There's a difference between playing better in spite of losing Rondo and being a better team without him.
In the days after Rajon Rondo's injury, the Celtics players, coaches, and fans have all been walking a very fine line. On one hand, they can't get past the plain and simple fact that losing their best player hurts the team. On the other hand, they can't give up on the season and are looking for silver linings. So we've seen a lot of tip-toeing between praising Rajon and talking optimistically about the team's chances without him.
With that as the backdrop, we've seen a sentiment of fan opinion wondering out loud if the Celtics will somehow be better off without Rajon Rondo. A viewpoint that Kevin Garnett laughed at the other day - and rightfully so. However, there is an important distinction that I'll let Steve Bulpett make:
In response, we offer two strongly held thoughts. First, the Celtics are most certainly not a better basketball team sans their All-Star point guard. But, second, in a very important distinction, they still have room to play better basketball now than they have this season.
Call it the Ewing Theory if you like, but some teams just need a little adversity and a changing dynamic to pull together and play as a team. Many times it is a coach being fired or a big trade that gives a team at least a temporary boost (see New Jersey this season). In the Celtics' case it means losing their All Star point guard and league leader in assists.
Things will certainly be different.
Terry essentially admitted when many have felt about the Celtics for a while this season – that what wasn’t working on the offensive end had at least a little something to do with the way Rondo dominated the ball. How he looked to get it to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett as options A-V, with Avery Bradley becoming X, Y and Z since his return. And how that often left complementary players such as Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Terry standing around aimlessly on the perimeter waiting for a 3-pointer.
(Note: Courtney Lee strongly denies that he was unhappy in Boston because of Rondo)
While Rondo is the best in the business at distributing the ball and finding the best scoring options, the team may have been using that as a bit of a crutch. Either the team was standing around waiting for Rondo to make the plays or they weren't looking to make an extra pass themselves or whatever. The offense wasn't working in the way that it should have and that's on the coaching staff right down to the players.
A lot more pressure now shifts to the rest of the team to make the right passes and bring the ball up. That greater responsibility sometimes creates better performance. Folks have been clamoring to see Jeff Green get more looks and this could be his opportunity. Jason Terry might find himself getting the ball more often in spots where he feels more comfortable. He certainly had a better shooting night last night than he has in a long time.
Time will tell though. Beating the Kings at home in one game is not a certain indicator that the future will hold great success. A Kings blogger pointed out that Sacramento won 3 of the 4 quarters last night, but that 2nd quarter was just so dominant. You know another quarter that was dominant? The first quarter against the Hawks on Friday night (with Rajon on the court of course). The Celtics didn't blow their big lead last night but there were stretches in the 2nd half where they were listless and out of sorts. The point here isn't to be doom and gloom. Just to point out that this leopard is getting a make over, but those spots are still going to be there.
I think the Celtics very well could play better despite losing Rajon Rondo. They still have Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and a cast of players that were supposed to be pretty good but have underachieved all season long. How good they can become will be a very interesting story from here on out.
You could argue that if the team plays too well without Rajon that the smart move would be to trade him away as soon as he's healthy again. But that ignores the fact that the team is going to look much, much different once Pierce and KG shuffle off the court. It remains that unless you get a star in return, you don't give up such a unique talent like Rondo.
If anything, he'll be watching and taking notes while he's rehabbing. If he sees that players X,Y, and Z are doing better without him, the bet here is that he's smart enough to adjust and adapt his game management to maximize their talents next year.
So how good is this team right now? Well, you are only as good as your record says you are. So far they've been a borderline playoff team. Since losing Rondo they've played better team basketball and are riding a 2 game win streak. Time will tell just how far they can get without him but at least there are some positive signs so far.