|Posted by paul on July 15, 2013 at 9:00 AM|
Since a new phase in Rondo's career seems to have started, it seems a good time to rename Rondology. How does Rondo Report sound? Any better ideas?
Many of the issues remain the same, however. I guess that's no surprise. As I mentioned before, the Haters were set back by Danny's and Brad's fervent embrace of Rondo for, uh, maybe 24 hours. Their brazenly unfair criticisms of Rondo, masquerading as 'rational, well-informed thought', have since reached a fever pitch again, whirling - as ever - around screeching winds of trade talk. The very fact that fan talk seems to be relentlessly obsessed with trade talk reveals the fundamental cruelty of many fans, in my view. They delight in talking about players as 'pieces', as 'assets', dehumanizing them. This delight in dehumanizing others is the foundation of all cruelty, from bullying, to economic exploitation, all the way up to war. All cruelty seems to be founded on one basic thing; delight in dehumanizing others.
I know I've pointed all this out many times, but to me, it all reeks of junior high school, and the hatred surrounding Rondo particularly so reeks. It's patently obvious that Rondo comes off much like the classic junior high school nerd, the weird kid, all the more resented for his uncanny talents. He's not someone one would imagine downing a beer with, like Bird, the classic hero of the Celtics fandom.
Haters claim that Rondo's fans are blind to his faults. The exact opposite is true, I would say. No one gives Rondo a harder time over his matador defense than we do. No one excoriates him more for his inconsistency than we do. We see a man so stubborn, and sometimes so distracted, that he can be his own worst enemy, betraying his own amazing talent. When players ranging from Jarrett Jack to Chris Paul feast on Rondo's distracted play, it can be infuriating. Today he is guarding Lebron James, challenging him like a maniac. Tomorrow he is playing the matador to Brandon Jennings.
No player can maintain the same level of play all the time, and certainly a guy whose mental state is as big a part of his game as Rondo's is can't, but Rondo's habit of inconsistency just won't cut it at this point in his career. This is the one weakness of Rondo's that might be exposed the most by the departure of the Three Saints and the Holy Guru. When the Big Three were around, Rondo could, to some extent, retreat into a niche on the team, bursting out for superstar turns when it suited him. As the years went by, though, and the Three Saints diminished, that worked less and less well, and now it won't work at all. Assuming Rondo comes back well from his ACL, as the ever-trustworthy (!) Danny Ainge tells us he will, Rondo will surely have to face this issue squarely, and most of the answer lies on the defensive end. If you play consistently hard defense, you will be a consistently good player. I would say that the formula for a successful next step for Rondo is pretty nearly that simple.
Defense, defense, defense.
I watched a scouting report on the rookie German pg Dennis Shroeder yesterday, the one who supposedly plays like Rondo. Watching film of Shroeder was weird, because he really is a lot like Rondo. At times the resemblance is uncanny. One difference is that on defense Shroeder seems to dig in against his man a lot more. I'd even say that Shroeder seems to put so much pressure on opposing pgs that his defense reminds me a little bit of Bradley's way of playing defense. Now, I'm not suggesting that Rondo should give up on his own peculiar way of playing defense in order to try to be like Bradley (and Shroeder). What I"m suggesting is that he needs to mix some of their approach in with his. He needs to adapt his game to changing circumstances. We just don't have the defensive powerhouses at the four and five that we once had.
Of course, Haters love to claim that Rondo doesn't play defense at all, and that the defense he does play (they contradict themselves, but who keeps track, right, when bullies are in flight?) is geared soley towards racking up steals. He is, as they often seem to claim, nothing but a 'stat stuffer'. Of course, Rondo has a way of playing defense that is uniquely his own, and at times can be very effective. He tends to float off his man, which frees him to attack the opposing offense opportunistically, and he often looks to trap his man from behind as front line teammates collapse against penetration. Rondo often seems to think in terms of playing defense against the opposing team as a whole, and not just against his own man. The problem with Rondo's defensive game seems to be that the rest of the league is catching up to what he does, while his own team has steadily shed the defensive big men that his approach relies on. The result of these trends, and Rondo's apparent stubborn refusal to alter his approach, has been increasingly a problem for the Celtics. It's right to point to Rondo's defense as an increasingly serious problem with his game. It's wrong to claim, as the Haters do, that Rondo does't play D at all, or that he seeks only stat-stuffing. In fact, Rondo's approach to playing defense seems to lead to more deflections than outright steals, and these don't stuff a classic stat line at all.
This is the area where I think Brad Stevens, side by side with Ainge, needs to confront Rondo. If Rondo is to be part of the Celtics future, he simply must dig in more on defense, pressuring the ballhandler more, staying in front of his man more, etc.. The point shouldn't be for Rondo to completely forsake his peculiar approach to defense. The sainted Bird himself often strayed from his man, and you could tell, as you watched him on defense, that he was always thinking about everything the opposing offense was doing, and where the best place to disrupt and confuse it might be. The thing is, Bird still played tough man-to-man defense, even though he didn't have the best physical gifts for it. Rondo needs to mix more tough man-to-man defense into his floaty approach. It's a matter of balance, not a matter of total change of approach. Stevens and Ainge should confront Rondo about this openly, and they should do it together, and they should point out the positive side of all this: a little refocusing of his approach by Rondo could help turn Rondo and Bradley (perhaps with Lee as well) into a feared defensive backcourt. These guys could create a legend together, but it really depends on Rondo picking the right spot to be a little less stubborn, and a little more flexible. Dig in a little more. Float a little less. Pick your spots. The results could be amazing.
And I think Danny should sweeten the pot. What we really really need is for Rondo to commit a little more. Tougher D. More consistency. Sharing the ball more, without disappearing. Be the leader and the foundation for the New Celtics. Design an offense together with the new coach. Take full responsibility. In return, Danny should promise to take Rondo off the trading block. The time has come. It's perfectly reasonable for the Celtics to ask Rondo to be a little less stubborn, but fair is fair. It's time for Danny to be less stubborn too. Danny is married to the idea that he must consider trading all personnel at all times. But basic good sense tells you that this is no way to run a team, regardless of the group think that has become so prevalent, which declares that a GM somehow MUST consider trading all players at all times. No, he must not. And no, he does not have to listen to any and all offers. Commitment has to, at some point, become a two-way street.. Loyalty is a game for two. The Celtics should ask Rondo to make a major commitment to the team, and they, in turn, should make a major commitment to him.
Otherwise, please trade Rondo to Detroit and let him get on with his career.
The hatefilled miasma that has built up around Rondo's career is just so crazy. When you look at guys like Dwight Howard, Carmelo, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, who cry and wail endlessly about their situations, who get coaches fired, force trades to different teams, demand new personnel to be brought in year after year, it's truly astounding to think that Rondo is the one with the reputation for being a whiner, for being uncoachable, for having a bad attitude, for being a cancer, etc., etc.. Sooner or later, guys like Deron Williams and Chris Paul will surely become winners, right? The law of averages alone seems to ensure this. Look at Deron. Considering the way the Nets keep adding talent around him, how can he fail to succeed?! Sooner or later that team is just going to have to do some contending. If it doesn't happen this year, they'll bring in some more talent and go again. Meanwhile Rondo has played for the same team year after year, subordinating his game to the needs of the Three Oldsters and Coach Who Prefered to Golf, and all he's done is lead that team deep into the playoffs year after year. I think this gives a clue as to how little the overheated criticisms of Rondo have to do with reality. Coach Killer? It's ridiculous. How can anyone justify this based on Doc Rivers, who had perhaps the most solid position in coaching, going to another team to coach Chris Paul, to replace a coach that Chris Paul had reportedly gotten rid of. How much of a Hater does one have to be not to see the layers of irony in all of this?
Unfortunately, it would appear that Danny continues to stoke the fires of Hate, by keeping Rondo on the trading block, with a 'must sell fast' sign on him. I don' t think there is any chance at all that guys like Joe Dumars would be continuing to make plays for Rondo, as it appears, if Danny weren't encouraging it. How are Brad Stevens and Rajon Rondo supposed to concentrate on forging an alliance, and designing a gameplan, while all this is going on, both of them aware that Rondo could be on the Ainge Express out of town any time? They can't. Not really. Danny needs to meet with Rondo, discuss the need for mutual commitments, and then shut down the trade talk, or else do the right thing, trade Rondo to Detroit, and let both Rondo and the Celtics move on.