HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — That cold and long winter that was predicted for the Boston Celtics in the aftermath of Doc Rivers departing for the Los Angeles Clippers and Danny Ainge trading away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce is still in effect.
You don’t lose that kind of championship firepower and simply move on, not without up-and-coming stars ready to fill those shoes immediately. But I am inclined to trim some time off of the back-end of that prediction if the words coming out of Rajon Rondo‘s mouth are genuine.
The lone member of the Celtics’ championship team core, Rondo’s ability to bounce back from a season-ending knee injury and mesh with new coach Brad Stevens were the two biggest question marks hanging over the Celtics this season and in the near future. It wasn’t clear if Rondo wanted to dig in for the long-term rebuild that is under way in Boston, not at this stage of his career and not after all of the playoff highs and lows he’s dealt with the past six years.
He silenced any doubters by quietly going about the business of being the leader you hoped he would. He developed a relationship with Stevens, even going so far as to declare his new coach as his “best friend” at media day. “We talk every day, we laugh and joke, we just had dinner the other night,”Rondo said. “I’m going to help him, he’s going to help me. He has my full support, and I told him from day one when he came to my camp [in Louisville for their first meeting in July], I’m 100 percent behind him.”
While Rondo’s not expected back in action until sometime after the first month of the season, if that soon, he’s already helping to jumpstart the Celtics’ franchise rebuild by simply buying in to the new program. He swears his plan all along has been to stick it out with the Celtics, he has two more years and $25 million on his current deal. He told A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com as much, making clear his mission to revive the franchise along with his career as one of the top point guards in the game.
I love it here. The fans are great here,” Rondo said. “And [president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] has been straightforward with me. This is my team. Why would I want to leave? Why would I want out?
“I never really backed away from a challenge. This would be a challenge. I’m looking forward to working with coach [Brad] Stevens. It’s a brand-new start for us as a team. A lot of new players and a lot of young guys willing to listen, so I’m very excited about that.”
There was a time when Rondo’s leadership abilities, or lack thereof, were seen as the only thing that could hold the Celtics back. Now, at least from listening to him, his steady hand running the show in Boston is going to be the bedrock of the next era.
And this is coming from a cynic who wasn’t sure if Rondo would be willing to humble himself in the presence of a new coach without any NBA experience.
He appears to be a changed man, changed for the better in many respects, because of the injury he suffered and the perspective that distance from the game always allows. The maturity that was missing at times throughout the past six or seven years is there now. The wisdom gained from playing alongside future Hall of Famers like Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen will shine through, especially when he regains his form and returns to live action.
Don’t take my word for it, read it for yourself:
Q: How curious are you to see how your game translates to a team with no Big Three around?
RR: “Whatever coach (Brad Stevens) asks of me, that’s what I try to do. If he wants me to shoot the ball more, I’ll shoot it. But at the end of the day, my natural instincts are to make my teammates better. Regardless of who is out on the floor, I believe I do make everybody out there better. I’m going to push them as hard as I can. I’m going to demand a lot out of them. I wouldn’t demand anything that I wouldn’t demand of myself. So I’m excited to play with a new group of guys.”
Q: When you said you felt nothing when the trade went down …
RR: “That was blown out of proportion.”
Q: So what was the story behind it?
RR: “I don’t really say much and speak out on exactly what happened. I talk to Kevin all the time. I talk to P. Obviously it was different when the trade went down. I didn’t expect it to happen. I had just gotten off the plane. It happens, and that’s the business. I’m not going to say it was, ‘forget about it’. We still talk about them in the locker room today, tell stories about how KG was, things Paul did. At the end of the day, I still talk to every one of those guys. I talk to Jet, I talk to P, I talked to Kevin yesterday. We still check on each other. It’s a brotherhood. It’s something that you can’t break. We won titles together. We been through the fire together. It’s just something for life.”
Rondo has mind set on doing it again, this time with a different cast of characters, and with him in the leadership role that he didn’t have the first time around.