When the Pelicans tip off their regular season next week, they'll do so without Rajon Rondo. New Orleans' new guard had surgery on a sports hernia and is expected to be sidelined 4-to-6 weeks, according to The Vertical's Shams Charania.
In the grand scheme of a long season, the Pelicans should be able to withstand the absence of Rondo, but that doesn't mean they won't feel the gap a key player leaves. Rondo was expected to start and now the Pelicans will be forced to adjust before the season even begins. The adjustment period of this alone is going to have an impact that could cause New Orleans problems early on.
At 31 years old, Rondo is still trying to prove he's worth buying in on. With a one-year contract, he can't afford any nagging injuries or a season that might prove he's not worth the hassle that usually comes with having him on the team.
It seems like a distant memory when Rondo was once one of the NBA's top point guards with the Celtics. We look back at his career and revisit his timeline that has gone from a talented reserve to a key cog on a champion to a journeyman player that comes with baggage and risk.
Rondo doesn't exactly bust out into the league. Instead, he struggles offensively, shooting .418 from the field, including just .207 from beyond the arc. He does, however, show glimpses as his storied Celtics career is just beginning.
Things really pick up for Rondo and the Celtics in 2007. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce come to Boston and win a championship in the 2007-08 season. Rondo moves into the starting lineup and serves as a role player that just happens to complement the three stars really well. As the season goes on, he begins to emerge as one of Boston's key players. The Celtics finish first in the East with a 66-16 record and eventually win the NBA title.
This would end up being the peak of Rondo's career as injuries began piling up for the talented guard. His role increased as the stars around Rondo aged. He became a consistent All-Star and was considered just as much a key player to the Celtics as anyone else on the roster. However, he would go on to miss 29 combined games in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
This is where injuries really hinders Rondo's career. He tears his ACL in the middle of the season, leaving Pierce and Garnett to carry the team without him. The Celtics manage to get back to the playoffs but are clearly not a contender, and get eliminated in the first round to the Knicks while they see former teammate Ray Allen winning a championship in Miami. That summer, Garnett and Pierce get traded, leaving Rondo with a rebuilding franchise by himself while he recovers.
Rondo spends the majority of the season in "will he play or won't he play" purgatory until January. He does end up playing, but requires multiple rest days throughout the season to help him bounce back from the ACL tear. At this point, his defense has taken a slip, but the assumption is it will return to him when he gets healthy again.
The Celtics are bad and Rondo doesn't look anything like he did at his peak. The assumption is once he's on a winning team again his play will pick up again. The Mavericks trade for Rondo in what turns out to be a disaster. Midway through the playoffs he's benched for what Dallas claims is a back injury. The two sides decide to part ways and there are rumors surrounding the team that the back injury was just a way to hide it.
Rondo begins to gain a reputation for being difficult to coach. This, along with his game not adapting to an evolving league, leaves him without many free agency options. Teams don't want to touch him. He signs with a Kings team that is about to have one of the most dysfunctional seasons ever. Rondo, however, has individual career highs amidst all the madness and is generally liked by his teammates.
Rondo uses his solid season in Sacramento to get a two-year deal with the Bulls and form the "three alphas" in Chicago. He, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler turn out to be an awkward fit the entire season. At one point, Rondo questions Butler and Wade's leadership in an Instagram post. Chicago makes the playoffs and Rondo starts to look like his old self again before an injury knocks him out of the first-round series against the Celtics. The Bulls are eliminated with everybody wondering what could have been.
Despite Rondo's great playoff performance he's unable to command much of a contract. He signs a one-year deal with the Pelicans. Unfortunately, injuries once again sideline the veteran guard before the season even begins.
How Rondo will eventually fit in with the Pelicans is hard to know for sure. There's clearly skill there, but his career has been a lot more valleys than peaks. Injuries, personality conflicts and teams not buying into him has left Rondo in an awkward situation where he always has to prove himself. It looks like, once he returns from surgery, that's what he'll have to do all over again.