Following the Celtics’ win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night, Rajon Rondo was asked about the most recent outbreak of trade rumors swirling around him.
“It’s been a way of life since I’ve been here,” he said. “It’s just part of it.”
But on Thursday, it finally happened. Rondo was traded to the Dallas Mavericks along with end of the bench, filler-guy Dwight Powell in exchange for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder and old man Jameer Nelson as well as a conditional first-round pick, a second-rounder in 2016 and a $12.9 million trade exception. The last remaining link to the Celtics’ most recent glory days is gone.
It stinks. It really does. Whether you love Rondo or hate him, his strange, difficult to define, completely original game made for a player who was always worth watching. You never knew if Rondo would practically blow your mind or blow up your television with some sort of mesmerizing pass or dribble or fake that defied the laws of physics on some Wednesday night in the middle of February. The way he bent and twisted the game to suit his incredibly unusual skill set made him a four-time all-star as well as the conductor of a championship-caliber piece of basketball music on multiple occasions.
From here on out, we’ll have to follow him from afar. Because as fun as Rondo could be and as valuable a piece as he was for a team with title aspirations, he just doesn’t fit with a group like the Celtics as presently constituted. We’ve seen though the first several weeks of the season that just because he could elevate the play of his teammates from the Paui Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen era doesn’t mean he can do the same for the likes of Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Jeff Green. He was just good enough to keep the Celtics too close to the middle of the pack, which is akin to being in hell in today’s NBA.
You either need to be ready to contend or ready to tear everything down and build from scratch these days and when the Celtics couldn’t bring in a big name like Kevin Love to pair with Rondo over the summer, his fate in Boston was seemingly sealed. Heading into the final year of his contract and having professed a desire to sign a max deal once he hit free agency, it felt impossible to imagine the Celts being able to entice him to stay without getting significantly closer to contender status.
Rondo’s performance this year didn’t help much. He’s just not the same guy as he was when he blew out his knee nearly two years ago and if the C’s ever did have designs on paying him the max, they had to have started to develop cold feet after watching him through the first 23 games of the season. He was still capable of putting up silly stat lines and making eye-popping plays from time to time. But his questionable shooting ability seemed to have gotten worse. His free throw shooting, never all that great to begin with, became so poor that he looked reluctant to go anywhere near the paint for fear that he’d get fouled. And his defensive skills, once good enough to earn him NBA All-Defensive Team honors, have eroded too.
This all manifested itself on one, single night a couple weeks ago against the Detroit Pistons, when he was basically cast aside by coach Brad Stevens in the fourth quarter of a tight game. He couldn’t have the ball in his hands because he couldn’t shoot it or risk being sent to the line. And he couldn’t be trusted to stay with his opposite number on D either.
Take all that and shake it up and what you get is the necessity to move him. The Celtics’ only choice in their current state is to get even worse while continuing to stockpile draft picks and salary cap room that may help them climb back to the top of the NBA mountain more easily than holding on to Rondo could. And while that may work out (they now have a whopping nine first round picks in the next four years), it’s going to get ugly in the meanwhile. Even more so than it already is.
The Celts have a young nucleus led by a coach in Stevens who now gets a completely clean slate on which to make an imprint. Rookie point guard Marcus Smart, whose selection in last summer’s draft was really the beginning of the end of Rondo in Boston, is a dynamic player who brings energy and intensity every night. It will be rocky watching him develop on the fly but with Rondo gone, he now has zero restrictions provided he can stay healthy. And they have a truckload of building blocks to help aid and facilitate that development.
This trade stinks for Rondo fans/admirers/apologists. The Celtics are miles less fun now that he’s gone even if they weren’t any good while he was here. There will be far fewer “holy bleep!” moments during the slog to another draft lottery, and that’s a real bummer.
It was always going to be a bummer, the day Rajon Rondo was finally dealt. For the first time in nine years, Celtics’ fans won’t be able to call one of the most fascinating, singular talents in the NBA their own.