Style-wise, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo couldn’t be more different than Drake and Trinidad James, but are connected by one commonality as the season opens in two weeks. Both budding point guards are jockeying for status in the league among a mosh pit of players at the position. However, they will also be relearning how to walk before they run with newly reconstructed ACLs.
Rose is the Evil Kenevil point guard who was a phenom before he even stepped on an NBA court for the first time. In this age of superfriend superteams, Rose is the loner who has gone it alone, put the team on his back and flexed like Mr. Olympia.
Without Boston’s Big Three mafia, Rajon Rondo is going solo for the first time in his pro career. If Bostonians think Tom Brady has it rough with his current ragtag group of Edward Scissorhands receivers, they haven’t laid eyes on the makeshift roster that the Boston Celtics will trot out on Opening night. Brady’s still managed to keep the Patriots afloat thanks to his individual grandeur and resolve. Rondo's job will be much tougher.
Rose is adjusting to his surgically-repaired knee after spending a year shooting hoops and rolling with Jimmy from Degrassi’s. Each player’s predicament presents its own challenges. For a point guard that relies on his quick twitch muscle fibers and dynamic ability to defy gravity when he launched his body towards the rim, Rose's shredded ACL and MCL could be a career-altering injury.
However, once Rose plants and elevates off his left leg once or twice to shake cobwebs off the rim, the reservations over Chicago's franchise point guard will subside along with his own personal concerns. Although Rondo is also recovering from a torn ACL suffered nearly a year after Rose’s, his athleticism is inconsequential to his value. Rondo is a pocket passing point guard directing the offense with cerebral passes instead of scoring. But questions will be swirling around his play this season.
The Celtics have a determination to make on what tier of point Rondo is and whether he’s a part of their future or past. He can no longer just focus on dishing and diming. He'll also have to become a more aggressive scorer next season. For a brief period, there was a segment of the NBA community that argued Rondo was the best pure point guard in the NBA. While he has led the league in assists per game for consecutive seasons, that thought no longer holds true. How he raises the level of play of his inferior supporting cast will play an important role in the perception of him inside and outside the organization
Rondo has to prove his worth as a cantankerous floor leader with sub-par shot-making ability. Supposedly, Derrick Rose spent his time away from the court to improve his jump shot. If anybody needed to work on his accuracy from outside the paint, it’s Rondo. Assistant coach Ron Adams has been tasked with the herculaean task of fixing Rondo's outside shooting.
Rondo has the ring that Rose covets, but when he comes to mind, I’m reminded of an observation by Chris Rock directed towards Kevin Hart for season 2 of Real Husbands of Hollywood, which TSL examined this summer. Rock is famous, Hart is black famous. Rock is a box office magnet. Hart is an ensemble piece who’s searching for mainstream appeal. It should be fairly obvious that Hart equates to Rondo in this analogy.
Rondo is teetering on that line between B-List and marquee player. Rose’s A-List credentials were certified after he single-handedly guided the Bulls to the Conference Finals in the summer of 2011 before being named the 2012 NBA MVP. The question waffling around in the deepest regions of every NBA observer’s mind is whether Rondo is the foundation of a franchise reconstruction process or if he’s best served as the garden fountain that increases property value and accentuates an assembled playoff contender.
Rondo’s volatile temper drove Ray Allen away, and supposedly his contentious relationship with Doc Rivers nearly got him shipped out of Boston by Danny Ainge. We saw glimpses of his potential ability to be a leading man during their seven-game conflict with the Miami Heat two years ago, but after his season-ending injury the Celtics didn’t appear to skip a beat. Trade rumors are still abound and won't stop until Rondo proves himself to be indispensable.
According to Ainge, Rondo won’t return until around December. That gives him approximately two months to show what type of playmaker he really is before the NBA’s Trade Deadline rolls around on Feb. 21. Even Chris Paul needed help after the Hornets imploded around him. It won't be a complete failure if the Celtics decide to let him walk.