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Can Rajon Rondo Lead Brad Stevens’ Celtics to the Playoffs?

Through the first few weeks of the NBA season, the Boston Celtics have managed to exceed expectations under new head coach Brad Stevens. 25 games into the 2013-14 regular season, the Celtics found themselves atop the Atlantic Division even without star point guard Rajon Rondo.

Rondo, however, is expected to return to the team at some point during the season. He underwent surgery to repair his torn

ACL in mid-February and was able to participate in limited-contact drills with his teammates in December.

Many people expect him to make his return to the hardwood at some point in January; 11 months following his injury.

“He won’t play in games, is what I’ve been told, until after the first of the year,” said Stevens. “And that still is, we’re talking in big generalities there. I don’t know when that means. It could mean a month from now, it could mean six weeks from now. There’s a lot of different variables that have to be met for him to be cleared for games.”

Through 25 games the Celtics are fifth in points allowed per game with 95.7. Under Stevens’ leadership, Boston has quickly become one of the best defensive basketball teams in the entire league. Unfortunately, they have struggled in other statistical categories. They ranked 23rd in points per game (94.8), 24th in rebounds per game (41.1) and 30th in assists per game (18.2).

Not only is Rondo a great defensive player, when healthy he immediately becomes the best offensive player on the Celtics’ roster.

Assuming the Celtics are still in playoff contention by the time Rondo is ready to return to the team, there is no reason why Boston shouldn’t find themselves contending for a title. The only question is: how far can Rondo lead them?

Coming into the 2013-14 NBA season many people expected the Celtics would be one of the worst teams in the league. A lot of people were already putting them as frontrunners for either Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker in the 2014 NBA draft. But Brad Stevens continues to prove his critics wrong.

Boston does benefit from a very weak Eastern Conference. If the season ended in mid-December, the Celtics would find themselves as the fourth seed in the conference behind only the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks.

Due to the weak conference, the Celtics can actually afford to be patient with Rondo. They can allow him to take as much time as he needs during his recovery. And when he returns to the court they’ll be able to limit his minutes until he feels confident enough to play a full game.

Before the 2013-14 season began, some NBA analysts encouraged the Celtics to shop Rondo around. They expected the Celtics to have a bad season and enter a rebuilding period. Since Rondo is seen as a player already in the prime of his career, Boston could possibly trade him for draft picks, younger players or a combination of both.

But now that the Celtics find themselves in the playoffs race, why should they get rid of their best player?

Although it is very rare for a team to make the playoffs during a rebuilding period, that seems to be exactly what the Celtics are doing this season. If the team can successfully rebuild while contending for a championship at the same time, they would be crazy to even think about trading away Rondo unless they get an absolutely phenomenal trade offer.

As for the Brad Stevens experiment in Boston, it looks to be going quite well – much better than most people anticipated it would. For a guy who took over one of the most storied franchises in NBA history without any NBA coaching experience, he is doing quite a remarkable job.

The Celtics have bought into Stevens’ system and they trust him to put him in the best position to succeed. Once Rondo gets back, anything is possible.

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