An MRI taken on Sunday, January 27th, confirms that Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics has torn the ACL in his right knee, and will miss the rest of the season. This is a simply staggering blow to a team that was already fighting to hold onto the 8th and final playoff spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. Rondo has been the heart and soul of the Celtics, leading the league in assists while playing tremendous on-ball defense with his usual spectacular brand of aggression. The Celtics of years past were the Celtics of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, but this truly was Rondo’s team. Where do the Celtics go from here?

Who replaces Rondo?
The most obvious replacement for Rondo in the starting lineup is Avery Bradley, a combo guard who made a name for himself late in the 2012 season by also playing tremendous on-ball defense. Rondo was averaging 37+ minutes per game, however, so multiple players will be required to step up in his absence. Courtney Lee, a combo forward, will have his minutes upped as will Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa. The plain truth is that the sum of all these players will not make up for the loss of the passionate, fiery, and amazingly talented team leader that they have lost in Rajon Rondo.

Where do the Celtics go from here?
As currently constructed, the 2013 Boston Celtics, minus Rajon Rondo, do not look impressive. They lost Ray Allen to the Miami Heat in free agency this past offseason, and now are without their franchise point guard. The Big Three plus Rondo became just the Big Three, and is now reduced further. The Celtics managed a win against Miami on Sunday behind an impressive triple-double by Paul Pierce. At the midway point in the NBA season, they now stand at 21 wins and 23 losses. With an aging core of Garnett and Pierce, and veterans like Terry, Lee, and Barbosa being asked to step up, this does not have the look of a team set to contend for years on end. They weren’t winning this year with Rondo, and have the feel of a ship adrift without him. If the Celtics want to contend, their deck will have to be reshuffled.

“Blow it up”?
In the coming days and weeks, many will be calling for the Celtics to “blow it up” meaning trade their key pieces and begin to rebuild for the future. This is easier said than done, however. NBA teams don’t trade valuable assets like piles of draft picks and young developing players for aging superstars – there just isn’t enough long term value to justify such a move. On top of that, the most valuable parts the Celtics could trade are making $11 – 16 million each this year alone. The fact is, the Celtics won’t blow the team up because they wouldn’t get much of value back by doing so.

Rajon Rondo is one of the most electric players in the NBA, a true leader, and a joy to watch. Hopefully he can come back from surgery as good as new, and lead his team back to prominence in 2014. Get better, Rajon – we’ll see you next year.