Adam Kaufman

What’s the Real Story Behind Rajon Rondo’s Injury, and What Does It Mean for the Celtics?

Less than one week after Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck called his star player stubborn and uncoachable, Rajon Rondo mysteriously broke his hand on Thursday night.

Reportedly fully recovered from ACL surgery that limited him to just 30 games last season, maybe the All-Star point guard wasn’t too keen on his boss’s remarks? Perhaps, in the wake of a story the career-Celtic wanted out of Boston, he was told he wouldn’t be traded and reacted unfavorably?

Obviously, that’s the height of conjecture and a sizeable leap for a player who has never had an off-the-court incident (birthday parties, excluded) and has been, at his worst, a somewhat defiant player who isn’t beloved by every teammate he’s ever had. To suggest Rondo has been walking around punching walls or getting into fights – especially when he’s poised to have a season worthy of a max-level contract as he nears free agency – would be quite the accusation.

Still, the story we have to this point is a bit flimsy.

According to the team, Rondo suffered a broken bone in his left hand after falling at home. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reports the injury occurred when the guard slipped in the shower. He underwent successful surgical fixation of a left metacarpal fracture Friday morning at New England Baptist Hospital, which will likely keep the guard out 6-8 weeks.

Twitter erupted with people connected to the medical world or drawing on their personal circumstances, claiming a left metacarpal fracture is a closed fist injury, or a “boxer’s fracture”. If that’s indeed the case, when was the last time you slipped – anywhere, never mind in the shower – and tried to break your fall with a fist? It’s a seemingly unnatural movement.

Nevertheless, we’re almost forced to give Rondo the benefit of the doubt here, and not simply because he’s considered a germaphobe who takes up to five showers per day.

Many have poked fun, urging Rondo to start bathing. Others have balked at the origin of this injury and wonder both what incident it is covering up (can't wait until TMZ leaks THIS video!) and why the news was released early on a Friday evening, traditionally the time of day press releases hope to disappear.

When team president Danny Ainge, coach Brad Stevens, and Rondo meet reporters on Monday at Media Day, we’ll hear more. Whether or not we’ll learn more remains in doubt.

Naturally, this is not good news for Rondo. As our Brian Robb pointed out, Rondo will likely miss between 10-15 games, and that’s if his expected timetable for recovery is accurate.

Last year, Rondo’s recuperation from the knee surgery he suffered midway through the 2012-13 campaign was a slow process that limited his minutes and prevented him from playing on back-to-back nights. Still, he averaged 11.7 points, 9.8 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game. Many – Grousbeck and Ainge at the top of the list – recently predicted the guard would not only bounce back this season, but have a career-year. Now, he could miss a quarter of his walk-year right from the get-go.

There are positives, though, to consider here for the Celtics.

For starters, this setback for Rondo presents his team with yet another opportunity to imagine life without its star player without actually losing him. Stevens will get a very close look at how No. 6 overall pick and famed defensive stalwart Marcus Smart runs this squad in a starting role in his natural position, rather than serving as the first “combo-guard” off the bench until someone gets hurt or dealt.

Second, Rondo is righthanded. The passing-wizard can obviously handle the rock with either hand, but he’s dominant with his right and also shoots with that hand. The injury to his left hand may limit his cross-over mobility and stifle some of his creativity, but it should not terribly alter his shot – a shot that isn’t all that great to begin with. Rondo shoots a career 47.5 percent from the field, but was held to just 40.3 percent last season. For what it’s worth, his perimeter game did improve to a career-best 28.9 percent (minimum 50 attempts) from behind the arc in 2013-14.

Third, we can’t ignore the affect this will likely have on the standings. Whether or not you like Rondo as a person or player, the Celtics are a worse team without their elite-level talent when he’s at the top of his game. Less Rondo probably means more losses which, as we know, will lead to another chorus of, “Tank! Tank!” on the way to a season featuring 20-some wins and a return to the lottery.

And, maybe most important, this could save the Celts money in the long-run. Provided Grousbeck and Ainge are true to their word and genuinely want to lock Rondo up for the foreseeable future, a second injury will limit his games (he’s already missed 95 over the last two years), potentially hamper his quality of play for the short-term, and shrink the number of suitors interested in his services. As Ainge has acknowledged, there aren’t many teams in the NBA looking for new point guards as it stands, and that was with a perceived healthy Rondo. Which ones would now entertain paying top-dollar for one? Rondo might be basically forced into a lesser contract to stay, keeping his hopes of recruiting a fellow All-Star alive.

For days, we’ve heard nothing but claims of Rondo’s supreme health and what the organization hopes is a mutual desire to be part of Boston’s long-term turnaround. On the brink of training camp and preseason play, the narrative has at the least been altered.

In time, hopefully we’ll find out exactly how the 28-year old landed on the shelf again because, right now, the story is harder to believe than holding onto a bar of soap in the shower.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman and email me here.

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