Rajon Rondo's involvement with Team USA has become something of a hot topic of late, mainly due to him being one of the main sources of news at this point in the offseason. However, whether or not Rondo's participation in the World Championship is the best course of action for him this summer has become a steady debate. So, I figure it's time we hash this thing out. In my eyes, there are three key points on each side of the argument. Let's start with the PRO side first.
Pride for His Country - As an athlete, it's certainly an honor to represent your country against international competition. While reaching the pinnacle of winning in your respective professional league is marvelous in itself, there's also something to be said for playing in and winning a tournament like the World Championship or the Olympic Games. In this country, when one of the four major sports crowns a winner, we immediately dub them as "World Champions". Well, I hate to break it to everyone, but winning a league that features teams only in the United States and maybe Canada does not warrant such a title. But winning an international tournament that features a steady array of countries around the world does. Unlike the NBA, these tournaments don't highlight city vs. city. They put country against country, and that holds a certain, undeniable weight.
Playing Against Better Competition - While Rondo might not be going head-to-head with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James right now, he's still going up against some terrific talent in the likes of Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups, and Kevin Durant. Playing against such stellar competition should only help Rondo improve as an overall player, which should serve dividends as he continues to emerge as a member of the NBA's elite class, as well as one of the Celtics' most important players (if not the most important player). Rondo's a confident player, and playing against competition that demands he be at his best should help him keep his competitive edge.
Personal Branding and Exposure - Rondo continuing to play at a time when the NBA is out of season keeps his name in the headlines and his face in the photos. This is a great opportunity for Rondo to continue to market himself, his name, and his game on an international level, and it appears to be coming at an ideal time, as he's coming off of a season in which he made his first All-Star team as well as the All-Defense First Team. He's beginning to garner the attention that remains exclusive to the stars, and that could lead to things like endorsements and shoe deals. He also gets cool caricatures of himself these days, too.
Injury - This is perhaps the most nerve-wracking aspect of this whole ordeal. If Rondo suffers any type of severe injury, it will be absolutely devastating, and will give the critics plenty of fuel. Are injuries a part of professional sports? Absolutely. Could Rondo injure himself playing for Team USA just as easily as he could during any other type of offseason workout? You bet. However, if Rondo were to injure himself during this tournament, there would probably be something of an uproar that it occurred in service to Team USA, and not the Celtics, the team he's contractually obligated to.
Lack of Rest - Rondo's coming off of a year in which he played a career-high 2,963 minutes in the regular season and nearly an additional 1,000 minutes in the postseason, and these facts breed an argument for Rondo to rest and recover for next season, which might end up being even more grueling than the previous one. However, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has stated that Rondo will play only 15-20 minutes per game, which shouldn't be enough to derail him in any way for the 2010-2011 NBA campaign. If we were discussing a player in his mid to upper thirties, then our concerns over overexertion might be warranted. But, as a 24-year old whose not even in the prime of his career just yet, these minute patterns shouldn't be too demanding. On top of that, the tournament concludes September 12, meaning, if Team USA even makes it that far, Rondo will still have over a month of rest before training camp gets under way.
Less Time to Work on Free Throws - Rondo's deficiencies as a free throw shooter appear to take precedent over his weaknesses as a jump shooter, according to head coach Doc Rivers:
Rivers said he'd like to see Rondo improve on his free-throw shooting this offseason, nothing that's a bigger priority over even his outside shot because being a more consistent free-throw shooter will prevent Rondo from being discouraged in driving to the basket.
Hard to argue with Doc on this one. Statistically, at just 62.1 percent, Rondo was the worst free throw shooting guard in the league last season (he was almost as bad as Dwight Howard), making it increasingly difficult to overlook this hole in Rondo's game. The thinking here appears to be the more time Rondo spends with Team USA, the less time he can spend in the gym working at the free throw line. I'm sure he's shooting free throws at the beginning and end of Team USA practices, as well as during his down time, but the critics will surely harp on the time Rondo will spend traveling, in player meetings, and playing in the tournament games as time he could be spending working on his foul shooting.
So, what do you think? Should Rondo be playing for Team USA, or should he be back in Boston or Kentucky right now, working on his game so that he can be better for the Celtics next season?
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