|Posted by paul on February 9, 2013 at 8:45 AM|
Rajon Rondo has become my favorite Celtic ever. In a way, that's quite a shift for me, because for a long time my favorite Celtic was the ultimate lunch pail Celtic, now the all-time under-appreciated Celtic (led the team to two of it's 17 championships!), Dave Cowens. Rondo, by contrast with Cowens, is possibly the flashiest Celtic ever, and can sometimes be so unfocused and unmotivated that he reminds me of Sydney Wicks and Curtis Rowe, anti-heros of possibly the Celtics' all-time worst team. But I believe that Rondo has a transcendent level of talent, and a deep passion for the game.
It's painfully obvious now, though, that over the past summer, Rondo became more interested in the Star Maker Machinery than in basketball. He thought more about Red Bull, about touring the world and about GQ magazine, then he did about what kind of offense he was going to run with the influx of new players to the Celtics, and about how to upgrade his own defensive play. From the first pre-season game onwards, we could see that the the 2012-2013 Celtics team was going to be a team in disarray. Rondo wasn't the only one at fault. Doc too seemed to have no ideas for how to run the team, beyond shifting lineups, and 'small ball'. The new players seemed uninterested. They had claimed that they couldn't wait to play with the best point guard in the league, Rajon Rondo, that they were ready and eager to follow his lead. All that talk was quickly exposed as a sham, or so it seemed.
For a while the media held off attacking Rondo. Then came the loss where Doc allowed Rondo to stay in to get his ten assists. The media-hate floodgates began to open. Then came the Nets game, where Rondo was thrown out, and the double digits assist streak ended. That was the moment when the media went into full roar against Rondo. All the fury they have been storing up for years at the NBA's number one misfit came out in a hideous tidal wave of hate, a tidal wave that still doesn't seem to have crested. No one cared that the double-digit assist streak was a great achievement, that all great players have obsessed over stats at times, that Rondo was right to make a point about the team's toughness right when he did. It was as though a secret signal had been given. Attack!
The media feeding frenzy began.
It's my personal opinion that what happened this season had to do with far darker shenanigans than most have imagined. Most fans and media have been so happy to see the team playing as brilliantly as we imagined this summer, that they don't care how this came about, and if they think about Rondo at all, many seem absolutely delighted at his downfall. The only thing that delights most people more than the rise of a star is the downfall of a star, and the only thing better than that is the crashing and burning of a star. With this Celtics team, many fans and media are getting a twofer. The team is playing brilliantly AND they get to watch the fall of Rondo, and they get to hope that his fall will turn into a crash and burn scenario. Everyone is secretly, no doubt, waiting on the edges of their seats for that Britney Spears, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, delightfully public and humiliating total breakdown. They may get their wish, too.
I've said before that I think KG was the only person on this team that had Rondo's back, and so it was a very bad sign for Rondo when even KG began talking openly about what a great guard tandem Bradley and Lee were, even before Rondo's injury. Pierce, I think, has waffled a lot over Rondo. I feel sure that some part of him really likes the kid, but some part of him just can't give up the role of team leader. Pierce's waffling, imo, opened the door for discontent over Rondo to build up behind the scenes. Complaining from Rondo's teammats about not getting the ball enough became a crescendo. And I'm just paranoid enough - if you want to call it that - to think that it might be more than a coincidence that Terry - who we all knew would be a key guy this season - played miserably while Rondo was the starting pg, until Terry's protege Bradley became the starting pg, at which point Terry began to be the difference maker we thought he'd be all along. Call it coincidence. I call it shady. Very shady.
Folks, please don't be naive about team sports. If you've ever played on a playground, or even on a high school team, or whatever, I'm sure you know very well that, in some ways, it's all about cliques, and who gets on with who, and who sees an opportunity, etc.. It's about a lot of other things too, but that dark stuff is almost always there. Can anyone seriously doubt that Bradley and Lee saw Rondo struggling and smelled opportunity, smelled blood in the water? Well, I guess most don't see that aspect to things, but I do.
But even if all this dark stuff is true, and explains a lot of what happened this season, and also even if the lighter version of it hinted at by KG is true (where Rondo's teammates deserve more than a little blame for being lackadaisical while Rondo was 'leading' the team), it doesn't change the fact that Rondo's career has become possible roadkill along this team's path from awfulness to greatness. No one is going to care about Rondo's excuses, especially considering Rondo's own contributions to things going wrong. The basic profile of the story here is just too hard to miss. Rondo was given an almost unparalleled chance to lead a team crammed with talent, but instead of rising to the occasion, he struggled. Sometimes he played like the best player in the league, but other times, he turned into a ballstopper on offense, and a turnstile on defense, and the team alternated between crashing and rising, crashing and rising. In the end, Rondo was trying to win games almost by himself, and the outcome of that was surely almost inevitable: injury. Then, once Rondo was gone, the team went from bad to great virtually overnight. Of course, that version of the story misses an awful lot of important shading (for example, in a lot of ways, the team started playing better well before Rondo went down), but it's pretty hard to put a Rondo-happy face on.
So it's doubly tragic to hear delusional comments from Rondo's agent...
It sounds like Rondo's main advisor has no clue as to the magnitude of what happened this season to his client's career. He tries to talk down the success of the Celtics without Rondo, as if he doesn't get it that that horse has long since left the stable, the farm, the county and is headed to the Big City. The Celtics are playing amazing ball without Rondo, humming like an incredibly powerful sports car. They may not sustain this, but please, let's not publicly place bets on their failure, Duffy. That is shameful, and it's likely to end up being very humiliating. Secondly, Duffy takes the tack that Rondo is watching the team, taking notes, and learning how to run the team better upon his return. Duffy, how is Rondo going to run a team that has long since left him behind? How is he going to 'utilize' players in an offense that is long gone from his control, that will probably never return to his control? Duffy, do you seriously not get it that the days of Rondo imperiously ordering his teammates around are over? Rondo is going to have to figure out a new bag. Modeling his pg play on the role of the quarterback in football was an interesting, and even effective approach for a while, but Rondo's going to have to at least modify that approach. He needs to play more basketball and less football. Fooball is a game of stops and starts. Basketball is a game of continuous action. Football is a game of control and execution. Basketball is a game of individuality and creativity. Rondo can be great again. But he's got to be a great BASKETBALL player.
And Rondo's got to get back to basics. How many times can people say it? Even Rondo's biggest fans have been trying for months to communicate to him that he needs to be tougher on defense and more aggressive on offense. Some of the biggest names IN THE HISTORY OF THE GAME have been all but publically pleading with Rondo to attend to the basics, the fundamentals. Play tough D. Be consistent. Push the ball on offense and challenge the opposing defense. It's been so crazy-making, as a Rondo fan, to watch Rondo ignore all this. Can you imagine how Magic Johnson feels, watching a player he clearly loves to death continue to screw up basic aspects of the game? I've pointed out before that I think Bill Walton's public comment about what Rondo needed to do to lead a team to a championship was intended as an intervention. Yes, a public intervention. I think it was a last ditch attempt to get Rondo to wake the F up. I'll bet that Ainge put him up to it.
As KG pointed out last year, Rondo's greatest asset, his stubbornness, is also his downfall. This season, it may have killed his career. If you are going to be stubborn, you have to try to be stubborn about the right things. Being fanatically stubborn about the wrong things ... well ... almost nothing is more devastating. In the end, that has to be the lesson of what happened to the Celtics and Rondo this year. It fascinates me and appalls me that so many basketball media and 'fans' don't get the tragedy that unfolded this year. If you can't appreciate Rondo's talent with your own eyes, then at least recognize the significance of the unheard-of cheering section that Rondo has. There's no point of running down the list of names of people who love Rondo. It's pretty much the same as a list of Celtics and NBA legends. Rajon Rondo inspires people, and by the same token, he breaks their hearts.
And if you, Bill Duffy, can't see that your client is at a career crossroads, on the verge of historic greatness, but just as much on the verge of the career trash heap, then you are part of his problem. A human being's life is at stake here, Bill. If you continue to enable Rondo's wrongheaded stubbornness, you are doing him no favors. You are also doing basketball itself no favors. At his best, Rondo is the best player I have ever seen. At his worst, he has me puking into my bowl of nachos. Over the next six months, Rondo has to decide who he truly is as a basketball player, what he cares about most as a basketball player, and what he wants to achieve, not just in terms of championships and such, not just in terms of personal achievements and money, but also in terms of his legacy for the game. In the end, the legacy Rondo wants to give the game itself will define him. The months ahead are sure to be tough for Rondo, and when he comes back, it will almost certainly be like starting his career over again. Look at Allen Iverson. Now that he has a reputation as a team-killer, no one cares about his history of great personal achievements.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO GIVE THE GAME, RAJON?
In the end, you alone will have to answer that question, first to yourself, and then on the basketball court.