When Rajon Rondo tore his ACL midway through the 2012-13 season, many Boston Celtics fans initially worried that the tear could eat up a chunk of the 2013-14 campaign. It was a reasonable fear given the fact that Derrick Rose’s injury was already decimating Chicago’s year that season, and the C’s at the time were a veteran team with a loudly clicking biological clock. Soon after the tear, and prior to surgery, it was even posited that Rondo may “only” have a partial ACL tear, one that could put him back in uniform by the time the 2013-14 season started.
Things have changed quite a bit since then, as Celtics general manager Danny Ainge decided to break up the squad’s veteran core and initiate a rebuilding process based around incoming draft picks and eventual cap space. Rondo is now viewed as the team’s franchise player, and with the Celtics essentially hosting an extended season-long training camp under rookie coach Brad Stevens, there can be no doubt that Rajon has been asked to return slowly from what could turn into a career-altering setback. Rose didn’t end up playing any part of the 2012-13 season, and if Rondo were to sit out another month and a half, he’d match the length of game time Rose stayed away from the Bulls during his recovery.
Rajon apparently wants no part of that, which is easy him for him to conclude because he wouldn’t have to return to a team during the stretch run or playoffs as Rose did. The pressure is off in Boston with the team working with a 13-23 record, but Rondo (who promises that he'll be back before the mid-February All-Star break) is still so mindful of his recovery that he was reported to have considered spending some time playing in the D-League with the Reno Red Claws in order to build his reps and let that tachometer run into the red a few times before returning to The Show.
Those plans have apparently been put on hold, though. From Mark Murphy at the Boston Herald:
The Red Claws were relatively close to the C’s the past two nights, at the D-League Showcase in Reno, Nev., but Rondo chose to stay with the big club.
“The last I heard, he wasn’t going to play in Reno,” Ainge said. “He changed his mind about that.
“The initial decision, we were told, was that he would play (Tuesday), but the (Celtics) had a great practice in Denver (on Monday) and I guess he wanted to stay with the team after that.”
The question of whether or not to build up some sweat on the brow at an NBA practice – as opposed to with an NCAA or D-League team in actual games – will forever be bandied about. What’s better, big minutes and big exposure on the (less talented) D-League or NCAA stage, or practicing behind the scenes with the best basketball players in the world?
It’s likely part of the reason why the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t sent top overall pick Anthony Bennett down to the D-League despite his massive struggles, even though many of us have concluded that he should. There’s the embarrassment factor, as well, but there’s also the idea that Mike Brown wouldn’t like signing off on the idea that he can’t concurrently lead a “win now” team while developing young talent, and that he’d have to rely on the work of a minor league coach to do as much.
Which is a shame. The unnecessary stigma behind the D-League still exists as the minor league enters its second decade, and the idea that it is more of a showcase league for players looking to hop back into the NBA – rather than a pool to let your rusty players get a few practice laps in – is wrong. Teams should be considering such “demotions,” if one should call it that, because no amount of practice can ever steel you for a basketball game that counts – even at the minor league level.
Of course, basketball is different from baseball – which has had nearly a century and a half to work out these minor league relations. There are chemistry concerns to consider, especially with Rondo working with an entirely new rotation in Boston. And Ainge’s mention of “a great practice” with the Celtics likely leaves him believing in his heady point guard – that he’s better served working with the players he’s sat on the bench with all season, rather than working in with an entirely new set of strangers in Reno.
That’s Rondo’s call, and we can’t disagree with him there. He also hasn't ruled out still practicing with the Red Claws.
Anthony Bennett? Not so much. Once again, the Cavs are at risk of losing this kid in ways that will linger well beyond his current slump.
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