- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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There's no masking it -- Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are the front-runners for team MVP.When we asked our panel of summer experts who would emerge as the most valuable player on the Celtics' roster for the 2012-13 season, we knew the answers wouldn't be that diverse. We expected Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo to dominate the poll, and maybe someone would make a case for captain Paul Pierce and his sneaky-quiet all-around contributions.
We're breaking up the summer doldrums by trying to predict exactly how the 2012-13 season will play out for the Boston Celtics.
What we got was a Rondo lovefest. The 26-year-old point guard didn't just win the vote, he found his name on every ballot (most with little hearts around it).
So in the interest of balance, allow us to make the case for Kevin Garnett, who may just be the most indispensable player on the Celtics' roster.
Consider this: Garnett was certainly the MVS (most valuable signing) of the offseason. The Celtics really didn't have a desirable backup plan if Garnett didn't ink a modest extension, though it likely would have forced the team to consider blowing up the roster instead of making another run at a title.
Make no mistake, this is Rondo's team (coach Doc Rivers has gone out of his way to confirm as much) and we all know that much of Boston's overall success is dictated by how well he plays. But try this exercise: Replace Garnett with a league-average power forward/center and envision how the Celtics' season would play out.
Imagine the decline on the defensive end. Think about the lack of a go-to option whenever Garnett decides to dominate on the offensive end the way he did at times during the postseason. Envision the lack of curse words being spewed on the floor.
Now do the same with Rondo. Listen, the point here isn't to diminish what Rondo brings to the team. We could just as easily make the case for him as MVP. But given the way that Garnett played in the second half of last season and into the playoffs, it's very easy to suggest he was the most valuable player on the Boston roster and almost certainly the most difficult to replace.
If the Celtics want to make another postseason surge, they need Garnett to be the type of player he was last season. They need him to be their MVP.
Read on for our Rondo-dominated panel predictions.
Greg Payne, ESPN Boston (Rajon Rondo)
I'm not sure Rajon Rondo can qualify for a "breakout" year, given that he's already a three-time All-Star and led the NBA in assists last season, but whatever the equivalent is for him at this stage of his career is what we're going to get. It's Rondo's team and everyone knows it, and with a younger core around him, we'll see similar -- if not better -- assist numbers compared to last year, career-high numbers in scoring, a ridiculous amount of inspired play in transition, and some sort of All-NBA team selection. In many ways, this is the first season in the last five where Rondo will be let off his leash, so to speak. In seasons past, he couldn't lead a fast break because there was no one capable of running with him in the open court. But this season? With the likes of Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, and Chris Wilcox around him, Rondo won't have to worry so much about being a productive half-court player, because he'll have so many more opportunities to shine in the open court. Look for a more concerted effort to score more, too, as the loss of Ray Allen will still place more of an emphasis on Rondo to put the ball in the bucket. I'll go ahead and predict we'll see averages of 15 points, 12 assists, five rebounds, 2.5 steals, and just over three turnovers per game for Boston's dynamic point guard.
Hayes Davenport, CelticsHub (Rajon Rondo)
If Rajon Rondo doesn't end the season as team MVP, something went horribly wrong. Prior to this coming season, the title probably belonged to Kevin Garnett: he's been more essential to the defense than Rondo has to the offense, and the defense has been more essential to their winning games. But Rondo's working with a lot of new pieces next year, and their success depends on how effectively he incorporates them into his system (recall that Avery Bradley was totally irrelevant offensively until Rondo started seeking him out on cuts). Rondo's also the one truly irreplaceable player on the team: even though the roster is suddenly spilling over with guards, Rondo is still the only pure point, and most of his teammates have now grown accustomed to being spoonfed shot opportunities rather than creating for themselves. KG could easily lead the league's best D next season, with Ray getting beat off the dribble in Miami and Chicago losing a step. But Rondo will still be most valuable: he's the one with the ball, and he'll have to deal with more teammates than ever asking for it.
Jay King, Celtics Town (Rajon Rondo)
Eeny meeny miny moe, catch a Garnett by Ron-do? There are only two reasonable choices for Boston's team MVP (sorry, Mr. Pierce) and you can probably guess them from my lame attempt to turn a children's rhyme into a Celtics pun. Rajon Rondo continued to take steps toward taking over the Celtics last season. Kevin Garnett somehow spun around an approaching Father Time, told him to sprint in the opposite direction, and then put together a MVP-caliber postseason (non-LeBron and Durant division). The Celtics should hope Garnett is the team's MVP next season -- that would mean he's still an ageless beast destroying opponents on both ends. The smart money, though, is on Rondo. He has a habit of returning each season better than he was the last.
Jon Duke, CSL (Rajon Rondo)
It's Rajon Rondo's team. KG might be the Celtics' heart and soul, but Rondo is the brain and the legs. Rondo will be called upon to get more out of Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, and Jared Sullinger than they would produce in any other NBA city, just as Rondo did last year with Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, and Avery Bradley. Defensively this team will be impossible for other teams to deal with, but offensively their struggles can only be fixed with Rajon Rondo at the controls. Now with only one wing player looking to be the trailer on the break for an open 3, Rondo should have a squad more eager to attack in the open court and better suited to his strengths. The arrival of Jason Terry should also allow Rondo to rest more often as Terry might be the team's first legitimate backup point guard since Rondo arrived 6 years ago. The skeptics will continue to target Rondo's shooting, but as last year's playoff run showed, Rondo isn't a poor shooter, he's inconsistent and struggles when he lacks confidence in his shot. Coupling more confiding shooting with a renewed desire to attack the basket and get to the free-throw line, Rondo is on pace to become a real terror for opponents during the 2012-13 season.
Your turn: Who do you think will emerge as the Celtics’ team MVP for the 2012-13 season? Sound off in the comments.