With all the trade speculation surrounding Rajon Rondo this offseason (which I fully admit I feed into on this blog) I felt like I needed to get this topic off my chest.
Sure, there are some things that could prevent Rajon Rondo from having a good year. Things like injury issues (lingering or new ones), personality conflicts (if you believe some of the rumblings about him from some corners), and even just the lack of established stars around him on the roster.
That said, I just feel like there are plenty of reasons why Rondo is going to bounce back in a big, BIG way this year. Call me a fanboy if you must, but here are 10 reasons why I believe that.
1. He's finally going to be healthy again. Consider what Doc Rivers said today.
"Rondo’s going to be great this year," Rivers said. "He’s going to be healthy. It’s the following year [after ACL surgery] that you become who you were. So I think Rondo will have a great year. And I think that will be great for the team. "I do talk to Rondo. I don’t get into [his contract] because that’s an uncomfortable area for me and him, probably. So we don’t even touch that. I just think that he’s in a good frame of mind; that’s all that counts."
2. He's in a contract year. I don't think this is about greed really, since the guy is already filthy rich. As the cliche goes, it is about respect. Rondo thinks of himself as the best point guard in the league and one of the top players in the league. He wants that max contract so he'll perform accordingly.
There have been some nights in the past when he seemed a little less motivated, a little less challenged. I would think there will be a little extra motivation during the slog days of the season to push on and keep performing at his peak when the prospect of a potential max contract is on the line.
3. He'll have a full training camp and preseason playing for Brad Stevens (plus a year of being around the coach and his style).
"We did limit his minutes for the first couple of weeks maybe, but here’s a guy that had been so accomplished as a player and now has to sit a year. And anybody that’s ever had the ACL injury knows: It’s not when you initially come back that you’re actually fully back. It’s down the road. Sometimes it takes 18 months to be fully back to where you want to be physically and emotionally. Right now, just from a focus standpoint, he is in a great place. He’s been here most of the summer, he’s been working, he has really worked on his game, and I think he just feels better.
4. He's the focal point now. Jeff Green might end up scoring the most points, hopefully Sullinger will lead the team in rebounds, Bradley will play a big role on both ends, but Rondo is The Man. He's the engine. He's a coach on the floor. He's got Championship experience. He's been the best player on the court in playoff games against the Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. In short, he's got the chops and everyone else on the team will look to him.
5. He's been looking forward to this for most of his career. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he loved playing with Garnett and Pierce and all the success that came with that. But year after year there was this odd question of "when is it really going to be 'Rondo's team'"? It never really happened before because Pierce and KG were forces of nature that couldn't take a back seat to anyone. We only got a brief glimpse of what he'd be like as the top dog last year since he was easing his way back into action. Now the team is officially his.
6. The team around him is going to be (marginally) better than last year. In the last game that Rondo played last year, Phil Pressey, Chris Johnson, Joel Anthony, and Chris Babb were the entire bench and played a combined 52 minutes. They've added Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, and in theory James Young (though I'm not sure how many minutes he'll play right away). The only player of note that the Celtics lost was Kris Humphries and that only opens things up for Sullinger and Olynyk to continue to improve and develop. This is still likely a late-lottery team at best, but it should be better than last year and that's a step in the right direction.
7. "Run baby run!" - Tommy Heinsohn -- Picture this: Sullinger pulls down a rebound, Rondo is already running the other direction yelling "Sullysullysully!" The ball is outletted to him, Rondo speeds up the court flanked by Jeff Green and Marcus Smart with Kelly Olynyk trailing the break. Now contrast that to the plodding pace the Celtics played when all the old guys walked up the court to catch a breath. It might not always work out that way, but if you can get just 2 or 3 more easy buckets a game via the break, that will be the difference between wins and losses.
8. Sitting out a year helped him see things from a coach's perspective. He talked about this often when he was out. He even played the role of defacto assistant coach on the bench at times. At the end of last year he was able to get back into the game but he wasn't full speed yet, at least not every night. Perhaps with a fresh start next year he'll be able to put the off-court observations together with the on-court read-and-react instincts and see the game even better than he did before (which he was already exceptionally good at before).
9. Pride. You don't get as good as Rajon Rondo did without taking a whole lot of pride in what you do. He's worked long and hard to get to where he was right before the injury. He's worked long and hard on his recovery. He's not going to let all that work go to waste and be mediocre for the rest of his career. If the injuries and/or age limit his explosiveness at all, then he'll adjust and adapt. He's already worked on his jumper tirelessly and is a respectable shooter in certain situations. Rondo wants this, ...badly. That kind of motivation and pride in his work is typically a good thing for an athlete.
10. "Because [bleep] you, that's why." Forgive the masked profanity, but there's really no better way of saying it than that. This is Boston we're talking about, and I think Rondo has a whole lot of that Boston attitude that David Ortiz so eloquently talked about to the Fenway faithful right after the Boston Marathon Bombings. Rondo has so many doubters, so many nay-sayers, so many people aligned against him for one reason or another. He insulates himself from most of that and takes a stoic outward attitude about it, but I think deep down it bothers him. I think that nothing would make him happier than to have a huge season, stare down his doubters, and say "you all forgot about Rondo," then [metaphorically] drop the mic.
So there you have it. My hyper-optimistic thoughts on why Rajon Rondo is going to have a great year. Yes, I'm fully aware that he might be traded sometime this year, but right now I really don't think that's happening either. I think his value to us is greater than it will be to other teams and he'll stick around at least until next summer and probably beyond.
Regardless, I'm really looking forward to watching Rondo this year.