The Rondo paradox: are the Celtics better or worse?

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Following up on Jeff's "Are the Boston Celtics better without Rajon Rondo?" article....

It's justifiably hard for many folks to accept the concept that a team which LOSES talent could somehow get BETTER. It's like saying "If I tear your body apart, you'll live longer." Sounds crazy, so the natural reaction is rejection. It CAN'T be true, therefore it's not.

And so we get arguments like: "Well, they may win more games without Rondo, but that doesn't make them better." "They may play better basketball, but the team won't actually be better." "The players will play better, the defense will get better, and they'll win more games -- but they won't be a better team."

Uh huh. And have you called the Psych Hot Line yet?

Kidding aside... Imo, there is an answer:
This situation, like life in general, is not so simple. I can tear your body apart and help you live longer, if I'm a surgeon cutting out a tumor. A team can lose talent and get better if that talent was making the other players on the team worse.

But, you say, "Look at his assist numbers! Are you nuts? Rondo doesn't make his teammates worse, he makes them BETTER!" Yes, Rondo gets a lot of assists. And yet, the Rondo-centric offense has been PROVEN ineffective. Not only this year, but in EVERY YEAR since RR took over the offense (i.e., since 2009). Many of the reasons have already been discussed at length. The core is this....

The near-monopolization of the ball by Rondo on offense created a system that was exceedingly easy to defend. Apparently, over time, Doc and Rondo lost sight of the fact that there are TWO sides to every ballgame: offense and defense. And when you're sitting in your war room plotting sets and game plans, you cannot lose sight of what your opponents are likely to do in response to your plans.

The Celtics' offense, over time, became more and more predictable as Rondo got closer and closer to being the team's sole ball-handler. By 2013, he'd gotten very damn close. And so they failed.... precisely on offense. There is no amount of talent that Rondo could possibly have that would allow him to overcome this problem. And his known flaws -- poor shooting, poor FT%, willingness to throw away sure scoring opportunities in favor of ridiculous assist attempts, and poor perimeter defense -- all served to make things worse.

Also making things worse was the impact of all that ball monopolization on other key team members, especially the new guys (Terry, Lee, Barbosa) -- talented, proud guys whose roles were diminished to standing around waiting for Rondo's crumbs. It's a natural law of the universe that unhappy/unfulfilled guys don't work as hard.

In the face of all this, Rondo's talents waned to the point of insignificance... except for the highlight reel stuff and the occasional gaudy stat line. More importantly, the Celtics lost games. And became a sub-.500 team. All because of the offense; all because of Rajon Rondo... and Doc's inability to correctly guide him.

Now the team has lost Rondo -- and suddenly the natural talents of all the other players are blossoming before our eyes. Turns out this is a good team. This might be a GREAT team. That was always true, but it was hidden under the carpet of Rondo's dominance of the offense.

So could this team really be "better" without Rondo? Of course it can. If 12 guys suddenly start playing better offense AND defense -- you can bet your bottom dollar that that team will get "better." Yes, despite the loss of talent. Because this game is not an arithmetic exercise in the addition of "talent." It's a complicated competition of teams in which the winner tends to be the one which maximizes the talents of ALL its players. The Celtics may have now gotten closer to doing just that, and if so, they ARE improved. Obviously.

So what will all this mean when Rondo comes back? Well... one hopes that Doc's eyes will be opened, that he AND Rondo will be forced to understand the reality of the situation, after watching the team's performance without RR. And we hope that Rondo will be forced to change. If he does change -- if he STOPS monopolizing the offense and lets all creators create (so defenses will never know where to expect the next attack).... if he STOPS gambling on defense (and playing free safety like the prima donna he became) and just plays straight-up solid D.... and if he STOPS being constitutionally ABLE to throw away perfectly open, easy scoring opportunities in favor of crazy passes to who-knows-whom -- then the Celtics could become the best team in the world. Because that's a lot of talent that guy has. If he starts using it the right way -- defined solely as the way that makes the team better and wins games -- then nothing can stop us.

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