|Posted on March 7, 2013 at 6:00 AM|
I've dwelled a lot on the negative implications of the current Celtics win streak for Rondo. Even though it's true that the Celtics were in an upswing before Rondo went down, which wasn't, however, reflected in their record, it seemed clear that they instantly became a different, and much better, team without Rondo. Recently, though, a fairly compelling argument has been made that reflects better on Rondo. The claim is that, over the past five years, the Celtics always knew how good they could be, that they could beat anyone. They played down to teams because, on some level, they felt that they had nothing to prove. The moment Rondo went down, that changed for the first time in five years. With Rondo, they knew that they could beat anyone. Without Rondo, they might have believed it, but they didn't know it.
KG and Doc may have hinted at this. KG said that while Rondo was there, he did all the cooking, and the rest of the team got used to that. Now they all had to cook. Doc mentioned that they played without urgency, until Rondo went down. With Rondo gone, everyone else on the team knew that they faced a stark choice; it was time to either pack it in, or step up. Incredibly, thanks mostly, I would argue, to the leadership of Doc, KG, PP and Bradley, they stepped up en masse. The transformation of Wilcox could be seen as a kind of microcosm. Faced with the prospect of being traded away from a team he had come to appreciate, Wilcox faced a stark reaility. It was time to play all out, to play his best ball. Almost overnight he became the player we expected this summer. Everyone stepped up that way, because of the leadership, because of the stark situation, and because they saw opportunity. With the team's best player and dominant ballhandler gone, everyone else saw a chance to play a bigger role.
I think there is quite a bit of truth to all this. This team has had a gut level realization that they have to show, on the court, how good they are. It's like 2008 all over again. They aren't defending an already gold-plated legend. They are building it.
None of that changes what I see as the fact that every game they win is another nail in the coffin of Rondo's Celtics career. An ESPN article piece today pointed out that Chicago didn't become a different team without Rose, so there is no controversey about Rose coming back.
I don't think that's true about this Celtics team. I mean, in a way it's true. The team we are seeing is, basically, the team we expected to see when the team was put together by Danny this summer. But this team specificially found itself, found its identity, upon Rondo's departure. In fact, I'd say that this team was unable to build it's identity around Rondo, but succeeded in building it around Bradley. How does Rondo come back into such a picture?
'Knowledgeable' fans at Celtics Blog seem to be calling for Rondo to be traded. If he returns, they seem to think that he should return in a much reduced role, playing largely off the ball at times, no longer controlling and dominating the ball. I think the most logical idea is that Rondo should be traded. Unless this team falls apart, something which appears impossible right now, they will make a lot of noise in the playoffs. I think they can win a championship. The most important thing Bradley seems to have is incredible willpower. He seems to have the 'killer instinct' that even KG doesn't seem to have. This could drive the Cs to a championship, barring further injuries. Meanwhile, Rondo's potential as trade material may be damaged by his injury, but he still presumably can bring a lot, because he still may have the potential to be a dominant player. Just not with the Celtics. Fans are right that he surely cannot come back unless it's in a much reduced role. Would he even be willing to try that?
There is an argument to be made that Rondo might love a reduced role. As much as Rondo seemed to want to be the leader on the court, and even seemed to demand the role, he never seemed comfortable with the role. Several times he commented that he never asked to be the leader, didn't see himself as the leader, etc.. As fans, we can't help but project onto players what we think they can be, and remember, coaches and gms are fans too. Doc and Danny saw so much potential in Rondo. So did Magic, and Cousy, and Bill Walton. I saw someone who at times was the best player I ever saw. A lot of fans may have seen something like that. We so wanted Rondo to be great. KG saw it too, and wanted Rondo to be great, or so it seemed. And Rondo did try to be great. Maybe he was trying too hard to please other people, to meet their expectations, and hopes. Maybe he distorted his game in an all-out attempt to be what others wanted him to be.
And then came the howling storms of hate. That must have been so hard on Rondo. Here he was, trying to be the great player that people said they wanted him to be, and the more he did, the more the hate came, led by that 'dean' of basketball writers/commentators, Bob Ryan. For shame, Bob Ryan. It seems that you helped rip a kid's heart out, a kid busting with talent. You hurt basketball, it seems to me, and you hurt him, and you damaged your own reputation.
I still think that Rondo is, potentially, a great player. I've mentioned before that, if I were Danny, I'd have a long conversation with Rondo, maybe even a retreat. The first thing I'd want to know is how Rondo sees himself as a player. I wouldn't accept glib answers and put-offs. Sometimes it just takes being together with someone for a while to get them to open up. If I were Danny, I'd be betting the future of my team on finding out who Rajon Rondo really is, as a person, and as a basketball player. Is Rondo the selfish jerk of Hater legend? Or is he the embodiment of TEAM, as suggested by the Good Rondo legend? Is he the guy whose mind is constantly boiling over with basketball ideas that we hear about? Or is he a one-trick pony, obsessed with the idea that being an NBA pg can be just like being a football qb? Does Rondo has a powerful will, which he is able to impose on the game of basketball, especially under the bright lights, in the heat of the most intense moments? Or does Rondo shrink when the chips are down? There are so many questions like these that need answers, real answers, but in a way, the most important question is the most simple: are you a great player, Rajon Rondo, or are you a role player? Are you here to change the game of basketball? Or do you really just like the shoes?
There's no shame in not wanting to be great. Sometimes, the greatest greatness is just being yourself, isn't it? What jewel shines brighter than a person just being themselves? Isn't that the most beautiful thing there is?
If I, as Danny Ainge, decided to build my future around Rondo, regardless of how this season turns out, I'd require a commitment from him as well, something that would take a tangible form, for starters. For this Celtics team, the time to put up or shut up came when Rondo went down. For Rondo, it will come when he returns, but the process begins now. The difficulties of life are the flames that challenge us, form us, test us, define us, reveal us. Rondo's career is in a time of difficulty now, on a number of levels: I think no one can deny that fact. How will Rondo emerge, and when? Perhaps not even Rondo can fully answer that question.
But - and I know I'm a broken record - it would speak volumes if Rondo would spend less time basking in Red Bull glory over the summer, and more time working on his game, talking to Doc, working out with Bradley, etc., etc.. There is a time for the trappings of fame, but there is also a time to tend to your craft.