The player who allegedly was the source of the Boston Celtics’ deepest friction last season now seems determined to be the spark of deeper togetherness.
Point guard Rajon Rondo, cited as one reason teammate Ray Allen bolted the Celtics for Miami over the summer, was the ringleader of a Boston-in-Los Angeles week, as reported by Yahoo! Sports NBA writer Marc Spears. The feisty playmaker who has been such a love/hate/trade object for basketball boss Danny Ainge took it upon himself to plan what Spears called “a week of bonding.”
One of the first steps was welcoming a couple of new teammates — Jason Terry and Courtney Lee — to Boston’s L.A. retreat.
“I wanted J.T. to play with Kevin [Garnett]. I wanted Courtney to see how Paul [Pierce] likes to play. I wanted Paul and Jeff Green to go at each other,” Rondo told Yahoo! Sports. “I wanted to play with those guys. It was getting guys away from our actual training facility to get a new view.
“I wanted the guys to have fun. When you’re with me I want you to say, ‘Man, I had a good time with Rondo.’ And I think that’s what they did.”
So the Celtics worked out together at UCLA, broke bread and spent free time together (Pierce and Garnett own homes in the area). For five days they hung out, newcomers, rookies and veterans alike – only the most recent signee, Darko Milicic, wasn’t there.
They even crosstrained, Spears wrote.
To add some fun, Rondo also put together a flag football game at UCLA that included referees. Rondo said the only Celtics that didn’t play were Pierce and 7-foot, 255-pound rookie Fab Melo “because he might hurt somebody.” Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, a close friend of Rondo’s, also played.
“My team won,” Rondo said. “We dominated. I had seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. I had a nice kickoff return back. We had fun. K.G. was the quarterback of the other team, but they had to sub him out because he wasn’t getting any touchdowns.”
For all the good fellowship, a lot of focus remains on a player who wasn’t there — Allen, so vital to the Big-Three-Plus-One success for five seasons. A personality clash between the shooting guard and the point guard, both on and off the floor, was said to contribute to Allen’s snub of a fatter free-agent contract offer from Boston. And earlier this month, when Rondo made an appearance on BET’s “106th & Park” show, he blew off a question about Allen by saying, “Oh, that guy.”
His comments after the L.A. getaway were more thoughtful.
Rondo admitted the two didn’t always get along, but he also said he respected Allen as a player.
“People act like because me and Ray didn’t get along or they think me and Ray didn’t get along that I’m a bad person or he’s a bad person,” Rondo said. “No. It’s just life. If you look at your job, everyone doesn’t always get along with every co-worker they work with. It’s just part of life. People are blowing the Ray thing out of proportion. We had some words, but other than that it was no big deal.
“There were so many rumors like I was looking Ray off. Why would I look Ray off? That doesn’t make sense. He’s the best shooter, so why would I look him off? People can see it how they want to. They can talk to Ray. But from my standpoint, he made his decision. I don’t know why he made the decision, but he made the decision. I don’t think it had anything to do with me.”
Even if it did, that “me” might be changing as Rondo assumes more of a leadership role for the Celtics. Allen is gone, Pierce and Garnett are in twilight and there is serious turnover on this season’s roster. The group will head overseas for training camp before games in Turkey and Italy, and it will be on Rondo, as the guy with the ball in his hands, to piece things together ASAP.
Said Rondo: “I know exactly what [coach Doc Rivers] wants, especially for me and this team. I’m trying to lead the team the best that I can.”
How far does Rondo think he can lead them? Back to the top.
While he calls the defending champion Heat “the team to beat,” he thinks the remodeled Celtics have enough talent to dethrone them.
“We won a championship and that’s great, but I don’t want to settle,” Rondo said. “I have a lot of NBA time left on my clock and I got the talent around me. Everyone can’t say they can compete for a championship each year. With the talent around me now with the Celtics, it’s time to obtain that goal.
“There are only five teams right now that can say they can compete for a title realistically. And we’re one of them.”