Hardly anyone disagreed when it was announced Thursday that Paul Pierce had been chosen to his 10th All-Star Game. Unlike last year, however, when Pierce had plenty of company on the plane ride to Los Angeles, he will fly solo to Orlando.
Rajon Rondo, the player most often cited as the Celtics' second-most deserving all-star, was a conspicuous absence from the list of All-Star reserves. Former teammate Shaquille O'Neal went so far as to wonder how the "best point guard in the game" would not participate in a game that is supposed to consist of the game's brightest stars. Pierce's lonely weekend in Orlando (where he'll have to make do with just his family, friends and thousands of adoring fans), is a departure from last season, when four Celtics took part in the All-Star festivities.
For all the excellent play Rondo has provided this season, declining to extend the point guard an invitation was — in this case — the right decision. And this is coming from a writer who has called Rondo's play MVP-caliber this season.
The Celtics entered Thursday's game against the Lakers having played 24 games, with Rondo missing eight of them with a sprained right wrist. That's exactly a third of the season in which Rondo had no impact. In fact, by posting a 6-2 mark during Rondo's absence, the Celtics actually had a better winning percentage when Rondo was in a suit than when he was in uniform.
Including Rondo would mean asking another Eastern Conference guard or guard/forward to stay home. It is simple to say Rondo deserves an All-Star berth. It's quite another to say he is more deserving than Deron Williams, Joe Johnson or Andre Iguodala.
Williams is merely averaging 20.9 points and 8.6 assists despite being the only player on the Nets who opponents even remotely have to worry about guarding. Johnson is the best player on a formidable Hawks team, and he has yet to miss a ball game. Iguodala is one of those rare players who can impact a game without scoring a single point, and he's also the captain of the most surprising team in the NBA.
Early in the voting, some wondered if Pierce's early-season bruised right heel would hinder his candidacy for the All-Star Game. Pierce set himself apart from Rondo, however, by missing just three games and by assuming Rondo's role as a playmaker while the point guard was out. At 34 years old, Pierce has his highest per-game assist average of his career and his highest player efficiency rating in five years.
Rondo has played at an all-star level, when he has played. But production in bulk trumps production in spurts. Whereas Rondo has had roughly 15 outstanding games — his first game immediately following his injury was subpar by his standards — he was not transcendent to the point where he should displace someone who has played like an All-Star over 20-plus games.