When KG first arrived here, the fear was that Rondo would be the weak link for our championship hopes. Most of the fans/analysts weren't all that concerned, though. We all kind of expected Kevin Garnett to average 7+ assists. KG was one of the best passing bigs in the league and he had never been surrounded with players like Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. KG had averaged 5-6 assists for a long period of his career and it just made sense to have the ball flow through him on every possession.
I was surprised that didn't happen. For the most part, the ball flowed through Pierce in that championship year. That was a role Pierce had always been comfortable with. A dynamic scorer with solid passing ability.
Ray had his role the most drastically changed. When I watched him in Seattle at his peak, the ball would flow through him constantly. He was as much a star (if not more so) than Pierce. He'd create his own shot and knock them down from anywhere on the court. In Boston, they gradually started turning him into Rip Hamilton. To be fair, it was probably necessitated by Ray's age, but we are now aware that Ray wasn't comfortable with expanding role of Rondo. Ray felt he was still capable of having the ball in his hands once in a while.
What I'm getting at is this... I've pointed out at least 8 times on this forum that Boston tended to win games when Rondo sat. It's not like we were "better" without Rondo... it just so happened that guys (usually Pierce) would step up in his absence and carry the load. It seemed like in the rare instances where Rondo sat, it was liberating for guys like Pierce. Pierce spent a decade controlling the ball. KG spent 12 years as the go-to scorer. With Rondo out, they got to throw back the clock and prove they still had it.
Over the years, Danny has tried to trade Rondo. We've tried trading him for bigs (like Pau Gasol), we've tried trading him for superstars (like Chris Paul)... and we've tried trading him for guards who would have been a better fit next to our stars (like Steph Curry). If you believe the many rumors, we were turned down on every deal. Having a weak offensive point guard with excellent passing ability apparently isn't the most desirable star asset in the league. I debated for a long time with folks about the Steph Curry deal. Their argument was that Curry couldn't play point (pass) as well as Rondo. My argument was that we didn't need someone to pass as well as Rondo... we'd have more to gain by having Curry's shooting around Pierce, KG and Ray... who were more than capable of sharing the ball with each other. In fact, I once argued that Boston would probably play just as well with Jose Calderon as with Rondo.
THat's not to say Jose Calderon is better all-around than Rondo. He definitely isn't. He's unquestionably a better shooter though.. and if you stuck Calderon out there with Pierce, KG and Ray... I figured we'd be pretty dangerous.
So anyways... Ray bailed for a variety of reasons I don't blame him for. We scrambled and filled his role the best backup guards available: Courtney Lee, Terry and Barbosa. We didn't get those guys because they were the best fit.. they just were the best guys we could sign. Boston, now firmly in the grasp of Rondo's quarterbacking, wanted to get these guards to adapt to Rondo... why not turn them all into Rip Hamilton too, right? But that isn't what they are. All three of them are most effective at creating their own shots. Meanwhile, the team's 4th best player (Jeff Green) had been stuck in a role that didn't fit him either. He's not Rip Hamilton either. He's someone who needs the ball and needs to create.
So then, nothing about these past 6 games surprises me. I know its only 6 games, but it's pretty much exactly what I'd expect from this collection of players. Losing Rondo is a bummer, but if we were going to lose him any year... this was the best year to do it. This myth had been growing that Boston's old players needed Rondo to set them up with pretty passes, but it just wasn't true. These guys were still doing work without the ball (running around to get open, fighting through screens, popping out), and a lot of the time Rondo would simply stand at the key and kick it out for a stat-padding assist. Now, we have guys playing basketball. Guys sharing the ball. Terry is creating. Barbosa is creating. Lee is creating. Jeff Green is proving why I've been calling him the 4th best player on the team (#1 KG, #2 Pierce, #3 Rondo). He's solid. Point guard-sized Bradley has moved over to point guard by default... meaning that our back court is now one of the best defensive tandem in the league. We have the option of posting up now and letting other players take it to the hole now that Rondo isn't out there (his defender would slack off and there wouldn't be as much spacing). It's just been a joy to watch. I don't know if it will continue, but I see no reason to believe we will not at least continue to be the mediocre .500 team we've been all year. And if by some miracle we are able to land another impact big, we could make serious noise.
I'm loving the way we are playing. Rondo is a talented guy and he certainly gets a lot of stats. He's usually in the top 5 statistically. This year (his best yet), for instance, he was 4th statistically behind Chris Paul, Westbrook and Tony Parker... just ahead of Kyrie Irving who is nipping as his heels. I'm going to go out on the limb, though, and say that Rondo will never average these kind of stats again. Pandora's box has been opened. Boston has seen the light. They now know that sharing the ball works as well (if not better) than making Rondo a quarterback and everyone else on the team a receiver. I think Rondo's days of averaging 11 assists a night are over. He'll never be a scorer like Chris Paul or a shooter like Steve Nash. He'll never command a double team like they do and get assists as a result. As Boston shifts their style of offensive play and Rondo's weaknesses as a shooter are exposed further, we might see pressure to move him. Alternatively, we can surround Rondo with nothing but pure shooters like JJ Reddick and continue letting him dominant the ball on every possession. But then you can say goodbye to the Freedom Offense.