|Posted by paul on February 5, 2013 at 6:30 AM|
Shawn wrote a great piece on leadership today. It's a topic I've been thinking about a lot. With Rondo this season, we've had a great case study in the struggles, and near-total failure, of a would-be leader.
Of course, that's a very negative way to look at what happened this past half-season. Another way to look at it, and hopefully a more accurate way, is that Rondo is halfway to being a great leader. Maybe he didn't fully succeed, but he didn't completely fail either, and while he did lead the team to a bad record, maybe the efforts he made to lead are paying off in his absence. For example, Rondo helped bring Lee to this team, and when Lee was struggling, Rondo apparently began a pre-game ritual of one-on-one games with Lee that appears to have been a way to try forge a bond and keep Lee involved. Perhaps all that contributed to Lee's success at stepping into Rondo's shoes, after Rondo's ACL.
As I've noticed several times recently, the Haters are having an absolute orgy these days. Rondo going down and the team responding with a win streak is their dream come true. Unless this team stumbles, I suspect the crescendo of Hate will continue to rise, to an unabated roar. Sadly, human beings long for someone to hate. Sometimes they want that more than they want someone to succeed. I have to admit, I myself am having my struggles with my feelings about the current Celtics team. I hope they continue to do well, and I applaud their excellent play, but I don't like them. I know that they are doing some of the things that Rondo refused to do, and I hope Rondo is paying attention to them and taking notes.
Leadership is not the same as controlling everything. That's one thing to learn from the way the team is playing, and from some of the player's comments since Rondo went down. Look at Isiah Thomas. As great a player as Thomas was, clearly the best on his team by far (I'd say), and one of the greatest of all time, he often seemed almost invisible on his team, relative to other players; he was always there, facilitating, but he didn't control the ball constantly, he picked his spots to assert himself. I'm not saying that Rondo needs to play like Thomas. I think he will always be far more controlling than most point guards. He has to find his own approach. But a lighter hand on the wheel might help him and his teammates in the future.
There is a kind of balance to be found amongst all the players, and it's not always easy to find. The history of the NBA is full of stories of teams that might have been championship teams, if they had been able to find a better balance amongst the assembled talents. If a proper balance wasn't found on the Celtics this year, until after Rondo was hurt, it wasn't necessarily all Rondo's fault. Leaders catch all the blame, and sometimes they deserve it, but not always. Multiple players on this year's team, both before Rondo went down and (especially) after, have suggested that what they needed to be successful was to have the ball more. I find it astounding that no one has challenged this. It comes darn close to them saying that they couldn't contribute to the team until they got the ball, a crazily selfish notion that they should have the ball instead of Rondo. And I would argue that it correlates with what we saw the first half of this season. Yes, on one hand, Rondo not only controlled the ball too much, but didn't do enough with it when he had it. He was too passive for someone holding the ball that much. His favorite notion, that he is like a football QB, seemed to have too strong a grip on his mind. At times he forgot that basketball and football are two different games, and in some ways, they are opposite games. But it also seemed clear, during the first half of this season, that Rondo's teammates were making little effort to make plays, or to move without the ball so as to give Rondo good options, to execute crisply and effectively, or to even run on the break. It's fairly unconscionable, in my view, that so many folks seem to be giving Rondo's teammates a total pass for not making more of an effort to work with him and to follow his lead. At times it was like they were not even there.
Remember, those guys came here knowing very well that this was a team where Rondo controlled the ball. This was not a surprise sprung on them. And to a man, as I recall, they declared emphatically and even passionately that they weren't just ok with that; that they loved it. That they couldn't wait to play with Rondo. So for them to explain that the reason they played badly before Rondo was hurt was that Rondo was controlling the ball too much, and they wanted to have the ball more, is really, well, perverse. It's almost like they felt like they could just wait for Rondo to be gone and then they'd play the way they always wanted to play. It seems like they felt that Rondo was in their way. Yet they came here knowing he was here, knowing how he played.
Peter May - a noted Hater, I believe - had this to say about Rondo's (mis)leadership yesterday:
go back to a week ago Sunday. The Heat were in town, with old friend Ray Allen making his first Boston appearance since his defection to the Voldemorts of the NBA. The Celtics had lost six straight. Jeff Green was living up to his nickname (Mr. October). Jason Terry looked more like a barnstorming biplane than a jet. Courtney Lee looked utterly lost.
... the Celtics' record was 20-23, including an 18-20 mark in the games Rondo played. ...
This was supposed to be Rondo's breakout season, not only in terms of stats and achievements, but also in terms of leadership and overall command. He was anointed the team leader in October. He was given an extra-long leash by coach Doc Rivers. His ultra-strong personality would now be even more of a factor on and off the court.
The Celtics were quite willing to live with that. Rondo was an All-Star, a difference-maker, a unique talent. But in the 38 games that Rondo played, what did the Celtics get? They got Rondo chasing a silly assists mark over the first 15 games, a chase that ended with his Humphries altercation. They got a Rondo who, according to one scout interviewed by the estimable Marc Stein, was "playing for steals and assists sometimes instead of making the winning play or the easier play or defending his guy like he should."
They got 20 losses in those 38 games. That's the statistic to focus on. The Celtics were a sub-.500 team. Now they're above water again at 24-23, winners of four straight, and it is impossible not to notice what is going on. The Celtics have become the team they were supposed to be.
This has become the preferred angle of attack on Rondo. The overt claim is that Rondo cares only about his statistics. The covert claim is that everything is always Rondo's fault, that none of the players around Rondo bear any responsibility for making things work. Think about it: if this team was meant to be built around Rondo, how can the way they are playing now be "the team they were supposed to be"? I admit, I've used the phrase too, but always recognizing that the Cs were supposed to be playing with this kind of passion and unselfishness WITH Rondo. They didn't. To make that all Rondo's fault, the Haters have to construct a picture of Rondo that is flat out absurd, asserting - now as a given, a known thing - that all he cares about is his statistics. No one ever says anything more reasonable, such as that a fault Rondo has is that he cares too much about his personal statistics, because that would suggest that Rondo, like most people, has faults, which would also imply that he has virtues that have the potential to overcome his faults. If we put KG under a microscope, do we see any faults? Pierce? Lee? Just to entertain the thought is to laugh, right? Those guys are riddled with faults. Sure, KG is our most dependable player, but he wilts under pressure, and he hates to bang with the Big Guys in the middle, where we really need him the most. Pierce? Just replay the last three losses where Rondo had triple doubles, or near triple doubles, but couldn't lead us to wins because of the heinous plays Pierce made. EVERYONE HAS FAULTS.
I think that Rondo has long since proven that he is a team player. This business about how he sacrifices the team for his own stats has been built up into a monster. There's truth to it, but it doesn't define him as a player. The bottom line is that this kid loves his team and loves to pass the ball. For folks to work so hard to deny that is fairly sick, if you ask me. If you ask me, the crazy hate frenzy that built up around Rondo's assist streak is part of what destroyed Rondo this season. The constant ripping of Rondo in the media seemed to confuse him on one hand, while hurting his standing with the team on the other. I think a lot of the folks in the media don't like Rondo because he doesn't cater to them, and they want to prove their power to make or break a player. If they were really honest, they'd admit that what they really want is for Rondo to acknowledge their supposed importance. Meanwhile, I think a lot of folks in the fandom just don't like someone who is eccentric, who marches to his own drummer. The thing they like about sports is the conformity that sports often enables, or even demands.
Rondo did a lot of things right this season. According to reports, he worked hard to bring in new players and to make them comfortable, and to foster team spirit. Like KG, he spent extra time working with the new players, such as Sullinger and Lee. He made a consistent effort to be more available and forthcoming to the media. He tried repeatedly to step up when the team was struggling. Until the ridiculous and mean-spirited controversey about his assist streak broke out, Rondo was playing some of the most consistent ball of his career. Those who claim that all Rondo cares about are triple doubles, etc., might have to explain why Rondo missed several triple doubles this season by only one rebound. He couldn't find a way to snag one more rebound?
Rondo's failures this season were glaring, though. He spent so much time this summer glory-dancing around the world with Red Bull that he didn't really seem focused on the season, and when the games came, this showed right away. He and Doc didn't seem to have a plan for how to rebuild the offense with all the new talent in mind. Nor did there seem to be a plan for the defense, despite the fact that we were weaker up front than ever before. On both offense and defense, Rondo seemed unable to adjust to the fact that things had changed. Personnel had drastically changed. He acknowledged this verbally, but he continued to play defense as if he could just continue to do his ball-hawking dance with rotating Bigs like Perkins, and the younger KG. On offense, Rondo continued to slow the ball down and wait for set plays to develope, as if Ray Allen was still curling around multiple screens.
Basically, neither Rondo nor Doc seemed to adjust to the reality of a changed team, and the new players, for their part, seemed unwilling to adapt.
So Rondo has a lot to think about, if he wants to become a true leader. Maybe just hustling more and playing tougher man-to-man defense would have provided the kind of inspiration and leadership-by-example that would have made a huge difference to his teammates. Maybe telling Red Bull that he needs to spend more time on basketball over the summer would have made a difference. Maybe the media not ganging up on him, and his teammates being more willing to work with the guy they all acknowledged as their leader would have made a difference.
In the end, leadership is an art, and Rondo's future will surely be determined by how well he studies that art.
Terry had this to say today:
"(The new style of offense) is much more open, it's free-willing," Terry said following the Celtics 106-104 win over the Clippers on Sunday. "The defense can't sit on particular plays. This league is great with scouting and they get used to you, they kind of know your tendencies. But in this offense, it's very unpredictable. You don't know who's going to get a shot, but we know we're going to get a good one."
To me, this mostly sounds like "excuse me for stinking the joint up while Rondo was here, but everything's the way I want it now!" He knew when he signed on here that Rondo ran the offense.
Kudos to Redsarmy for (gently) calling Terry out:
Remember, folks, it wasn't long ago that Terry was praising Rondo to the skies, calling him the best pg in the game, loudly and repeatedly. Now he's pretty much hammering a dagger into Rondo's back. Nobody finds that a little weird?