|Posted on September 29, 2012 at 7:25 AM|
In one of the best articles ever at Celtics Blog, wjsy asks if Red Auerbach would have loved Rondo, or even been able to stand him. Here are wsjy's best words:
I always think of Rondo as that guy that shows up at the park with short shorts and spends a good five minutes stretching. He seemingly has never played basketball in his entire life but inexplicably drops seven buckets in a game to 13. When he's supposed to go left, he goes right. Scoop shots and fall away jumpers that shouldn't go in, go in. Everything seems so unorthodox and on accident. That's Rondo.
He's a basketball savant. People who have played basketball at any level know that it's a choreographed dance; when you give someone a pick, you can either roll, slip, or fade; when someone cuts to the basket, both offense and defense shift to correct the spacing on the court. Like a chess master, Rondo knows all this and knows everybody's tendencies, offense and defense, and does what you least expect. Watch him on a fast break: instead of trying to throw a fake and jab stepping in the opposite direction, he drives it right into the defender's chest because that's the least likely option. Actually, it's not even an option to begin with but Rondo makes it so. He's not trying to draw a foul (yes, I'll give you that he's a poor free throw shooter). He's just trying to play outside of the box.
People can argue that Paul, Westbrook, Rose, and Williams are better and they'll qualify it by saying that Rondo is a "pure point guard" but I hate that comparison because that's just a nice way of saying that Rondo can't shoot and he makes up for it because he's just really good at passing. That's hogwash. Compared to those guys, what makes Rondo a great player--and puts him in a class unto himself--is that he actually makes his teammates better by amplifying what they're already good at. I think with those other players, they make the game, for lack of a better word, easier for their team. Kevin Durant doesn't have to score as much on his own because Westbrook will pick up the slack. Blake Griffin and Carlos Boozer will have a little more room to operate because Paul and Rose attract so much defensive attention.
But with Rondo, he works in spite of those conventions: he doesn't score a lot of points and he rarely commands a double team. Doc calls him the smartest player he's ever coached and I believe him. What Rondo does is manipulate the entire court so that his teammates can excel at what they're best at. Sometimes it's as subtle as shifting his shoulders so that the defense thinks he's going in one direction or as deliberate as cupping the ball with his giant hands and faking out his defender, the help defender, and the guy selling hot dogs in the third row. Watch him tonight, especially in transition. He's got a very distinct voice and you can hear him orchestrate every play on both sides of the ball. He may not be a franchise player, but I think he's definitely a guy that franchise players want to play with.
The distinction wsjy draws here is so subtle, but real in the eye of Rondo's fans. Rondo may not help his teammates by drawing defensive help as effectively as some of the other PGs in the league (though he does have the ability to draw three or four or five defenders when he attacks the basket, and he may do that better than anyone, which is why we should see his teammates making more moves off Rondo's drives this year), but he does something that is possibly even better. He amplifies his teammates' games. Pierce the sly fox. Bass the midrange jumper artist. Ray the spot up master. KG the pick/pop/pick/roll aficionado. Wilcox the flier. In 2010 we saw Shaq become once again the unstoppable force in the paint. We hope to see something like that this year from Sully, and you know we surely WILL see it. Rondo loves what his teammates can do. He knows their games better than they do, and he loves their talents. As they say, you can't teach this.
Back to the original question; how would Red have liked Rondo? As we know, Red was one of the greatest judges of talent in the history of the game, but he did have a big weakness; Red was so hooked on drafting 'character' guys, that he couldn't find diamonds in the rough late in the draft. If he had a high pick, he was absolutely certain to turn it into pure gold. I don't think Red ever made a high draft pick that didn't turn out to be brilliant. But he rarely made a really successful late pick. He would probably never have drafted Rondo. He probably counseled Ainge against trading for Rondo, if there was an overlap. He would have been put off by the stories about how difficult Rondo was, stories that were validated as things turned out (but also invalidated - was Rondo difficult, or was he someone who pushed against strictures, who had his own ideas, good ideas? And what role did immaturity play in all this). It's fairly easy to assume that Red would not have liked Rondo. He might have hated Rondo. Red's influence on the fandom might even explain a lot of the Rondo hate that has welled up in the Celtics fandom.
The thing is, we need to remember that, as important as fundementals are, creativity remains the wellspring of basketball.
And that's the other side of the coin with Red. I think it was Cousy who taught Red to appreciate this creative side of basketball, and that was surely a lesson that Auerbach never forgot. When he saw that a player loved and respected the game, had his own vision of the game, and worked hard, he could put up with a lot that otherwise he might not have accepted. He never minded when Russell treated the Celtics as HIS team. He barely murmured when Cowens went on sabbatical, an unheard of thing then, and today. There is a lot about Rondo that Red would have loved. Personally, I think that Auerbach would have seen what Ainge and Doc see, what Rondo's fans see; that this is a player with that special gift that only the truly great ones have. You could say that there is a vision of the future of the game in their eyes. Rondo has this.
The thing that will settle this question once and for all is defense. What I loved more than anything about yesterday was Rondo emphasizing how much he was looking forward to being part of a defensive posse with Lee and Bradley. Those are the words that I think should be music to every fans ears, that would have been music to Red's ears. The foundation of this team will be defense, and the foundation of the defense will be the posse, and the leader of the posse will be Rondo, and that, more than anything else, is what this season will boil down to.