While the future of NBA players and their teams is never known ahead of time or set in stone, we can certainly speculate. Every season yields new opportunities for each player to prove their worth to their respective teams.
Perhaps one of the greatest windows a player may have to prove their value is after returning from injury. Injury returns can separate great players from unimportant ones. A good example is Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. While it would seem almost laughable now, there was once discussion around the league over who the better player was: Bryant or McGrady.
Fast forward to today: the Black Mamba’s surgery brought him back as an even greater force to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, T-Mac never really recovered from his shoulder injury, and has never been the same player since.
The fact that Derrick Rose was medically cleared for play during the Chicago Bulls’ second round series against the Miami Heat and still stayed on the bench just might put a smudge on his legacy. Kevin Garnett’s inability to recover from a back injury in the 2009 playoffs more than likely cost him a second ring.
Perhaps the most famous example is the New York Knicks’ success preceding the return of an injured Patrick Ewing.
Now, we see this trend play out once again around the league. The return of both Rose and Bryant are imminent. There is great debate about how both of them will play. However, a return flying under the radar is that of Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo.
Arguably the last hope for the Celtics, Rondo represents a way out of what seems like a bleak and mediocre future in Boston. Rondo may spare the Celtics from a painful rebuilding phase if he can be built around sooner rather than later. If he is going to be built around soon, let alone at all, Rondo is going to have to return from his injury fast and furiously.
At this point, a great deal of his legacy hangs in the balance. Many of Rondo’s detractors argued he was, and is more lucky than good. After all, any player surrounded by three Hall-of-Famers with a coach like Doc Rivers should look great, right?
At first, it seemed like Rondo had a fortunate anomaly for a career. However, as all of the things that made Rondo “lucky” peeled away, we saw a player who not only continued a high level of play, but exceeded even more expectations that before.
However, unlike many other players in history, Rondo is returning from one of the most painful and difficult injuries in sports, a torn ACL. If he can overcome the challenge simply through physical strength and rehabilitation, then fine. However, in all reality, Rondo’s game may have to adapt, even if ever so slightly.
If Rondo can maintain his high level of play, especially under the system of Brad Stevens, the Celtics can move forward, build around him, and rejoin the chase for the Larry O’Brien Trophy yet again.
The future of the Celtics and Rondo’s legacy hang on his ability to return from his injury.