|Posted by paul on January 5, 2012 at 11:05 AM|
I often find myself thinking back to what Rondo apparently told Steve Bulpett, in preseason: that he 'never asked for this', meaning, a leadership role on the Celtics. At the time, I found this claim a little bit odd, and I suspect a lot of other Celtic fans did too. After all, I don't recall ever seeing a point guard with an attitude more imperious than Rondo! In fact, I don't recall any young point guard since Magic Johnson who demanded, and got, such a controlling role in his team's offense. Even playing in an allstar game, Rondo makes no bones about it that he is running the offense. Honestly, does he really think he is going to get by with saying 'I never asked for this'? I've never seen a player more determined to lead!
The Rondo Story has been a little like a kid walking into some sports car dealership and demanding the keys to the best car there, only, instead of pitching him out on his ear, the salesperson actually hands him the keys to a Mazerati, or Lambroghini, or whatever is best, because he can tell that this kid and this car belong together. It's like Rondo said to Doc, one bright day early in the 2008 season, "I see you have a top quality sports car there, Doc; give it to me" and instead of telling The Kid off, Doc handed him the keys, and The Kid has been driving it ever since. On a regular basis, The Kid wins races with Doc's car, but all too often, he cracks it up while driving to the grocery store, or he leaves it somewhere, forgetting where he parked. Doc thinks he must have been crazy giving his car keys to The Kid, and he constantly thinks about taking them back, but when The Kid is good, he is SO good...
There is a kind of contradiction between the Rondo that we see demanding the ball with no qualms whatsoever - and he'll have it right now, by the way! - after every rebound,turnover and inbounds, so he can run the offense, and the Rondo who claims he never wanted to lead. I suspect that it reflects an inner contradiction that is found suprisingly often in people who publicly seem bold: they are often surprisingly shy, if not insecure. Rondo has also said, jokingly of course, that if he were to be a superhero, he'd want to be the Invisible Man. Of course, it's hard to square this notion of invisibility with the Rondo of Derring Do that we so often see on the basketball court, but it's not hard to square it with his often diffident personality.
On a basketball level, as I see it, this apparent conflict in Rondo becomes a problem for the Celtics when the guy who demands to run the offense succumbs to the guy who wants to be invisible. Then we get passive Rondo, who seems all too aware that he is playing with HOFers, deferring to them in the wrong ways. I think fans are becoming more and more keenly aware of the difference between passive Rondo and aggressive Rondo. Passive Rondo finds ways to hide behind the dynamics of the game. Aggressive Rondo rides and directs the dynamics of the game. Perhaps it's like the difference between a surfer, floating on his board, riding the waves and hiding in them, and a surfer who actively seeks out the seams and crests and tunnels, the places where the water becomes really dynamic, where he can do the most amazing things (but for that comparison to really work, you have to imagine that the more daring surfer also creates waves and directs waves). Sometimes Rondo seems to hide on the court, hiding behind the other players, behind what they are doing. Other times, he almost seems to have everybody on a string, pushing buttons with every move, effortless directing not only his team, but the other team too.
Of course, no one can play at peak level all the time. But I thought that the consequence of the difference between the two Rondos was especially apparent last night. He didn't play terrible in the first half. In fact, he made some nice plays, and some timely ones. But his play seemed relatively unaggressive, and this was reflected in him taking relatively few field goal and free throw attempts. If it hadn't been for Pierce, the Cs' offense would have been completely stagnant in the first half. In the second half, to his credit, Rondo seemed to have realized his mistake, and he came out playing very aggressively. He was pushing the pace, snapping assists left and right, and attacking the basket enough to pick up some points and some free throw attempts. Suddenly Pierce's continued fine play became murderous, Bass became a buzz saw, and the Celtics blew the Nets off the court. We've seen this again and again. When Rondo takes the reins of the offense with a real will and determination, the Celtics offense becomes a powerful machine.
I'd even say that the Celtics offense, when it is really going, is the most beautiful - and I think the most effective - offense I've ever seen. This is the aspect of the Celtics' game that gets better and better and better each year in the Big Three era, in my opinion. Imagine a graph that shows the Big Three declining physically from year to year; you could add to that graph another line, one that shows how the power that comes from the cohesion of the Big Three, from the way the Big Three know each other and work together, rising and rising. What the Big Three can do as a unit grows and grows with each year, but it's all dependent on the facilitator - whom we more and more need to be The Aggressor - Rondo. And just imagine, with Bass playing so well, the Big Three, which became the Big Four, is starting to look like the Big Five!
In my view, we need Rondo to truly embrace the centrality of his role to the team. He doesn't need to be imperial; I was just joking about that, really. But he needs to take full responsibility for the increasingly blatantly obvious reality that the cliche is true: THIS TEAM GOES AS HE GOES. That's not to say that Pierce isn't magnificent and crucial; that Garnett isn't still the Mentor and emotional leader; that Allen doesn't remain the calming force and the indispensable weapon. What it's saying is that Rondo is the guy who weaves all this into a truly potent basketball force.
And isn't it amazing to see how Rondo's early season scoring bursts have changed the way defenses react to him? Whenever he moves, he draws defenders. This in turn massively increases his ability to manipulate the defense and to make plays, but to keep it going, he has to keep at least trying to score. He isn't always going to shoot well. Sometimes he'll get blocked in the lane. A scorer has to be a little bit heartless about scoring, determined to keep trying even when the shots aren't falling. Rondo needs to have a little bit of that mentality. Maybe that is part of what makes it hard for him; in some ways, the role of facilitator and the role of scorer can seem opposed. But all Rondo has to do is look at Pierce to see that they can work synergetically too.
We face a big challenge tomorrow night, when the Powerful Pacers come to town. Please come aggressive, Rondo! Please be Take Charge Rondo! We need you to drive that Mazerati like it's the Indy 500 and you can smell the goat's milk!
The 'bottom line', Rondo, is that if you are the one who demands to run the offense, you are the one who will, rightly, be held responsible when the audience stalls out.