Culture of Hoops

What are the Celtics Doing: The Odd Case of Rajon Rondo

Image courtesy of DGA Productions/Flickr.

Image courtesy of DGA Productions/Flickr.

Baller Mind Frame’s No Layups brings you the hottest NBA stories mixed with personal opinion from our very own Aaron Lanton. Check it often and absorb the knowledge we’re dropping on you!

The New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns, and Boston Celtics are taking the unconventional route of building their teams around the small guards, so many that they can’t possibly be on the court at the same time. Check out the heights of these guards who all expect to play more than 24 minutes a game.

New Orleans Pelicans

Phoenix Suns 

Boston Celtics

For various reasons, this is a poor approach to winning basketball. The Pelicans’ best player is Anthony Davis (6′ 10″), but their three best players after him are all six feet, six inches tall or under. They can’t play Davis in a lineup with with Holiday, Evans, and Gordon. That’s an atrocity on paper before we get to the strengths and weaknesses of each player. The Suns have a similar dilemma, but the Celtics situation is the most confounding by far.

In Baller Mind Frame’s 2014 Mock NBA Draft, I chose for the Boston Celtics. I looked at the roster and realized they needed help at every position except point guard. Rajon Rondo‘s contract expires at the end of the 2014-2015 season, but the Celtics’ public stance has been the same since choosing not to pull the trigger before the 2014 trade deadline: We want Rondo on the roster. As the faux general manager of the Celtics, I selected Julius Randle because there was no guard left who could supplant Rondo, and the Celtics desperately needed talent in the frontcourt. Danny Ainge, general manager of the Celtics, decided to draft Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart while Randle was still on the board.

I didn’t agree with the pick. Smart is a shoot-first guard with a mediocre jumper and decent handles but he can’t run the point. The Celtics need someone who can provide spacing through one of the following skills: solid perimeter shooting, drawing multiple defenders by slashing to the rim, or a strong post game that would help others get open shots. Smart is an okay spot-up shooter, but he’s not being drafted sixth overall for that skill and he surely isn’t coming off the bench. I wasn’t sure what it meant until Avery Bradley was signed to a 4-year, $32 million extension three weeks later: The Celtics are definitely going to trade Rajon Rondo.

Bradley was coveted in Boston well before this extension, and this simply cements his status as a part of the Celtics’ long-term plans. He’s a hard worker who turned himself into an impressive perimeter defender. The Celtics are betting on his upside to become a more consistent scorer by improving his jumper, and continuing to improve on his movement without the basketball for easy, close buckets. The problem is that he is not a point guard either. If Bradley had to guard himself bringing the ball up the floor, he wouldn’t make it to half court. Rondo’s absence would mean there’s no once to bring the ball up the floor. Where’s the logic for the lineup if Rondo is gone?

Rondo is the lone ranger without a commitment despite being underpaid once he signed a 5 year, $55 million deal so that he and the Big Three could stick together as long as possible after winning the 2008 NBA Finals. That hasn’t stopped Wyc Grousbeck, principal owner of the Celtics, from questioning how “coachable” Rondo is, or made the organization feel some responsibility to squash the rumors that Rondo made up a false injury so he could avoid playing the start of the season. During media day, Rondo tried to explain his broken left hand which will leave him out for 6-8 weeks.

“Am I under investigation?” Rondo joked when asked to detail the injury during the Celtics’ media day. “Certain falls happen and you slip, and I slipped and tried to catch my hand. It wasn’t like a banana [peel] slip. I actually almost caught myself. I landed on my knuckle on the windowsill in my home. That’s what happened.”

Rondo sounds like an MLB steroid user testifying during the BALCO scandal. He’s defensive and a bit annoyed. I can’t blame him. Eric Bledsoe just signed a 5 year, $70 million contract with the Phoenix Suns even though he’s best known for backing up Chris Paul. Bledsoe didn’t get 44 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists, and 3 steals against the LeBron James-led Miami Heat in the playoffs. That was Rondo.

The height deficiency issues aside, what the Celtics are doing with Rondo makes no sense. He is one of the best players in franchise history and he’s still a young player who could lead the time to the top of the Eastern Conference with some help. I’m not sure why the Celtics are making the decisions they are making, but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with basketball.

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