BOSTON (CBS) — This year’s NBA Finals features LeBron James and Kevin Durant, the two best basketball players on the planet, and perhaps the only two players who could almost single-handedly lead their team to a championship.
Even saying that about Durant and James, though, is more than a little disingenuous. Both have some of the best supporting casts in the NBA, and both rely heavily on their teammates night in and night out. Remember, it wasn’t LeBron out on that stage himself with the smoke machines and loud music. It was “The Big Three.”
Why, then, does Boston spend so much time arguing whether the Celtics “can build a championship team” around Rajon Rondo?
Rondo is a full-fledged star in this league. He’s averaged 11.2 points and 11.4 assists per game the past two seasons, and in his past four postseasons, he’s averaged 16.2 points, 10.2 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game. This spring, with Ray Allen hobbling around on one foot and Paul Pierce either being slowed by injury or old age (or both), he seized yet another role on the team by embracing the opportunity to score when his team needed points, and he ended up averaging 17.3 points per game.
Yet, flip on the radio or talk with fans, and you’ll hear it: “Can you build a championship team around Rondo?” You’ll see it in headlines, you’ll see it debated on TV, and you’ll see it in fan polls. You’ll hear the same old critiques: he can’t shoot, he can’t hit free throws, he’s emotionally unstable. And if the basketball world works like it has the past couple of years, you’ll probably hear some more trade rumors this summer.
But is any of that fair?
Let’s look at Rondo’s teammates, with whom he’s played in 92 postseason games, won a championship and made it to Game 7 of the Finals.
Pierce, at various points throughout his career, was once without question a top-10 player in the league and at times a top-five player. He won zero championships in those years, and he only made it to a conference championship when he had Antoine Walker on the court with him. The Celtics didn’t even make the playoffs in five of Pierce’s seasons before 2007.
Allen is the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history. He was never on a “championship team” until he joined the Celtics. He was never even on a conference champion until he went to Boston.
Ditto for Kevin Garnett, who was an MVP and one of the most dominant power forward ever. Certainly, you could build a championship team around him, right? Well, never once did the Timberwolves accomplish that. In fact, Garnett’s Timberwolves made it out of the first round exactly once during his time there.
But let’s not limit this discussion just to the Celtics. In the present-day NBA, you might find 90 percent of basketball fans agree that Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league. At 27 years old, he’s still without an NBA title, and even he joined a new team last offseason as a “part” rather than the central figure.
And who are the rest of the best point guards in the league? Steve Nash is a future Hall of Famer and is one of the best point guards of all time, and he’s zero-time NBA champion. He’s never even played in a Finals, in fact.
Deron Williams, considered a top-five point guard by most, has zero championships and has never made it to the Finals. Russell Westbrook is playing in the Finals right now – as a part of Durant’s team. Tony Parker has certainly won his fair of championships, but he’s won them on Tim Duncan’s team, and not vice versa.
If there’s any point guard over the past 15 or so years who actually was worthy of “building a championship team around,” it would have been Jason Kidd. But even he bounced around with a few teams early in his career, and he didn’t win a title until last year, when he was 38 and served as a role player on Dirk Nowitzki’s team.
So what’s the point? The point is that the “debate” surrounding whether or not the Celtics can build around Rondo is pure nonsense and a complete waste of time. There’s not one player in the entire sport who alone can be a championship centerpiece, regardless of his teammates. If the two best players in the world can’t do it on their own, then how could Rondo? If three future Hall of Famers couldn’t do it on their own, then why should we expect that out of Rondo?
Nobody should. Rondo is a great player in this league. He’s young, he’s inexpensive, and he’s already proven he can win a title. He did that when he was 22 years old. Take a dynamic point guard like Rondo, add two or three more great players and voila, the magic mystery formula for a championship team has been cracked – no “building around Rondo” necessary.
Rondo is not a better player than LeBron or Durant. He’s not a better player than Pierce, Allen or Garnett. And really, he may never be. It’s time to stop holding him to higher standards than you would the future Hall of Famers.