The Rajon Rondo apology tour will not be forthcoming.
He’s bickered with Doc incessantly, ran Jesus out of Beantown and just last week poured accelerants on the heated rivalry that is Boston vs. Miami with his "punk play" clothesline of Dwyane Wade. Yet, Rondo rejoices in the knowledge that the same stubborn, petulant attitude that at times seems to makes him so insufferable is the same demeanor that’s allowed him to beat the odds. It’s what’s taken him from being an NBA longshot to emerging as arguably the game’s best point guard.
“Like Bird, right?" a stone-faced Rondo quizzed ESPN regarding his somewhat sullen nature. "Danny [Ainge] told me Larry was the same way. KG always told me what separates the great ones is that there's a certain edge you have to maintain. I'm very critical of myself… and my standards are very, very high, for me and my teammates."
Rondo’s dogged aim at greatness seems to make all fair in his pursuit of it. After what seems an eternity of laboring in the luminous shadows of The Big Three, the hard-nosed, fast-rising vet now seems positioned as the Celt’s fearless new leader. It’s Rondo who now serves as an on-court extension of Rivers; it’s Rondo who the C’s now turn to as both their game-changer and stabilizer.
"You have to give him room”” Rivers told the Dan Patrick Show. “He’s grown as much as any player I’ve ever seen,” he later shared with ESPN. “You could not replace him, especially with our team.”
What a difference an all-star season and realistic visions of yet another NBA ring seem to make. Mere months ago, the Celts appeared to have reached the point of no return with the All-Star guard, aggressively trying to trade him and advancing horror stories of how his high-maintenance, diva like ways had simply become too much to bear.
Over the last six seasons, Paul Pierce has seemingly figured in his star point guard’s every turn. So much so, he’s convinced he understands the rationale behind his 360-like spin move thus far this young season.
“It’s called maturity,” he told ESPN “Two years ago I think they wanted him to be one thing but he was still learning. They were saying, “It’s Rondo’s team,’ but he wasn’t to the point he was that constant presence. They put him in a role he wasn’t ready for yet.”
But that was then and this is now. So wide and distant seems the terrain between those two time frames, that Rondo has even taken to embracing the Big Bro role Ray Allen once played to him. Third-year guard Avery Bradley swears by his convictions it was Rondo, and not any one of his far more grizzled veteran teammates, who regularly checked in on him and guided him through his rookie haze.
Seemingly reserved and restrained by nature, Rondo further stepped out of his comfort zone and embraced his newfound status as leader by emerging as the life of the party, and primary source of all team-bonding functions during the squad’s preseason trip to Turkey.
In Pierce’s mind, that’s as it should be. Now in his 15th season, he knows both he and Garnett’s NBA days are numbered. And with Allen already in South Beach, he concedes the time is now for Rondo to be viewed by all as the face of the franchise.
And speaking of Allen, what could have gone so dreadfully wrong where the principles in one of the Association’s most cohesive backcourts felt they could no longer hoop together? In Allen’s mind all the disharmony stems from a conversation the two had three years ago when both were rumored to be close to being dealt to Phoenix and Allen suggested Rondo soothe things over with management in an effort to thwart the move.
'”Hey, they’re supposedly trading us to Phoenix because you and Danny and Doc don’t get along,'" Allen recently recalled during a sit-down with the Miami Herald. “I guess he thought that I was… that I had something against him, or there were some issues.”
Rondo told ESPN the reports that the beef between the two disintegrated to the point where he deliberately sought to freeze out the NBA’s all-time leading shooter, “ridiculous.”
His near triple-double numbers in the Celts otherwise uneven 1-2 start speak to a certain level of contentment. And those are only the numbers. To fully gauge the total impact of the man rated as one of league’s ten highest IQ players, one needs to delve far beyond the initial numbers.
Over the last three full seasons, Rondo has ranked among the league's top five in steals and just last season etched his name in Celtics lore by matching Bird as the first player to net at least 30 and 15 in a single night. Keyon Dooling spent his last NBA season in Boston mentoring and playing alongside Rondo. Their time together left him with the indelible impression not only is Rondo one of the NBA’s most underappreciated stars but the entire sport’s world.
It’s all a far cry from the gifted, but unpolished, rookie the still fully unsold Celts brought to town nearly seven-years ago. In hedging their bets, management quickly paired their irascible new jack with ultimate pro Allen, hoping the perennial all-stars businesslike approach to excellence and preparation would rub off on the then 20-year-old upstart.
To say that Rondo was a work in progress back then would be akin to saying the seven-year pro has had to wait his turn in Beantown. Rajon Rondo has surely stood the test of time and now he and the C’s are better for it all.
In a preseason NBA.com survey of GMs only Boston rated as an Eastern Conference threat to the Heat’s expected reign and Rondo ranked among the league’s best in categories ranging from fastest with the ball, to best passer to toughest competitor.
Are there nights when the 26-year-old PG reverts back to some of his old moody ways? No doubt, such as when he threatened to sit out last year’s All-Star Game because he was angered he wasn’t initially chosen to play. Or months later when he snapped during the Eastern Conference quarterfinals and bumped a ref leading to ejection and Game 2 suspension.
But in the end, the good far outstrips the bad as it relates to Rajon Rondo the baller. Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett all know this. And with the fate of the Celts now clearly in his hands, soon so will a much larger segment of Hoops Nation.