From journeyman to point man. From Kentucky Wildcats greenhorn to Boston Celtics veteran. From the often stubborn point-guard in the Celtics mix to evolving into the eminently affable glue-guy in the Boston locker-room. That in a nutshell has been Rajon Rondo’s career as he enters his seventh season in the NBA.
When the Celtics version of the Big 3 was assembled in 2007, Rondo was part of the supporting cast. With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen carrying the expectations of the NBA’s most successful franchise on their All-Star shoulders, Rondo was just another piece in the Celtics title plans. But as the years wore on, and Garnett, Pierce and Allen aged, Rondo emerged as the fourth All-Star for Boston. With his deft passing, quickness, defense and uncanny ability to rebound the ball despite his size, Rondo became one of the league’s most unique small men. He started to pile on the triple doubles (six last regular season), including a sensational 18-17-20 game against the New York Knicks in March 2012 and another triple double in the seventh game of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals where the Celtics lost to the Miami Heat.
But this year, Rondo must do better. With Allen having packed his bags for sunny Miami, and Pierce and Garnett hauling along so long as their aged knees and banged-up bodies allow them to, Rondo is the pivotal piece for the Celtics. Doc Rivers summarized this best when he was quoted on CLNSradio.com recently, “[Rondo] is the leader. Three years ago, he was learning how to be a leader. Two years ago, he got better. Last year, he got a lot better. Now, he’s here.” Celtics GM, Danny Ainge, threw in his weight behind Rondo with a similar assessment in the same article by saying, “He proved he’s the best player on the team. He’s earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. That’s a big step, and we’re excited for him this year.”
Rondo must live up to those lofty statements not only because Rivers and Ainge believe in his ability, but many perceive him to be the catalyst that led to Ray Allen’s exit from the Cs. As long-time NBA writer, Jackie MacMullan noted in her piece on ESPN.com a couple of weeks ago, “Initially, he [Rondo] was the dutiful puppy who followed Allen around, even mimicking his pregame routine. He was Allen and Pierce and KG's annoying but lovable little brother. And then all of a sudden they were supposed to anoint him their leader? Allen resisted, even publicly expressing his disappointment that Rondo didn't follow through with the kind of disciplined, dedicated routine that Ray felt was paramount to a player's success. The two drifted apart, and by the end of last season, the unpleasant undercurrent between them was unmistakable.”
And now with Allen gone, Rondo could soon become a villain if his game does not translate into results for Boston. He has responded by stepping into the leadership role far more willingly at the start of this season than ever before. One of his first steps was welcoming a couple of new teammates — Jason Terry and Courtney Lee — to Boston’s L.A. retreat where Rondo took it upon himself to plan what Yahoo! Sports NBA writer Marc Spears called a week of bonding. “I wanted J.T. to play with Kevin. I wanted Courtney to see how Paul likes to play. I wanted Paul and Jeff Green to go at each other. 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,” Rondo told Yahoo! Sports.
Individually, too, there is something for Rondo to achieve this season. He has made it to three All-Star games between 2010 and 2012, but never as a starter on the Eastern Conference squad. With Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls sidelined due to injury, Rondo will find himself locked in battle for the starting point-guard position with Deron Williams of the Brooklyn Nets. If Rondo can get the Boston Celtics off the blocks faster than the Nets before the 2013 All-Star weekend, his chances of making it to the game as a starting member of the Eastern Conference would greatly increase.
All said and done, the spotlight at the start of the 2012-13 NBA season for the Boston Celtics will be very much on Rondo. It is now up to him to show the way to his Celtics teammates and emerge the ‘Rondo-licious’ player he’s always threatened to be.