Losers of six straight entering Sunday's nationally-televised tussle with the Heat, the Celtics were hoping a confidence-inspiring win over LeBron James and company might kickstart a second-half return to form for Doc Rivers' diappointing bunch. Instead, a season-ending knee injury to backcourt talisman Rajon Rondo will raise questions as to whether the eight-seeded Celtics can make the playoffs at all.
It's not the kind of news the Bucks would wish on even their bitterest rivals, but the reality is that it would clearly seem to help the Bucks and every other team battling for playoff positioning in the wide-open East. For Milwaukee, the impact is more indirect: the Bucks closed out their season series with Boston a month ago (Milwaukee winning three of four) and the seventh-seeded Bucks are already 3.5 games ahead of the Celtics in the standing. But there's no reason to think the Celtics couldn't have turned it around--not with their talent and experience.
Rondo's injury clearly deals a critical blow to the Celtics' relevance in the East, and it also presumably changes Danny Ainge's calculus as he faces critical decisions leading up to next month's trade deadline. Even before Rondo's injury, speculation was mounting that Ainge could opt to blow up the Celtics' veteran core at the trade deadline or in the summer. And while Ainge still has time to assess whether a Rondo-less squad has the ability to hang onto the final playoff spot in the weakened East, in many ways that's beside the point. This isn't a squad built to just make the playoffs--they're too old for that kind of thinking. With the trade value of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce likely to decline quickly going forward and Rondo's uncertain recovery period, there would seem to be a strong case for dealing the C's veterans now in order to expedite the rebuilding process. Will Ainge get an itchy trigger finger? We'll know in about three weeks.
Rondo's injury also means someone will be named to replace him on the East's all-star squad. Could it be Brandon Jennings? Logic would say he has a chance: Jennings has played well enough to at least put himself in the all-star conversation, and the fact that he plays Rondo's position obviously helps. But it will be up to David Stern to select Rondo's replacement, and there's good reason to believe the commissioner will opt for a member of the Brooklyn Nets to fill Rondo's spot.
Brooklyn big man Brook Lopez was widely considered the East's biggest snub when the reserves were announced on Thursday, and it's worth noting that Deron Williams' disappointing play hasn't prevented him from posting numbers comparable to Jennings' across the board. The irony is that Williams has gotten fairly little all-star buzz despite Brooklyn's improved play since Avery Johnson's departure (26-18, third in the East) and the fact that, well, he plays in New York. Goes to show that playing in a big market might only be helpful when you're not disappointing everyone.
My guess is that Lopez earns the nod, and a small chorus of Milwaukee hatred towards Stern follows. But honestly? Lopez is probably the more deserving player at the moment. That said, I hate that playing in Milwaukee probably hurts Jennings' chances of getting Stern's selection, and as a fan I'd love to see Jennings in the NBA's showcase event--heck, you don't have to be a Bucks fan to enjoy Jennings in an exhibition with the world's best players. It wouldn't make Jennings any cheaper to re-sign this summer, but sometimes we can still think like fans, right?