It’s something that’s worrisome to me. Probably unimaginable to him. Very believable to his older, experienced, teammates.
This season might be Rajon Rondo’s final chance to win a championship.
For Rondo, and probably the average fan, that fact hardly seems ascertainable. He’s 23 years old. Just starting to realize his potential. Already an All-Star, already a champion, yet not even in the prime of his career.
But in the NBA, you can’t ever take playoff success for granted. Rondo won a title in his first season as a starting point guard. He probably didn’t realize how lucky he was to win something even many Hall of Famers are missing; he probably thought he would at least contend for a title every season. Then, last year, he saw a glimpse into how NBA success can be like walking on a tightrope. One misstep, one injury, and you’re falling to the ground and unable to continue. Rondo began to learn, like many others have, that playoff wins are never a given.
After this season, who knows what the Celtics will look like? They have some big decisions to make regarding the makeup of their roster moving forward. Do they keep the Big Three intact, even in the twilight of their careers? Do they bring in new blood, forming a rearranged nucleus around Rondo and Kendrick Perkins? Can Danny Ainge really blow the whole team up or, better yet, can he really keep the aging team together as is?
Some people have already written off even this year’s Celtics. They’re too injured. Too old. Et cetera, et cetera. Regardless of the recent turmoil and sentiment regarding the Celtics’ title chances, they probably have one good push left in them, one last hurrah to try to earn another ring. But after that, who knows?
Before long, Rondo could be a lone ranger. He could be pushing the ball up the floor while KG spins his wheelchair down one sideline and Paul Pierce crutches down the other. Or, maybe, he could be captaining a rebuilding team forced to start over after the crumbling of the Big Three era. The point is, nothing is a given.
If this season’s Celtics are too old, what are next season’s Celtics going to look like? And the year after that? And after that?
Your guess is as good as mine.
“And I heard ‘em say/
Nothing’s ever promised tomorrow, today”
- (lyrics from Heard ‘Em Say, by Kanye West [featuring Adam Levine])
Rajon Rondo is probably too young to realize this might be his last chance. No matter how often you tell a young player his opportunities may be once-in-a-career, he’ll always think there’s more time. It’s not until players are a little slower, a little less athletic, and soon-to-be on their way out that they realize everything isn’t as easy as it once seemed.
If Rondo doesn’t believe the chance to compete for a championship is never promised, he need only look at his teammates, the Big Three. Kevin Garnett took nine seasons to even get out of the first round. Before joining the Celtics, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce only reached the Conference Finals once. Before Boston, neither had ever reached the NBA Finals.
It took combining their powers, three stars together, for the Big Three to finally win a championship. And, even then, if one or two plays went the other way, the Celtics could have been ousted in the first or second round. Playoff life can be as unforgiving as a Mt. Everest avalanche.
And just as unpredictable.
Ray Allen has tried to explain to Rondo the fickle nature of being on top.
“I told Rondo earlier, I said this could be his last shot [at an NBA title],” Allen told CSNNE. “I told him, ‘You’ve got 10, 12-plus years left in the NBA, you’re making great money, but this could be yours.’ ”
He even tried to relate his own experiences of making the Eastern Conference Finals in 2001 and then failing to make the playoffs the following season.
“The next year we just assumed we’re going to get back and we didn’t make the playoffs. So, [contending for a championship is] not guaranteed because you did it once or twice. It’s never guaranteed.”
Still, no matter how many times you tell him his team’s success might not last, falling out of contention for a title probably seems unlikely to Rondo. When you’re at the top, so early, and everything comes so easy, it must be difficult to imagine that all your good fortune can disappear in the blink of an eye.
Maybe it won’t. Maybe Danny Ainge will pull all the right strings. Maybe Rajon Rondo will contend for a championship every season for the rest of his career.
But if there’s one certainty in the NBA, it’s this:
Nothing is ever promised tomorrow, today.