Following last Sunday’s overtime victory over the New York Knicks, Kevin Garnett of the Celtics appeared before a throng of reporters with the box score of the game in his hand.
He had played well (18 points, 10 rebounds) but he wanted this particular keepsake for a different reason: “I'll save this just as a witness that I was here and I actually got to see this up front and center," he said.
He was referring to the tour de force that had just been delivered by his teammate, Rajon Rondo, who did something that no one in the NBA had done in more than two decades. Rondo’s line was jaw-dropping: 18 points, 17 assists and 20 rebounds. No one had done something like that since Magic Johnson in 1989.
To make it even more dramatic, the performance came on national television against a backdrop of trade rumors surrounding the Celtics’ All-Star point guard. Watching on television back home in Indiana, Pacers’ boss Larry Bird revealed to the Boston Globe that he had received a text during the game from an associate which said, “How in hell can they think about trading him?’’ Bird added, “how much better can you play. That kid is unbelievable.”
He certainly was on this particular day. No argument there. Rondo lives to punish his naysayers. Prior to the start of the season, he heard his name in trade rumors for Chris Paul and then went on national TV on Opening Day against the Knicks and had 31 points and 12 assists. He didn’t make the All-Star team (he later was added by the commissioner as a substitute) and responded with some of his best play.
And then on Sunday, a few days after ESPN reported the Celtics were actively shopping Rondo (which the team vehemently denies) Rondo delivered a game where a first-ballot Hall of Famer made sure he had a copy of the box score.
“I’ve been around him long enough to know when he’s motivated and when he is more than motivated,’’ Garnett said. “This was one of those nights. If you know Rondo, he’s an, ‘I'll-show-you’ type of person. That's what you love about him. This game had enough juice on it for him to come out and play the way he played."
But that game also drove home the conundrum that is Rajon Rondo – and why the Celtics would be crazy not to listen to a Godfather offer for him. No one expects him to replicate that kind of game on a regular basis. But there have been games this season where his play has been aimless, where his passes end up in the stands, where he makes plays and you scratch your head and ask, “Hasn’t he been in the NBA long enough to know that you can’t do that? That you don’t do that?”
So while the Celtics may not be actively shopping Rondo, they will not hang up the phone if they get the proverbial, blow-your-doors-off offer for him. Would the Nets, coming to the realization that they aren’t going to get Dwight Howard and may lose Deron Williams, offer up Williams for Rondo? Would Golden State offer a package of players for him?
What the Celtics can’t and won’t do is get 50 cents back on the dollar in any deal, even if said deal would be made for basketball and personality. It’s the latter that would force the team to act. Rondo can be high maintenance. He’s a complicated individual who can, at times, infuriate his teammates. While his relationship with coach Doc Rivers is good, it wasn’t always thus and there are times when Rivers wonders what everyone else is wondering: Why did he do that?
And with Garnett and Ray Allen becoming free agents this summer, it won’t be too long before Rondo is The Man in the Celtics locker room. Does Rivers want to deal with that? Does Danny Ainge, who has not a sentimental bone in his body, want to deal with that? He once traded Antoine Walker because he didn’t like the “grasp” that Walker had on the team.
So that’s where a lot of the trade talk is coming from. But how many point guards are out there who Boston would consider having in Rondo’s stead? Williams would have to be one. Russell Westbrook might be another, but the Thunder just re-signed him. Chris Paul is staying in LA. Derrick Rose isn’t going anywhere. Steve Nash is too old.
So, at the end of the day, Rondo in all likelihood isn’t going anywhere. The Celtics have closed the gap on division-leading Philadelphia, who they play for the first time this season on Wednesday night. Garnett has been terrific the last month. Allen is always making big shots. Paul Pierce is still a factor. The bench is healthy – for now.
Then again, winning the NBA title is all that drives the Celtics now, especially with their roster as old as it is. No one would argue that they are strong enough to compete with Miami or Chicago. Not now anyway.
That is why there’s always the chance that Ainge rolls the dice. But it would have to be something substantial to make him surrender Rondo. He was the one who got him back on draft night in 2006. He’s not going to give him up unless there’s somebody special coming back in return.