Rajon Rondo’s career with the Boston Celtics lasted 3,096 days (that’s 74, 304 hours or 4,458,240 minutes or 267,494,400 seconds, if Rajon is counting at home). Acquired in a draft day deal for straight cash, he made four All-Star teams, won an NBA title, racked up triple-doubles galore and added even gaudier stats on national TV and in playoff games. His pass-happy mindset energized the fans, and evoked memories of past Celtics playmakers such as JoJo White and Bob Cousy. But, with free agency looming, his time was clearly at the end in Boston. It’s not because he broke his hand in the shower during the preseason. It’s not because he got benched this month at the end of a game against Washington. It’s not even because he’s shooting only 33 percent at the free-throw line, which has lead to him shooting less in the lane, a malady that can be career-ender (just ask Andris Biedrins). It’s because of a series of events during the past two years, which—if any of them went the other way—might have led to Rondo still being a Celtic today. In honor of Rajon, let’s play Connect Four, and connect these four events to Rondo’s departure.
Jan. 25, 2013: Rondo tears his ACL – Not only did he tear his ACL, but he played in the final 12 minutes of the game after the injury. His toughness was never questioned, and when his injury was diagnosed two days later, that was the true end of the latest Celtics era. Before the injury, there was a chance—based upon the Celtics’ moves in the preceding offseason—they could rebuild on the fly. They brought back Brandon Bass and Jeff Green, signed Courtney Lee and had Avery Bradley and rookie Jared Sullinger around the core of Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Although the team had struggled until Rondo’s injury, there was hope. But Sullinger got hurt soon after Rondo, and the Celtics bowed out in the first round of the playoffs. By the time Rondo returned from injury in mid-January of 2014, Lee, Pierce, Garnett and coach Doc Rivers had all been traded, and the chance to rebuild on the fly was gone.
May 21, 2014: Celtics get the sixth pick in NBA Lottery – If the Celtics had gotten the No. 1 pick, perhaps they would have traded Rondo anyways and gone with a long-term rebuild around one of the franchise players available in the draft. If they had gotten a Top 3 pick, perhaps it would’ve been enough to lure the Timberwolves into trading Kevin Love to Boston. But the sixth pick in the draft simply didn’t have enough value for the Celtics to make a godfather offer to Minnesota, a move that would have paired Rondo and Love together in Boston. Most Celtics’ fans have the team’s lack of lottery luck in the back of their minds as Boston enters a looong rebuild.
June 26, 2014: Celtics select PG Marcus Smart – The Celtics picked sixth and snagged the best player available. That happened to be a point guard. If the injured Joel Embiid doesn’t go third overall, does he fall to the Celtics at No. 6? If the Celtics pick a center, could Rondo have coexisted with him? For all the talk of Smart playing as a shooting guard, or the Celtics playing two point guards together, sometimes the easiest solution is the most obvious one, and from draft day on, most people figured Rondo would be traded to allow Smart to play his natural position.
July 11, 2014: LeBron James returns to Cleveland – LeBron’s decision had ripple effects that were set in motion the day he signed. In his letter announcing his return to the Cavaliers, he never mentioned Anthony Bennett or Andrew Wiggins, the two key pieces to a future trade for Kevin Love. It became obvious that Love would be traded to Cleveland, thus finally closing the door on any Rondo-Love speculation in Boston. And with Love off the board, there were no other available superstars for Boston to acquire. Just one to trade away.