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Rajon Rondo: The Celtics’ sudden unknown

John - Red's Army (@RedsArmy_John) July 3, 2013 Celtics News, Rajon Rondo 15 Comments

rondo inbound

I am, for the sake of the next thousand words or so, going to take Danny Ainge at his word and assume Rajon Rondo will be back next season.There’s no way, though, to know exactly what Rajon Rondo we’ll see whenever he does return.

We can have whatever debates we want about Rondo.  To some, he is an enigmatic genius whose on-court prescience and mastery of angles make him a uniquely talented star capable of the un-explainable.  To others, he is a moody, short-tempered, and self-centered malcontent who rises to only the most-watched occasions.

To some degree, he has earned both reputations.  Neither side can outright deny the other has at least some basis for its argument, they simply believe their particular view of him overrides the other’s. But none of that could matter in a few months.

All of our beliefs, even the most steadfast, staunch cornerstones of each of our arguments for and against him, are at risk of being rendered null and void because Rajon Rondo will be entering a season unlike any other.  After seven years in the league, a 27-year-old Rondo will face three significant firsts that could re-shape his entire career.

1:  He’s coming off his first major injury

I know his elbow injury could be considered major, but a torn ACL is major.  And while comparisons to Derrick Rose’s injury aren’t entirely fair (Rondo didn’t have nearly the extent of damage Rose suffered, and Rondo’s injury came much earlier in the season), but what Rose did show us all is how a significant physical injury could take a significant mental toll.

The health of Rondo’s knee is pivotal to any future success (or trade value, if you choose to view it that way). We can take our own educated guesses about how Rondo’s head will handle how his knee feels, but we really don’t know how his recovery will affect his aggressiveness.  Speed and agility are obviously the building blocks of Rondo’s game.  His passes are often set up by his ability to create the chaos within a defense that opens up the slightest sliver of daylight through which he can bend a pass.  If either is affected by the injury, physically or mentally, then things might change.

2:  He’s not being coached by Doc Rivers

The only NBA coach Rondo’s ever known is now coaching the point guard the Celtics had once tried to use Rondo to acquire.

Think about how loaded that sentence is for a second.

A new coach, who has yet to be named, will be tasked with coaching a guy who’s admittedly not the easiest to coach.  And while it’s safe to say that anyone who rises to the level of NBA head coach has a good knowledge of the game, Doc Rivers was (a) a point guard in the NBA, and thus could relate to the pressures of the job and (b) an NBA coach when Rondo was 13, and coach of the Celtics when Rondo was 18.

As tough as Rondo might be coach, and as much grief as he allegedly gave Doc, Doc had both the experience as a player and as a coach to come back strong at Rondo and maintain a steady ship.  Doc had the full backing of a veteran-laden squad and of ownership, along a massive coaching contract to prove it.

That’s not to say the new guy won’t have the full backing of ownership, but he won’t have Doc’s cachet.  Will that mean Rondo will test the new guy’s limits to see how much he can get away with?  Or will he see a need to help the new guy along (much like KG helped cement Doc as the man in charge back in 2007), and unconditionally have his new coach’s back?

As for the other part of that sentence…

Doc’s now coaching Chris Paul.  Rondo could easily twist that into Doc coaching the guy he’s always wanted to coach, and jumping at the chance to do it.  That can easily be taken as a personal affront;  a signal that Doc was merely biding his time in Boston until he could jump at the chance to coach the guy he could never quite trade for.

To put it another way:  the chip on Rondo’s shoulder will be the size of a Redwood.

But what does that mean?  Rondo could certainly react by raising his game to those awesome playoff levels.  Every day could be a “nationally televised game” for him.   Or he could go too far, try to do too much, and alienate teammates as he goes off on a mission for personal glory in an effort to “prove everyone wrong.”

3:  He doesn’t have to keep any Hall of Famers happy anymore

Once upon a time, Rondo’s job on the floor was to make sure that Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett were happy with the touches they got, when they got those touches, and how those touches materialized.   He kept running tallies in his head and made sure that each guy was getting the ball at the right time, in the right place.  Even last season, with Allen gone, he still had to try to find Pierce and Garnett while working the new guys into the offense.

Now, Rondo is the longest-tenured Celtic.   He’s the only guy on the roster right now that is on a path to someday, maybe, be called a Hall of Famer.  There’s no more Ray Allen coming off picks.  There’s no more handing it off to Pierce to run late-game pick-and-rolls.  There’s no more Kevin Garnett on the pick-and-pop to nail 20-footers.

This is totally Rondo’s team, and we’ve never seen that before.

Suddenly, the guys out there are guys that have to compliment his offense.  His drives to the hoop aren’t aimed at making sure Allen, Pierce, and Garnett have enough space to score when it counts.  He can’t drive and pass up lay-ups because he spotted a Hall of Fame shooter standing in the corner.

Rondo’s going to have to make those layups.  He’s going to have to make the jumpers when guys back off.  He doesn’t have a choice anymore in this offense.  He’s got to be the main scorer, and only then will that threat of his offense open things up for guys like Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, or anyone else out there with him.

Is Rondo ready to thrive in that role?  Is he ready to carry a bad team, as the main guy, with a brand new coach?

This is all brand new for him, and us.  We’ve seen Rondo under Doc Rivers, surrounded by superstars, constantly contending for titles.  We’ve never seen Rondo, fresh off a major injury, run a team of his very own where he’s the most senior Celtic on the roster, and without much offensive help.

Some of you are excited for what he might do in this situation.  Some of you are dreading it.  Most of us think this season will prove our points about him.

But we don’t know.  No one does.  When the Celtics traded away their aging stars and exhausted coach, they not only traded for draft picks and some financial relief.  They traded for a mysterious new version of the guy wearing number 9.  And despite his history, and however you interpret it, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

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  • Curt Hays

    Let the record forever show that I expect Rondo to become one of the most respected players in the league. He will rise to the challenge and show the world what Celtic basketball means.

  • wil

    i think this is gonna be a great year for rondo, sitting out half a season and playoffs, the guy must be hungry for wins.

    Rondo will be in the top 4 in mvp talks this coming season. i dont think Doc pushed Rondo enough, i dont think they challenged rondo enough.

    Rondo slacks off weak teams, he was like Larry Bird in a sense that he gets bored and needs a challenge every time. Though Bird was just a straight up monster. lol

    Rondo is a perfect celtic, gritty.

  • wil

    Rondo wull really need to improve his patience and learn how to communicate without alienating the team. Now that he is in a team full of young guys, itll be hard.

    • Curt Hays

      If no one felt alienated with the Big 3 getting all the touches…how can ANYONE feel alienated?

      • wil

        i meant it communication wise. Rondo aint exaclty a smooth talker. lol

        • Curt Hays

          Valid point. I’d like to think that it’s about results rather than social dexterity. I never though KG was the greatest communicator off the court. Bird surely wasn’t. Results.

          • wil

            True! but the difference was the consistency, Rondo needs to play both side of the court and through out 82 games. Thats the only way he will gain trust of his team.

            excited that he is gonna be Captain Rajon Rondo now lol

  • eddysamson

    Personally, I am really excited to see him play this season.

  • Sorin

    Good post! Indeed, Rondo doesn’t have to make the BIG 3 happy anymore. Very few people have noticed this. I think this is the first of the three things, that would impact the game. Second, no Doc. Doc has been so in love with Pierce, KG and Ray. Everything was built for these great players. But Doc couldn’t resist putting some limits there. He just went his way, until 41-40 last season.
    Not to mention that Doc going to coach Chris Paul is, no doubt, a huge challenge for Rondo. Rondo is not only a passionate player, but a very proud one, as well.
    So, yes, I really believe Rondo will push it, this year. Lots of things will depend of the new coach, but other than that, Rondo will have no other limits on the floor. He will not have to deffer to the BIG 3 anymore. Those times are gone.

  • forever_green

    Rondo will be the same talented basketball player he’s always been, but he needs help he cant carry the team alone.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jimmy.gallagher.357 Jimmy Gallagher

    I’m excited. I think his jump shot came a long way last year and I think it will improve more this year. My wish list for him this year goes in this order: play hard every single game; improve your on the ball defense; improve your free throws; continue to improve your jump shot. It will be interesting to watch how he does with young legs around him – I think he is more of a fast break point guard so I think he could (note: I said could not will) thrive with a new set of starters around him. Either that, or the team will implode as he shows himself to be a Vince Carter style personality. Let’s hope not. I think his grit and pride will push him to new heights this year.

  • LA Flake

    I’ve bashed Rondo a lot last year but I would love it if Rondo can carry the torch and become the player we all know he’s capable of becoming for the Celtics. The Playoff Rondo all year long would be awesome. But if he’s mailing in games, taking plays off and whatnot, then we’re screwed. If I were Danny, I’d hold on to him for now unless he gets an offer he can’t refuse. Like, say, Detroit’s Greg Monroe for Rondo?

  • Curt Hays

    I also expect Rondo and Brad Stevens to get along well.

  • greenisthecolor

    Brad Stevens!

  • kobe_beef2424

    Since Boston is not winning anything why not pad Rondo’s stat and make him like Lebron James when he was in Cleveland, then trade him and get a lot for it.