Given that today was, you know, a day ending in Y, I knew I wouldn't be able to make it through the day without at some point checking Twitter to see what new handful of mud was being slung at Rajon Rondo.
We've reached the point that this is a daily occurrence. The Celtics are in the midst of one of their worst seasons in franchise history, and there's a common thread in many circles of fans that once you've "blown it up," the logical next step is to "blow it up" even more. Now that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are gone, Rondo's got to be shipped out too. That's the storyline that's got people buzzing, so reporters are naturally going to feed the beast by releasing new stuff daily about Rondo's trade value. He's overrated; he's underrated. He's worth two first-round picks; he's cap filler. This dialogue goes back and forth, on and on and on and on, seemingly never ending.
There's so much noise out there now that if you want people to really notice, you've got to say something truly outrageous to grab readers' attention. And evidently, there are some "sources" out there willing to oblige.
Today's Rondo bombshell was this: According to an anonymous Eastern Conference scout quoted by ESPN's Chris Broussard, Rondo is the most overrated player in the NBA. The source branded Rondo as selfish because of his obsessive assist-chasing and proceeded to boldly declare that "if I was starting a team and had my choice of any point guard, he would be 40th."
I was dumbfounded when I first came across that quote. That number, 40, was so outlandish to me, it might as well have been a billion. I couldn't even size up what that number meant. I had no frame of reference. So to get some context, I browsed over to ESPN's Hollinger stats page and checked out the list of the league's top point guards, ranked by PER. What exactly does 40th mean?
Hmm, let's see. Jordan Farmar is the No. 33 point guard in the league this year, by the numbers. Shelvin Mack is No. 34. Will Bynum ranks 35th. Then you've got Brian Roberts, Kendall Marshall, Cory Joseph ... oof. At No. 40, Rondo would slot right in between Jameer Nelson and Shaun Livingston.
This is absurd.
I mean, of course it's absurd. It's absolutely bonkers. If you don't think Rondo is the best pointman in the league, or even top five, that's fine - I totally respect that opinion, and on some nights I think you might be right. And if you want to have an intelligent discussion about whether you'd slot Rondo sixth or eighth ... yeah, sure, I'm game. But to put him at No. 40? That's just dumb.
Obviously it's dumb. I know it's dumb and so do you - you wouldn't be reading a site called CelticsBlog if you disagreed. But there's a bigger question to be asked here - why does dumb stuff get said, and why does it get published on the internet when it's only going to get inevitably laughed at?
Deadspin got wind of this little nugget today and referred to the Rondo comments as "the troll-scout treatment," which is perfect. This unnamed scout is doing to the NBA what a kajillion random blog commenters have done before - he's trolling us. He's picking a silly fight just to mess with us ... and hey, if he can stymie a rival team by devaluing its trade asset in the process, then that's just gravy.
Fine. People with other NBA teams have a motive to take potshots at Rondo from time to time. I can understand that. I find it annoying, but I won't lose sleep over it.
The next question, though, is what business ESPN has publishing this stuff.
We live in a competitive era where every news outlet is greedy for clicks. If you've got a story that will get people's attention, you run with it, integrity be damned. Some scout talked smack about Rondo? Ooh - that's news.
But maybe it shouldn't be. The point of journalism is to dig deep and find the truth, using your sources to guide the story. It's not about finding the opinions of one nutjob - a nutjob, mind you, who can hide behind his anonymity without any fear of the public ridiculing him - and giving it ink.
It's not that anonymous sources are altogether useless. Far from it. In fact, it was Broussard who, four years ago, used them to piece together that LeBron James was heading to the Miami Heat in free agency. He used his behind-the-scenes connections to dominate that story, beating every other reporter in the game to that scoop. That's a job well done.
But there's a time and place. "I know where LeBron will sign" is news, and you need sources to track that down. But "Rajon Rondo sucks?" That's not a news item. That's just a loudmouth giving an opinion.
This Rondo buzz doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, but there's a slippery slope here. If ESPN sends the message that anonymous slander is OK, then people might get carried away and start using it to drive stories that are really important.
Case in point: Slate published a fantastic article a couple of weeks ago by Stefan Fatsis, explaining how Sports Illustrated botched the story of NFL prospect Michael Sam coming out. The SI reporters covered the Sam news by asking football decision-makers, completely anonymously, whether the league was ready for its first gay player. Because the sources didn't have to worry about their names being attached to their bigotry, they said wrong-headed things like how gay players would "chemically imbalance" a locker room because football is "still a man's man game."
There was no need to go off the record for that stuff - if you want an opinion on Michael Sam, all you have do is ask, and there are dozens of players, coaches and front-office people willing to give one on the record. To let your sources stay anonymous is nothing more than cowardice. Plain and simple.
The same logic applies to this Rondo situation. Do you want to write about how Rondo stinks? Fine - do some actual journalism. Talk to coaches and players about his weaknesses. Dig into the film and the statistics and find real evidence. Have some nuanced discussions with reasonable people - not lunatics who say things like "he would be 40th."
Someone said that Rajon Rondo isn't a top-39 point guard. Whatever, someone said a dumb thing on the internet. I'll live. But the greater evil here is the so-called journalism that injects this nonsense into the conversation in the first place. The real troll here isn't Anonymous Scout X - it's Chris Broussard.