Ewing Theory Revisited
Bill Simmons [ARCHIVE]
February 15, 2013
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When we learned about Rajon Rondo's season-ending injury during ABC's Heat-Celtics game on January 27, every Celtics fan had the same reaction: So long, Puncher's Chance At Making The Eastern Finals.

We zipped through the seven stages of grief in about 45 minutes, barely noticing that the Celtics were playing better without Rondo. For once, they looked like a vintage Garnett-Pierce era Celtics team again. No more mailing in quarters, no more rolling over defensively, no more 22-second possessions followed by ghastly 20-footers. They fended off LeBron and the LeBronettes in double overtime with help from a rollicking, old-school Boston crowd that learned about the severity of Rondo's injury through tweets and texts. And somewhere along the line, more than a few Celtics fans e-mailed me or tweeted me the same two words.

Ewing Theory???

Could it be? We started picking apart Rondo's game in our heads, even if most of us absolutely loved the guy. And believe me — I love the guy. Had I gotten another dog between 2010 and 2012, I absolutely would have named him "Rondo." That's my dude. Other than Larry Legend, he's the most original basketball player I have ever watched on a day-to-day basis. There will never be a Rondo 2.0. Unfortunately, there will always be Basic Cable Rondo and National TV Rondo.

Basic Cable Rondo gets bored easily. He pads his assist totals just to see if he can. He goes entire games without ever driving to the hoop or drawing a foul. He shoots 3s even though he should never, ever, EVER be shooting 3s. He pounds the ball 25 feet away from the basket for no good reason, frowns a little too often, only makes teammates better on his terms. He cheats passing lanes and gambles for steals too much. He pretends to lead without really leading. He's on hyperfocused cruise control, basically. The worst thing about Basic Cable Rondo? You know when he shows up. Right away. Within three minutes of the opening tip.

But National TV Rondo? Sweet Jesus do I love that guy. He's a walking triple-double. He's a beast. He's one of the best eight or nine players alive. You could give National TV Rondo four mediocre teammates and he could hang with any contender. Shit, that's practically what happened in the Eastern finals last spring — Garnett and Pierce were worn down from the shortened season, so was Ray Allen, and nobody else on the team was worth a damn except Brandon Bass. The Celtics came within one victory of beating LeBron in his prime. That's why you put up with Basic Cable Rondo — because National TV Rondo knocks your team's ceiling up a couple floors.

After Allen's acrimonious departure last summer, Rondo made a fuss about transforming the Celtics into his team, which apparently meant scoring more, leading more, doing more … and if you read between the lines, it really meant, "Hey, KG and Paul, step aside, I'm taking the wheel."

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To their credit, the old farts took a backseat. Pierce even deferred to Rondo at the ends of tight games, something I never expected to see. But things turned goofy early — Rondo became obsessed with keeping a double-figures assist streak alive. And not in a good way. He wasn't making the right decision every time, just the decision most likely to produce an assist. Defenses played Rondo for the pass on every drive and fast break, turning the streak into something of an ongoing detriment. I loathed the streak. It was a bad look for Rondo — you don't want your leader chasing numbers, even something as seemingly benevolent as assists.

The streak mercifully ended when Rondo got tossed for fighting Kris Humphries in a loss to the Nets, but questions about Rondo's ultimate destiny as a franchise player lingered. You are who you are after seven years in the league. Every night you could put Rondo down for 13 points, 11 assists and five rebounds. And every two weeks or so, he'd slap together four quarters that took your breath away. But Rondo wasn't just going to start averaging 22 points a game; it would have happened by now. For a Celtics team specifically built for him, that's the biggest reason they played a half-season of .500 ball. You're only as good as your best guy.

They couldn't ever beat Miami in a playoff series without Rondo — the only Celtic who could swing two games in a series by himself. But short-term? Maybe our boys would rally without him. We knew the schedule worked in their favor: Six of eight home games post-Miami (and Toronto and Charlotte on the road). We knew Rondo's departure would inadvertently create a more stable playing rotation — now, Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry would get enough minutes, and so would the perpetually frustrating Jeff Green. We knew there was a chance — repeat: a chance — that Garnett and Pierce would rally as a subtle Eff You to Rondo, their annoying little brother who drove them bonkers even if he would always be family, someone who acted like a bit of a diva behind the scenes, someone who wouldn't exactly win a popularity contest with the people around the organization. An intelligent, demanding, thoughtful guy … yes. But frustrating. That's the word you always hear.

The bigger point: With Rondo, Boston had the league's 26th most efficient offense. This seems relevant since the NBA has only 30 teams. How much would they REALLY miss him on a daily basis? How hard was it to replace 13 points and 11 assists every night? Couldn't you replace 80 percent of those stats? It was conceivable, right? Either way, they had reached a fork in the road — if the season went south, they'd certainly have to trade Pierce (Warriors?) and Garnett (Clippers?) over sentencing them to Lotteryville. That was the right thing to do. At the same time, we needed a few more games. They showed some fight against the Heat. We hadn't seen this team fight more than four times all year.

You know what happened next. They reeled off seven straight Rondo-less victories to the delight (and semi-confusion) of their just-when-I-thought-I-was-out-they-pull-me-back-innnnnnnnnn fans. Somewhere during that time, we realized two things.

1. We're not ready to say good-bye to no. 5 and no. 34 yet. Can't trade them. Can't trade them. Can't trade them. Celtics for life.

2. Even if it makes no sense whatsoever, our boys are playing better without Rondo.

Our eyes weren't deceiving us. The Celtics moved the ball dramatically better without Rondo, to the point that Steve Kerr texted me that they suddenly reminded him of Popovich's Spurs. Their playing rotation fell into place — they finally had enough minutes...
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