|Posted by paul on October 3, 2013 at 4:15 AM|
It's good to see the optimism around the Celtics right now. Stevens seems to be the anti-Doc in some ways. He seems easy-going without being soft, where Doc was choleric. He seems to be detail-oriented, and obsessed with preparation, where Doc seemed to want to roll the ball out and let the veterans do their thing. Stevens and Rondo seem to be getting along very well. Rondo seems to have embraced leading the team, at least to some extent, and he seems to be working hard on his shooting, and moving well. Rondo's recovery from his acl injury seems to be taking longer than we hoped, but it seems to be going well anyway. Stevens, for his part, has stated that he does not want to force Rondo to fit into his way of playing, and that he, Stevens, will adapt his approach to Rondo's abilities. That sounds great. Right now choirs of basketball angels are singing and it's all lovely.
It's certainly admirable that Stevens wants to adapt to Rondo. So far as I know, Stevens has never coached a great player before. His speciality has been, it seems, crafting scrappy teams that overachieve. I think this is a good approach that can succeed at the NBA level. I think that the biggest part of Stevens' challenge right now isn't so much translating his approach to the NBA; it's adapting his approach to a team that already has at least one great player. The nice thing about having a team without stars is that it might be relatively easy to get everyone to buy into a scrappy, group-identity approach. After all, everyone has to realize, on some level, that their only hope is to do things this way. When you have no true center, and no star, what else are you going to do? But what happens when you try to fit this approach to a team that has at least one real star?
I have been taken to task for my supposed negativity. Rightly so, I hope. But I see a all-too-predictable conflict already showing with this team, though everyone is glossing it over. We've seen talk about a positionless team. We see Bradley being groomed for the pg position, Rondo being out. Stevens says that the offense will be designed to suit Rondo's return, but that appears to be entirely untrue. As WSJY explains on Celtics Blog...
... the whole point in this offense is that the ball is not to stick in anyone's hands, anyone can bring the ball up, etc.. This isn't just a small shift from the Rondo-dominant scheme we've seen in recent years. This is a sea change, and it's almost certain - in my view - to leave Rondo washed up on the shore. I don't understand why everyone is so determined to gloss this over. WSJY attempts to address the issue, somewhat gingerly...
With all that said, what does this all mean when Rajon Rondo makes his triumphant return in December? It's hard to forget what happened last year. After Rondo went down, the team rattled off a 14-4 record. Why? The team missed Rondo for sure; he was consistently the toughest matchup for opposing teams and the most effective player in getting his teammates open looks. However, you could get a sense that they felt freed in a way. With all hands on deck to save a sinking ship, people got more touches instead of relying on their all star point guard. Nobody would say that they were better without him, but it did force the supporting cast to step up.
If the team's playing well when Rondo comes back, you'll hear the same blowhards (Gary Tanguay, Marc Stein, etc.) calling for a trade. Why keep one of the best point guards in the league on a team and in a system that doesn't really need a true point guard? Well, 1) he's our Paul Pierce now and a big attraction for any incoming free agent and more importantly, 2) he's still the best player on our team who instantly changes the complexion of the game when he's on the floor. The new system won't rely so heavily on his decision making, but when the shot clock's down in the 4th quarter and you need to run something simple, there isn't a player out there I'd rather have with the rock than Rondo. He's the best freelancer in a system that's specifically geared to freelancers. The idea of trading him is ludicrous. He's also naturally picked up the leadership mantle and the supposed coach killer is best friends with our new coach. I can't wait for Monday's preseason game or the first regular season tip, but ultimately, it's that day in December when Rondo comes back that really has me excited.
I hope I'm wrong, but I think this is nonsense. Basically WSJY seems to be saying that the great thing about having Rondo is that he's the guy you give the ball too in crunch time when the clock is running down. Other than that, he's just another guy. But he's a game changer when he steps on the floor. See the screaming contradictions? You can't be a game changer if you are just another guy. Steven's says he's going to alter his system for Rondo, but it's already clear, it seems to me, that he's not. I think that Bradley is going to be more comfortable with Bradley as the pg, not Rondo, as things play out over time.
I felt last season, and I continue to feel now that folks are interpreting what happened last year wrong. The story last year was supposedly that Rondo controlled the ball too much, so that when he went down, the rest of the team felt liberated and played better. I don't think that was the problem, though. Sure, he should have shared the ball more, but the real problem was that he didn't do enough with the ball when he had it. There was too much waiting for the play to develop, and not enough pushing and probing against the defense, making it develop.
We always want to see things in terms of binary sets of possibilities. Thus we assume that the Celtics last year had only two options; either Rondo was going to control the ball, or the guys were going to move the ball and play together. Is it really impossible to have both? I do not understand the mentality that insists on taking the ball out of the hands of one's best playmaker, maybe one of the best playmakers in the history of the game. We heard so much talk last year about everything that was wrong with Rondo, and almost nothing about what was wrong with the other guys on the team. Supposedly, the problem was that Rondo didn't share the ball enough. It was never even considered as a possibility that the other guys on the team had a responsibility to do a better job of playing off Rondo!
Green, in particular, seemed and seems obsessed with controlling the ball more, or so it appears to me. Already this summer, Rondo has made important concessions to Green, stating - for example - that Green should bring the ball up when he grabs rebounds. Where are the concessions that Green is making to Rondo? Why is Rondo the only one making concessions? Why aren't these guys, especially Green, talking about how they should take better advantage of having a playmaker like Rondo? If they are, I'm not seeing it.
So far, I don't see any indication, apart from some nice, but vague, words, that this team is developing a scheme that will work for Rondo. It specifically calls for taking the ball out of his hands, even on the fast break, though Rondo is probably the best transition pg in the league. It takes the ball out of the hands of one of the most dynamic players in the league, possibly the best passer and playmaker, and one of the best penetrators. Rondo is a guy who arguably breaks down defenses better than anyone in the league. We hear so much about the Rondo Sag, and the negative effect that has on spacing for the Cs. Fine. We hardly ever talk about the way other teams double up Rondo on the perimeter, or collapse on him when he hits the paint. Defenses react to Rondo in a kind of panic. How do you take the ball out of his hands? I get it that you want to move the ball more, and that you want Rondo to accomplish more when he has the ball, walking it up less, standing around waiting for the play to develope less. Sure.
WSJY depicts Rondo as the best freelancer on a team of free lancers? Rondo's not a free lancer. He's a playmaker,. If Stevens can find a way to blend Rondo's ball-dominant play with the scrappy, share the ball approach he seems to like, the result could be magical. Opposites can sometimes attract, and the result can be beautiful. But that won't happen when everyone is pretending that the gaping fissure in the middle of the arena isn't there. You have a ball-dominant pg. You want to run a positionless offense. There's a disconnect that isn't even being acknowledged, or that's barely being acknowledged.
And on top of that you have Jeff Green lurking in the background. He wants the ball, it seems, and already Rondo is beginning to defer to him.
I'm sorry to be such a frowny face, but I see Rondo being traded before the trade deadline. The only way this doesn't happen, assuming Rondo makes a good recovery, I think, is if Rondo and Stevens really really do spend a lot of time together, looking at film, talking basketball, and designing some basketball magic. Contradictions, faced squarely and addressed imaginatively by creative minds working together, can spark new and better syntheses. So far I see little sign that this is happening or will happen. What I see so far is lip service that will eventually fall to the wayside as time reveals that Rondo and Stevens do not have compatible approaches to the game of basketball.
And I'm not saying that this team can't win without Rondo. I think they can. I actually think that Bradley might turn out to be the perfect pg for this team. I think they could be even better with Rondo, but only if they lay off the wallpaper and glue and take a look at fixing the team's foundation.