Injuries take their toll
In early February 2011 (Super Bowl Sunday, to be exact), Celtics small forward Marquis Daniels badly injured his neck in a game against the Orlando Magic. It was one of, if not the scariest on court injury in recent Celtics history — as Daniels collided with Gilbert Arenas on a drive to the hoop, then collapsed and laid motionless on the hardwood before being carried off on a stretcher. He would eventually be OK, and actually returned to the Celtics that next season, but his injury set off a chain of events that changed the course of team history.
That’s because Daniels was Paul Pierce’s back up. Even more, he was literally the only other small forward on the Celtics roster. As a result, and despite the fact that he was averaging only 19 minutes and five points a game, Daniels left a glaring hole. Danny Ainge needed to find another small forward. Either that or play Pierce 40 minutes a night and have him running on compost by the end of the season. Three weeks later, minutes before the trade deadline, Ainge sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green.
The Celtics, who were 41-14 and the No. 1 seed in the East at the time of the deal, eventually lost in the second round of the playoffs. Jeff Green was non-factor that season, didn’t play the next season and then signed a four-year/$40M contract to stay in Boston, where he’s now one of the faces of the franchise.
Does any of that happen if Marquis Daniels never runs into Gilbert Arenas?
Where am I going with this?
Glad you asked.
My point is that injuries are the single biggest variable in sports. The No. 1 wild card at the start of any year. They don’t only alter championships and ruin careers, but they, even in something as simple as losing a back-up small forward, can change everything.
And right now, there are three injuries in Boston on the verge of doing just that . . .
Since we started with the Celtics, let’s keep going with Rajon Rondo, and the big question: When will he be back?
Danny Ainge says he isn’t sure (after initially being very confident that Rondo would be ready for the opener. Then again, it’s Danny Ainge, so who knows). Brad Stevens won’t put a timetable on it. A few weeks ago, Jared Sullinger suggested that the Celtics might be without Rondo until December.
Either way, it doesn’t sound like he’ll be ready for the start of the season, and at this point — WARNING: about to make a big jump here — it’s probably in both sides’ best interests if Rondo doesn’t play at all.
I can only imagine the level of media assault that will rain down on No. 9 if he pulls a Derrick Rose. So, if this were really going to happen, Rondo would probably need to suffer some kind of “set back” in his rehab. But honestly, in a perfect world, that’s how the Celtics should handle this.
First, there’s no question that the worse the Celtics are this season, the better they’ll be in the long term. At the very least, they’ll be set up better for the long term. On the flip, there’s really nothing to gain from finishing next year as the seventh or eight seed. Sure, it might sell more tickets. It might help keep them relevant. But if the goal is for the Celtics to win another championship in any of our lifetimes, you want them to be bad next year. Real bad. I’m talking Phil Pressey-is-your-starting-point-guard bad.
Assuming that Rondo will start the year late anyway, the team will most likely start in a hole. Does it make sense for the Celtics to rush him back just in time to barely pull them out of it? Nope. And if you’re Rondo, it doesn’t make much sense either.
After all, he’s not going to be the same guy right away. When a player misses this much time, with that kind of injury, returning to the court isn’t the end of the journey, it’s the last stage of rehab. It takes time for a player to get up to speed and, more importantly, fully trust his body again. Point is that it won’t be easy for Rondo, especially playing with the roster that the Celtics have now. He might be better taking the year to just get stronger, study the game, scrimmage with the team to keep his timing, work on his jumper and spend five hours a day at the foul line. There’s a good chance that the team struggles even with Rondo, and playing poorly on a bad team isn’t a good look for any NBA point guard. Especially not for one on the verge of a contract year.
Rondo’s contract is actually the biggest story in all of this. For every enormous shoe that dropped this summer, the Celtics rebuild won’t really take shape until they figure what to do with their All Star point guard.
For now, Ainge continues to stand behind Rondo. He says Rondo is a player that the Celtics want to build around. But that line won’t work after this season. You can’t claim to be building around a guy who’s entering the last year of his contract. Or you can, but no one will believe you.
So what can the Celtics do?
1. They can sign him to an extension: Say, “This is our guy. He’s our leader and the future of this franchise.”
2. They can trade him: Throw in the towel and turn him into assets that can help more than he can. Or, as a fall back plan in case they want to sign him but get the sense that he wants more money than they’re willing to give him or just doesn’t want to be here in general.
3. They can let it ride into the contract year: Given Rondo’s personality and the state of the team, I don’t think this would be a positive experience for anyone involved.
What will the Celtics do?
My money’s No. 2. If not by this deadline, then by the start of next season. Just think Danny needs to go all in on hitting bottom if they’re going to get back up to the top, and moving Rondo is the way to do that.
But it will obviously be a difficult decision. It’s the most important decision of Ainge’s next two years . . . and one further complicated by Rondo’s injury.
Discuss amongst yourselves..seems like a valid analysis to me...