Why Rajon Rondo's On-Court Maturation Is Crucial to Boston Celtics Success

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2012

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 04:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics calls out to his teammates in the first half against the Golden State Warriors on March 4, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Rajon Rondo has proven beyond the shadow of even the most skeptical doubts that he's one of the two or three best point guards in the league.

Now he's proving something more—namely that he's also a leader.

CSNNE Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely reports that the 26-year-old has been a driving force behind his team's offseason routines and that the front office has taken notice:

"He's maturing all the time, showing great leadership skills," said Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations. "He looks wonderful physically too. When he steps into the gym, you can see with all the young guys the difference. The guys really respect him." 

Head coach Doc Rivers implied as much when he on several occasions referenced the extent to which Boston was becoming Rondo's team, and elder statesman Kevin Garnett was on the same page (via ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg):

"Rajon's amazing, period," said Garnett. "We talk about big things are coming -- big things are here. Rajon's keeping us alive every night. We just have to make sure we follow his lead and follow his effort, and we're going to turn this thing around."

The votes of confidence surely mean a lot to a young player previously overshadowed by a trio of veteran icons, but they also create a new level of expectation.

Rondo now has to be more than a gifted distributor and top-shelf defender. Now he has to put the team on his shoulders—communicating, motivating and setting the tone for a roster of talented teammates.

He won't be doing all that in a vacuum, either. For all the expectations we now have of Rondo, there are even more pertaining to the Celtics at large. The club came within 48 minutes of returning to the NBA Finals last season, and there's a narrowing window of opportunity to do so, at least if Garnett and Paul Pierce are coming along for the ride.

That amounts to some real pressure. Rondo may have another 10 years of title runs in him, but you can't say the same for what's left of the original Big Three. And yet, their hopes rest on Rondo.

As reassuring as his off-court strides have been, the even more important part of Rondo's evolution will be his ability to grow as a floor general in the most meaningful sense of the term.

Of course, there are a number of ways for Rondo to assert himself. Just ask Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, two veterans who have taken radically different approaches over the years.

There's certainly nothing stopping Rondo from combining those approaches, sometimes playing the good cop and other times taking a less sugar-coated route. After all, his troops come in many different shapes.

As much as Rondo has earned the respect of his more veteran peers, he clearly owes them the same. Part of his challenge will be straddling that fence—holding KG, Pierce and Jason Terry accountable without rubbing them the wrong way.

Whatever drove a wedge between Rondo and Ray Allen can't happen again. That's not to say it was in any way Rondo's fault, but he'll still have to operate with caution. When younger players are stealing the spotlight from established superstars, it doesn't take much to turn an awkward situation into a downright toxic one.

On the other hand, Rondo now has a number of younger teammates, including Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo—along with less reputable veterans like Brandon Bass and Jeff Green. These are the cases in which Kobe's no-nonsense brand of discipline will come in handy.

If Rondo can be everything to everyone without making anyone feel like they're being treated differently, success!

Yes, it's a task that's easier said than done, and it's not even that easily said. This is where becoming a legitimate MVP candidate involves people skills as much as basketball skills.

Fortunately, Rondo is cerebral and deliberate enough that he should rise to the occasion, just as he's done in so many other ways. He may have an unprecedented weight on his shoulders, but those shoulders haven't faltered yet.