Friday, January 31, 2014

Rondo is still recovering, he's not trade bait

It was about a year ago when Rajon Rondo's life forever changed.

For six years, it looked like nothing could slow the NBA's best complementary point guard down. Until January 25, 2013, while playing in a double-overtime game against the Hawks, he unknowingly suffered a torn ACL but continued playing without giving it a second thought.

The Celtics ended up losing that night in Atlanta, and the team flew back to prepare to take on Miami in a Sunday afternoon matinée at TD Garden.

“I wanted to play against the Heat that day. I wanted to play that day, period,” Rondo said. “I thought I was in a good rhythm. I think I had two-triple doubles the two games prior, so I felt like I was in a good groove.” [ESPN Boston]

He had been walking on the injury for two days before he decided to seek the attention of the team’s medical staff just prior to the highly anticipated match up against LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and oh yeah Mr. ‘Shuttlesworth’ who was making his first Boston return since choosing to bolt for sunny South Beach.

After a series of tests, it was decided he would need an MRI immediately. He was a late game scratch for the afternoon, leaving many speculating what could be the problem. By halftime Rajon had learned that his season was over, and he was set to embark on a journey that no one of his stature is truly ready for.

To truly understand how the veteran guard has ended up where he is today, we have to remember the last serious injury he endured. It still makes me cringe almost three years later when I remember the day I watched Rondo dislocate his elbow against, none other than the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs in 2011.

The Celtics lost the series, but not before Rajon returned in that same game to not only dominate, but almost single handedly beat his rivals. It was honestly one of the more inspiring moments I had witnessed in any sporting event. That just goes to show you the type of fight a 6'1 scrappy underdog like Rondo has and few in the NBA lack to begin with.

“I felt like I was He-Man,” Rondo recalls, before his year-long comeback.

The battle tested Rajon was paced last season to average well over 12 assists a game, a number not reached since John Stockton, who retired over 10 years ago. He had just been voted by the fans to start in the All-Star game (his fifth selection overall) and he was averaging a career high in points (13.7), assists (11.1), steals (1.8) and improved his shooting to 48.4 percent from the field.

Playing in just 38 games last season, he won the assist title by averaging over two more dimes a game than any other player. Did I mention he led the league with five triple-doubles? No one finished with more than one all season in 2013.

“I felt like I almost mastered a triple-double at that time,” Rondo explains. "I knew how to get them and still win games.” [ESPN Boston]

On February 12, 2013 Rondo underwent season ending surgery with a patellar tendon graft in Florida under the care of Dr. James Andrews. Following the procedure, Rajon decided to relocate to Pensacola, FL where he would rehab for the first six weeks to regain most of his strength.

The athlete who relied on his explosiveness and never depended on anyone could not walk for the first four weeks. For someone who had always been in control, moving around on his own, and walking without crutches for the first time was considered his first major breakthrough on the road to recovery.

“You question yourself sometimes,” he said. “But you think about the work you put in, and hard work pays off. I knew how much time I put in to getting my leg stronger and stronger, and I just had to focus on that and trust it would happen.” [ESPN Boston]

In the months leading up the new season, there was no definite timeline for his return, but in classic Rondo fashion he would told the media that he would return before 2014. That almost seemed like a legit comeback date as he was cleared for full contact practice at the beginning of December and most knew he had been practicing before the doctors had officially given him the OK to.

His teammates were excited to assist in the process of his return because they had watched how hard he had been working not only on his game, but on his conditioning, and timing. His work ethic couldn’t go unnoticed, as it seemed that he never took days off when it came to rehab, and basketball related regimens.

“He’s a hard worker, but I think for him it was trying to get that confidence back in his knee,” said forward Jeff Green. “He put in countless hours, too, getting back out there on the floor. He’s somebody who pushed himself to the limit to get back into game shape and to get back there playing.” [ESPN Boston]

On January 17, 2014 Rondo made his season debut, almost 12 months later to the day he learned the news that would alter his life for good. It’s been two weeks and slowly things are starting to come around for the eight year vet. He has been playing on restricted minutes, which includes no playing in the second game of a back-to-back.

There is still a long road that lies ahead that Rajon accepted even after he was able to walk again. The time off has really slowed him down not just physically but mentally as well. Not everyone is invincible. In a weird way, his injury along with changes to the makeup of the Celtics, has given Rondo peace of mind.

“You appreciate life more. You appreciate the game more," Rondo said. "You don’t take the game for granted every day that you wake up and get to play this game and step on the court. It’s a blessing. It’s not guaranteed. Any moment, any play, any time in the game, your life could change. So every game that I do get to play, I’m very blessed and fortunate.” [ESPN Boston]

Since returning, Rondo was named the 14th team captain in Celtics history. He embraces his new role and added responsibility with open arms. Rondo also has the support of his friends and former teammates Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

“He’s ready now,” says Pierce. “Rondo is mature, and he understood what was coming, before he had me and Kevin to lean on, and now he’s the guy, he’s the captain. He’s who everybody looks to for leadership. He’s grown, matured, he has seen the bottom and seen the top, and he got to understand that this is his team to lead, through good and through bad… he’s ready for that role, he’s ready to deal with it.” []

KG believes his little brother is up for the challenge moving forward into a new era.

“As we were here, I’m sure he took notes,” said Garnett. “We stressed and set the tone about being the example, even when you don’t always want to. I always talk to him about being a professional, and you don’t get to pick and choose… Just understand the pedigree of a champion, you don’t let losing become something usual. Rondo is ready. He has the mentality with the personality, he’ll be alright.” []

In a year when Boston is suppose to 'tank', the newly anointed captain, Rondo, is still thrown into trade rumors, and being accused of not playing ‘hard enough'. It's nonsense.

It’s unfair to assume that what this man has gone through in less time than the ‘average’ athlete with an ACL tear is nothing short of ridiculous. If anything this might have been a blessing in disguise, as Rondo is in a different humbled place than he was just over 371 days ago.

Rondo has learned the virtue of patience and that can never be overestimated. There's no doubt in my mind he will not only be in green for the long haul, but he will be better than anyone ever could imagine.

“A lot of people always talk to me and tell me to stay positive, be patient, it will come,” Rondo explains. “I’ve been out a year of basketball. It won’t come back to me as quickly as I want it to be, but I still have the natural instincts and metal part to do it. It’s just that physical part is a little bit behind.” [ESPN Boston]

A far different mindset than the stubborn Rajon we have all grown to know. Keep it up ‘Swag’, change is good.

Joel Pavón

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