Maybe it will spark Rajon Rondo. Maybe Rondo will finally wake up. Maybe hearing Doc Rivers call Derrick Rose the NBA’s MVP is just what Rondo needed.
Rose, remember, beat out Rondo for Team USA’s starting point guard spot this past summer. After a DNP-CD (the first of his life?) in an exhibition game, Rondo left the team and went home. The team said Rondo left for personal reasons, but the timing was certainly suspicious. Even if Rondo had left on his own terms, Rose had already taken his spot.
The two had shared a rivalry of sorts long before this summer. A few months after Rondo won a championship as an upstart point guard, Rose was drafted into the league. As Rose lived up to expectations while earning Rookie of the Year, Rondo seemingly skipped a few years of progress. When the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs, Rose welcomed himself to the playoffs with 36 points and 11 assists in Game One. Yet Rondo, and a sudden string of triple-doubles, led his Celtics past Rose’s Bulls. The two point guards were not fully formed, but there was no doubt they were special.
Still, they were part of the “best YOUNG point guards in the league” discussion, rather than “the best point guards in the league, period” discussion that was reserved for Deron Williams and Chris Paul. Here’s what I wrote in November about how we used to perceive the two:
“There was a qualifier to their greatness, the word ‘young’ that got thrown in there to show that Rondo and Rose weren’t in the same league as Paul and Williams. Qualifier or not, Rondo and Rose were bound together by shared greatness, the position they played, and their location in the Eastern Conference. When you heard about one, hearing about the other was just a matter of time. (‘Rondo just had 17 assists.’ — ‘Alright, but Rose had 38 points!’)
This season, the pair proved themselves worthy of entering the “best point guards in the league, period” discussion. But Rondo’s stay in the discussion would not be permanent. For a time at the season’s beginning, Rondo was the toast of the NBA. He threw 67 assists in his first four games. Looked like he was poised to challenge John Stockton’s single-season assist record. Had completely taken the reigns of the Boston Celtics, ripping control from the Big Three. Boston was Rondo’s town, at least for a little while, and the entire NBA world took notice.
Meanwhile, Rose declared his intentions to earn MVP honors (which actually seemed laughable at the time) and instantly took the league by storm. For a while, pundits still searched for chinks in his armor. “But he doesn’t draw enough fouls,” people said. “He doesn’t play with enough efficiency,” others echoed. But Rose took the Bulls on his back from day one. As he kept them at or near the top of the Eastern Conference despite a rash of injuries, despite starting Keith Bogans (and his 3.9 ppg), it became clear: Rose was playing like 2006 Dwyane Wade, capable of carrying his team every night out, capable of dominating games and getting to the rim at his whim. The season continued, and Rose’s reputation kept growing. But Rondo slowed down.
Rondo had slowed gradually (with his assists average dropping every month this season), until his play recently fell off a cliff. I wrote about his decline yesterday, so I won’t repeat myself. But now, no reasonable person could argue Rondo’s merits as the league’s greatest point guard. Sure, he’s still leading the league in assists. But that lead is slim now, and Rondo’s lack of shooting means he needs to be THAT much better as a distributor. Sure, Rondo has a title, which neither Rose, Williams, Paul or Steve Nash can claim. But Rondo was a weak link in the starting five when he won that title. Some nights, Eddie House finished games while Rondo sat on the bench.
Not even Doc Rivers considers Rondo the league’s best. (ESPN)
“I’m not that surprised [the Bulls are contending],” Rivers said on ESPN 1000′s “Afternoon Saloon”. “Derrick Rose is the best player this year in the NBA. I think he’ll be the MVP, and when you have the MVP on your team, you’re usually pretty good.”
If Rondo is hurt, the Celtics should sit him. Especially considering how well the Bulls have played, winning home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs is important. But not at the cost of running Rondo into the ground. Not at the cost of heading into the playoffs with the diminished Rondo we’ve seen the past couple weeks.
If Rondo is not hurt, as he and the Celtics insist, he needs to snap out of whatever funk he’s in. Otherwise, Derrick Rose might get the best of Rajon Rondo yet again, and it might be in the playoffs this time. And if Rondo gets sent home early from the playoffs, there will be no way to blame it on personal reasons.