|Posted on December 1, 2012 at 8:00 AM|
When folks talk about leadership in sports, they often talk about it as if it were a simple thing. But it's different with each person and with each situation. Red understood that. He knew that no two people should be treated the same. He famously babied Cousy, but was endlessly harsh on Heinsohn. Heinsohn asked him once why he got such harsh treatment. Red told Heinsohn that he could take it, and that being harsh to Heinsohn it was a way Red could give the whole team a hard time, while protecting some of the more sensitive players, like Cousy.
No two players have the same kinds of emotions. They can't all be just handled the same.
I think this part of the game is tough for Rondo. Rondo seems like a guy who is not really adept socially. The way he comes off, he might even be one of those people who has a hard time relating to other human beings socially. Camerata's recent article, and other recent articles, show that Rondo is working hard to master that aspect of leadership. He arranges social activities. He looks after other players when he thinks they need it. But, as Scal pointed out, leaders like KG and Jason Kidd are able to change the cultures of their teams. Rondo struggles to do that. This team, like last year's team, has drifted early in the season. Folks aren't playing well, and they aren't even playing hard.
It was so interesting to watch Rondo's struggle to lead the team last year. Coming out of the gate, he tried to take over statistically, putting up superstar numbers, but the team didn't respond. Then Pierce came back, and the team did respond. Then some kind of leadership struggle seemed to unfold between Rondo and Pierce, and Ray Allen kicked into it too. At times, Allen and Pierce almost seemed to deliberately undermine Rondo. In Allen's case, I think it was deliberate, at times. Eventually the team had a meeting where they told Rondo they needed him to lead, and he found a way where he stopped trying to score and concentrated on assisting, whence began the famous streak. This approach worked. For that team.
This year we are seeing a similar journey unfold. Rondo has to try to figure out, once again, how to lead this team, because it is a different team. In general, we can see that Rondo has a much better grasp on how to lead, and a lot more confidence as a leader, but we also see that some of the other players are struggling to find their roles. Players like Lee and Green seem to need more room to do their own thing. In trying to follow Rondo's lead, they've given up some of their own ability to play aggressive basketball. What was good about last night was that we saw that everyone wants to make this work. Green emphasized after the game that Rondo is the team's leader. The will is there. A way must be found.
So Rondo has to find a balance between his aggressive and controlling style of leadership, and the need that other players have for room to operate and be themselves. I think the keys to this are tempo, and reciprocality. One thing we've seen is that Rondo often slows down the tempo, when there isn't a break, because he wants to call and control the play. He's got to pick up the tempo, so that other players can do their own thing more. It's partly an energy thing and partly a control thing. And Rondo has to be more willing to get the ball back. His attitude is that once he dishes, the play is done, and the guy he gets the ball too needs to take the shot. But what if the guy he dishes to hands the ball back because he sees that Rondo has a good chance to make a play? Often Rondo bobbles the ball. He's not ready for that. It's a control thing. He's not ready for other players to see a possible move HE could make, to go ahead and create FOR HIM.
So there is a lot Rondo can do. Changes need to happen on both sides, especially with Green. He's got to be more responsive to Rondo, and Rondo to him. There has to be room for both guys to 'do their thing'. The team has to feel freer when Rondo is in there.
I have no doubt that Rondo was sending a message when he got into it with Kris Humphries. I think he saw that as a key moment, and I think he was right. It was bad enough that players were punking him last year, like Kleiza (and Chandler, and Monroe), and injuring him too; this was something unseen, heretofor. This was a players punking KG. A player punking KG!!!
I've seen a lot of folks saying that KG flopped, and that it wasn't that hard a foul. I wonder what world these folks live in. Do they have eyes? It's true, in a very literal sense, that Humphries didn't hit KG that hard. KG was already off balance, and Humphries hit him hard enough to tip the scale and knock him onto his tailbone, and he was smart enough to make it look incidental, and one might even believe it if one didn't note that it was Humphries who knocked KG off balance in the first place, and if one didn't take note of how calculated the jab Humpries gave to KG's face and chest obviously was. What Humphries did was execute a very crafty attempt to punk and even injure KG.
I think Rondo saw that for exactly the watershed moment it really was. A Celtics team that would allow KG to be punked that way is no Celtics team at all. He took a stand and rightly so. His critics screamed of course. But I would ask them, would you rather that Rondo let that moment stand? KG collapsed on the ground, and Humphries standing there sniggering 'innocently'?
I'm reminded of the chest bump in the playoffs last year. Does anyone think that the listless team that lost the first game of the playoffs to the Hawks last year would have made it almost all the way to the finals? Hell no. Sure, Rondo lost his cool, but he's someone who thinks emotionally and intellectually at the same time, as far as I can tell, which is what makes him an artist. He did something that changed the team's urgency, that changed the narrative and tenor of the playoffs, in one fell swoop. Wednesday, he did it again.
Knowing the moment when a symbolic action has to take place is also a key aspect of leadership. We don't want Rondo taking those risks, but we also know that sometimes a risk has to be taken. The team has responded. If they respond well tonight too, it means that a new phase has to unfold, a phase where Rondo being in charge doesn't disallow the freedom and creativity and aggressiveness of other players.
Leadership is always about balancing things.