|Rajon Rondo's torn ACL puts the Celtics' future in jeopardy. (sbnation.com)|
One player does not make a team, but with this year's version of the Boston Celtics, Rajon Rondo is the most valuable member of the entire franchise, from the top brass down to the ball boys. He is one of the few players in all of basketball -- let alone in the NBA -- who can change the course of the game with sheer will, so when he went down with an ACL injury against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, the Celtics' chances of a playoff berth plummeted.
Already a sub-.500 team with Rondo, the Celtics' 21-23 record is unlikely to improve much without him running the show. There was already jabber about the C's potentially missing the playoffs (they are currently in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, 2.4 games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers) and the market of available point guards is not what one would call "impressive." Even if there were high-caliber guards lurking without a team, there is a strong chance that they still would not be capable of leading the current iteration of the Celtics as Rondo does. You see, he's special. That's why there is always talk about how he controls the "tempo" of the game rather than talk about a vicious first-step or any other attribute that is often assigned to point guards.
This season, though, is a small piece in a much larger puzzle for Boston. Even before the franchise was supposedly shopping Rondo during the last regular season, there was talk of blowing up the team's aging core in order to bring in fresh talent and build a new title contender. Ray Allen exited through free agency this summer; Rondo left in a completely different way on Sunday; and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce -- a career-long Celtic to this point -- are left to inspire what now looks like a patchwork roster. Both are aging, and Celtics GM Danny Ainge is not shy in expressing his opinion that the famed Boston roster led by Larry Bird was kept intact too long when it could have been utilized to quicken a rebuilding process by trading away the principles when they had higher values. Garnett is playing at an All-Star level and Pierce can almost make the same claim. In this particular scenario, Garnett (age 37) and Pierce (age 35) are better trade bait than they are floor generals for the Celtics. That's no reason to go full-tank mode in Boston, but wear-and-tear will catch up to what's left of this era's original Big Three, and Ainge will have to decide if he's going to repeat history or stick with his gut feeling to move the veterans while he can still get positive returns.
Why stop at Pierce and Garnett, though? There will be calls to see if the Celtics are willing to trade Rondo, even in his current state. He leads the NBA in assists despite sitting out 11 percent of Boston's games to date. Rondo is undeniably talented and, weighing the options, wouldn't a cellar-dwelling team at least consider taking a flyer on him and parting ways with reliable role players (which the Celtics could use to bolster there current line-up) and/or future draft picks (which Ainge would covet, if he could also shop Pierce and Garnett)?
Rondo's ACL injury is bigger news than Allen leaving. The city of Boston -- already sunken from the New England Patriots' second consecutive loss late in the NFL postseason -- must now look into the face of professional basketball's future in Boston to see how long it will be until their proud and storied franchise will be capable of making a return to the NBA Finals.