loss to the same Heat.
Of course, LeBron James dropped a couple gems of his own and that was all she wrote. Rondo did chip in another triple-double in Game 7 for good measure. Still, with Derrick Rose out for the foreseeable future and his least favorite teammate suiting up for his least favorite team, things were looking up for Rondo in the summer of 2012.
Rondo began the season continuing his streak of games with 10+ assists, eventually pushing it to 37 in a row. He set a career high in makes, attempts, and field goal percentage from midrange (~45%.) Unfortunately, he also set a career-high in turnovers with an absolutely brutal 3.9 per game.
Then Rondo tore his ACL in the midst of a six-game losing streak that pushed the Celtics two games below .500. With their point guard out for the season, it looked like the mighty Celtics were finally done–only they reeled off seven straight wins, beginning with a double overtime victory over the Heat. People even began to question whether the Celtics were better off without Rondo (for the record, Simmons answer was “only if they make the 2013 Finals.”)
Presumably Rajon Rondo will return sometime in the 2013-2014 NBA regular season. With the franchise opting to rebuild, Rondo will be the face of the Celtics for the first time in his career. As unquestionably the best and most important player on a young roster, the 27-year-old Rondo’s leadership and competitiveness will be put to the test even as incessant trade rumors swirl.
On the one hand, Rondo has been dealt a tough hand: a career-stalling injury, a stripped down roster and inexperienced head coach. By the time the Celtics are in contention again, Rondo will be past his prime, which has to be galling for a guy who ruthlessly dominates little girls at Connect Four.
On the other hand, Rondo has a blank slate. Who knows if he cares about his legacy, but he has a chance to rewrite it nevertheless. No longer a tag-along to future Hall of Famers but one in his own right, Rondo has even been liberated from a head coach that tried to fight him. At the moment, Rondo is the Celtics, and with a general manager like Danny Ainge, who can say that lightning will not strike twice?
Whether or not Rajon Rondo is an all-time great is not up for debate (he is.) But how great is he? Have we seen his best, or has he been holding back all this time?
2013-2014 is not going to be an easy season for the Boston Celtics, Rajon Rondo least of all. That doesn’t mean that it won’t be his greatest (yet).