BOSTON — Rajon Rondo contends he does not like to miss games, which makes it more than a little confounding whenever he commits an on-court transgression that is sure to get him suspended. For a guy who prides himself on never taking a night off, getting into it with referees would seem to go against that goal.
When Celtics coach Doc Rivers recently suggested that fines should replace unpaid suspensions, which not only punish the players themselves but also the fans who paid to watch those players, Rondo therefore seconded the idea. He had more than slight self-interest in the matter, of course.
“Fans come to see their favorite players, and I happen to be some fans’ favorite player,” Rondo said wryly before returning from his most recent suspension, which came after he bumped a referee in Atlanta and allegedly failed to cooperate with the NBA’s disciplinary procedure.
Rondo’s tendency to approach each suspension with a flippant air rubs some of the old guard in Boston the wrong way. Nobody was more consistently cantankerous than Larry Bird or Bill Russell, but those two legends at least channeled their crankiness onto the court. Giving sarcastic answers to reporters’ questions is one thing; forcing his team to play without one of the top five players at his position for a game or two at a time is another.
Still, this is about the time every season when some Celtics fans need to be reminded that trading Rondo is not necessarily the answer. It is sort of amusing how a fan base that could cause such a furor over DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors can simultaneously want to ship out its All-Star point guard because a few folks do not like his behavior. Not every player goes about his work as unassumingly as Paul Pierce, but making Pierce’s model the prerequisite for every player would make it highly difficult for any team to fill its roster.
Let us review the Celtics’ current problems, which have been overlooked somewhat once they started winning. They are still persistently outrebounded, although the chasm between their rebounding totals and their opponents’ has narrowed into a fissure lately. They do not defend the 3-point line well. They do not protect the rim much, either, or earn enough trips to the foul line. They play better at home than on the road, though they are far from the only team that does so, and they have much more success after a day or three of rest than with no rest. (Also, oddly, they are 0-5 when they have two days of rest.)
Going down that list, the number of issues for which dealing Rondo would guarantee improvement is debatable. The number of issues that dealing Rondo would create is endless.
Start at rebounding, where only one point guard who has played more than 20 games this season — do-it-all stud Russell Westbrook — averages more than Rondo’s five boards per game. Assuming Rondo would be traded for frontcourt help, and that seems to be a safe assumption based on the names connected to the Celtics in trade rumors, whatever edge on the glass they would gain up front would simply offset the lost rebounding production from the backcourt. Furthermore, defending the perimeter would only get harder, as the Celtics’ top ball thief and one of the few guys who understands the defensive schemes almost as well as Kevin Garnett would be gone.
In that case, it would be crucial to acquire Marcin Gortat or an interior defender of his ilk to bring a shot-blocking presence, but the corresponding cost to the Celtics’ offensive playmaking would be enormous. What is more, since the return of Avery Bradley, the importance of protecting the hoop has become less glaring — one blocked shot was all the Celtics recorded, or needed, in their victory over the Knicks on Monday.
If that seems like a lot of uncertainty in exchange for getting rid of a handful of one- or two-game suspensions, that is because it is. We wrote earlier this week that the Celtics have not won a title since Rondo emerged as their best player, but that does not mean they can’t. No player is untradeable, but beware of the rallying cry, “Rondo must go!” Maybe he could go — or even should go if the right package is offered — but for all his faults, Rondo remains a nice problem for the Celtics to have.