Most people are arguing as to whether the Celtics are better with or without Rondo, but the situation is more nuanced than that.
It’s obvious that when it comes to basketball (putting aside off-court issues and mood swings), Rondo is a very good player. Yeah, he makes some boneheaded plays in search of extra assists, but it’s unreasonable to deny that he has a lot of talent. The problem, as I see it, instead lies with Doc Rivers.
Doc has increasingly put the ball in Rondo’s hands, which in itself is fine, but in spite of having lots of new players this season (and lots of new options on offense), and despite saying that the bench needs to produce more to ease the scoring burden placed on KG and Pierce, Doc runs the same system as he did last season, which is the same as he ran in 2008—which is to say, Doc runs things as though he still has Ray Allen instead of Jason Terry, as though he still has James Posey and Eddie House instead of Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, and Leandro Barbosa. But these guys aren’t those guys, know what I mean?
That’s not an insult to anyone. Ray, Posey, and House were great for their roles, and Green, Lee, Jet, and Barbosa are good for their roles … only Doc tries to fit everyone into a "one size fits all" system that really doesn’t fit all. Doc is trying to be Bill Belichick, who keeps the same system and continues to find players to fit that system, except that Doc doesn’t make all the personnel decisions for the Celtics; that’s more Danny’s territory, and Danny often gets the best available players, not players who fit Doc’s system. Thus, Doc "I won’t change unless injuries force me to" Rivers finds himself in the shoehorning business, which isn’t lucrative.
So you have Rondo standing at the top of the key, pound, pound, pounding the ball, waiting for Jet to come off screens a la Ray, and if Jet’s not open—because, let’s face it, as great a shooter as Jet is, his style is different from Ray’s; he’s not really a catch-and-shoot kind of guy—Rondo tends to either give the ball to Pierce or KG (thus not lightening their scoring loads) or ends up shooting the ball from outside—a shot he’s improved upon but which isn’t exactly "money." In either case, Boston ends up with a lot of midrange jump shots—not threes, which are worth more, or close-in shots, which are easier to make—and if they’re not falling (which they mostly haven’t been), then Boston goes stagnant. Because Doc refuses to ever change the game plan (unless, of course, injuries force him to).
What we’re seeing now, with Rondo out, is that all the other players are getting to play more to their strengths—Jet, Lee, Barbosa, and Green are getting to make decisions with the ball, as opposed to just being ho-hum spot-up shooters who could never get enough touches or enough freedom (or enough trust from Doc?) to get in a rhythm, or to get excited about. Now, though, they feel liberated. They feel wanted. They feel integral to the team’s success. And that kind of thing goes a long way towards building players’ confidence, and thus towards building a winning team.
Yes, Rondo is a great player in many respects, and it would be foolish to not want him on your team, but he has some significant flaws—doesn’t stretch the floor, is a poor free-throw shooter, and doesn’t go hard to the rim nearly as much as I’d like—and the current, Doc-decreed iteration of Rondo (pound, pound, pound; treat Jet like Ray; continue to rely on Pierce and KG to bail out the offense) just doesn’t work very well. There’s been too much Rondo (and thus too much Pierce and KG) and not enough everyone else. And the team has thus become quite predictable to opponents.
Yes, Rondo could put up some incredible numbers, especially on a bad team—20 points a night, while still getting 10+ assists, and 8-10 rebounds (yes, maybe even averaging a triple-double)—but it’s not really about numbers with Rondo. I really don’t think he’s meant to be a No. 1 kind of guy, maybe not even a No. 2; he’s meant to be an excellent (All-Star level) complementary player, one who facilitates—not by treating Jet like he’s Ray, and not by passing to lesser players only when KG and Pierce aren’t open, and not by treating lesser players like they’re only good for spot-up shooting.
But these changes in approach are not Rondo’s responsibility; most of the time he’s just a soldier following orders. These changes have to come from Doc, who right now is being forced into changes, and we’re seeing the benefits of that.