|Posted by paul on August 6, 2012 at 1:35 AM|
What many may have suspected -- that Rondo's Rise was resented, and perhaps impeded, by some on the team -- seemed to be confirmed by the way Ray Allen left the Celtics this summer. A man who seemed certain to go down in Celtics history as the team's all-time greatest shooting guard relegated himself to footnote status in the team's history by leaving for arch-rival Miami, and he seemed to do it in a fit of pique over Rondo. Other reasons have been given, of course, for Allen's shocking departure, but they aren't convincing.
It's tempting to hope that veteran resistance to Rondo's Rise is over, now that Allen has taken his talons to South Beach, but I have thought for a long time that Pierce has been the bigger problem. At times last year, both Allen and Pierce seemed to resent it when Rondo played aggressively as a scorer; their play seemed to become listless at times when Rondo stepped into a bigger role. In the end, Rondo seemed to deal with this by almost eschewing any scoring. Over the last third of the season, Rondo pretty much focused on setting others up, and the team seemed to settle down and play better, and the Celtics steamed into the playoffs on a roll. It's easy to forget that a lot was sacrificed to make that happen.
Once we were in the playoffs, it was pretty hard to deny that Rondo had to step into a scoring role if we were to succeed, and he did. Rondo even scored 44 points in game two of the Heat series, a game the Celtics surely would have won had Wade not blatantly fouled Rondo on a key layup. Even more impressive, I think, was Rondo's scoring in the first half of Heat game six. That was the chance to close out the Heat at home that the Celtics blew because they came out flat, and because Lebron played one of the greatest games ever. In the first half, Rondo kept the Cs in the game by almost matching Lebron basket for basket at times, earning a respect tap from Le Ego.
One hoped that Rondo would come out with the same aggressive mentality in the second half of Heat game six, but instead he seemed hesitant, and the Celtics seemed determined to force their offense through Pierce, even though Pierce had been pretty much embarrassed by Lebron in the first half. It's understandable, and even admirable that Pierce apparently wanted to make up for his lousy first half, but how could this have made sense when Rondo had been on such a roll?
I think that Pierce wasn't willing to accept the fact that the main showdown was no longer Lebron vs. The Truth. Now the main showdown was between Lebron and Rondo. I don't think Pierce could swallow that, and his comments this summer suggest that he still isn't ready to embrace a Rondonian future. I appreciate the fact that Pierce recently defended Rondo against charges that Rondo drove Allen out of Boston, but his comments about reasons for optimism for next year pointedly seem to exclude Rondo. Think about that in context. Doc has made a huge point of it that this is now Rondo's team. Rondo even went to the summer league to coach the rookies. Doc called Rondo a basketball genius. He all but said that anybody on the Celtics who isn't into being led by Rondo should probably think about following Allen to other parts, pointedly relating this to Pierce and KG ... and KG seems pretty happy with Rondo as leader (as the Black Lion of Voltron) ...
Pierce has gone so far as to suggest that he may not return to the Celtics in two or three years, that he may 'try out' the free agent market. That's a pretty strong way of saying that he isn't necessarily into the whole Rondo-led Celtics thing, if you ask me.
I think Pierce has drawn a bit of a line in the sand. I think he has pretty much served notice that if Rondo wants the role of team leader, Rondo is going to have to take it. And maybe that's how things should be, but it suggests to me that the start of the season is likely to be rockier than we might have hoped. I think Rondo may have to dish out some more 40 point games, if he wants to establish himself as the team leader. More important though, than what Rondo does as a scorer, is what he does on the defensive end. Frankly, Rondo's man-on-man defense was embarrassing at times last year. As we know, a lot of Rondo's defensive game revolves around gambling and playing a kind of free-safety role, and he does all that brilliantly, but he needs to refocus on his primary defensive responsiblity for controlling and pressuring his man.
Last year, Rondo seemed to focus a lot of his attention on his offensive game, understandably, and the result was that he grew tremendously as a consistent all-around offensive threat. Now he needs to take a similar quantum leap on the defensive end. Because of the way Ainge has re-engineered the Celtics this summer, what Rondo said several times last year -- that strong offense comes from strong defense -- will surely be even more true. Just as importantly, strengthened defensive play will do more than anything else to cement Rondo's role as team leader.
Take it and don't look back Rondo!