When a star's NBA career is finished, it is often difficult to pinpoint the exact time he ascended to that next level. It is even harder to decipher that moment when it is currently happening.
When Rajon Rondo's career comes to a close, when will we place that turning point? It could be in the midst of the 2011-12 season, when the Celtics seemed to be fading away. When the trade rumors had reached their breaking point and Rondo starting putting up astonishing displays of basketball, all but forcing Boston to keep him.
It could be when Rondo took the court against the team that knocked him out of the playoffs in 2011 with a vicious dislocated elbow. In the 2011-12 playoffs, Rondo took over and played on par with the superstars of Miami.
It could also be the 2012-13 season. Rondo, now 26, has come into his own as a player and a man. He will always have an edge, but if he can control it now, this is the point we will all look back upon.
The era of the Big Three in Boston was built around that trio of stars. This includes Rondo, as he was an exterior player helping the three superstars perform.
The Celtics have been built to cover up for the areas in which Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were weak. Rondo ran the point and Kendrick Perkins bruised bodies down low, allowing Garnett to focus on defensive leadership. Throughout the five-year stretch, it was obvious how the Celtics were run.
The obvious change was allowing Ray Allen to walk this offseason. That was the clear mark of the Celtics transferring into a Rondo-centric team. The seeds of this were even planted further back, though. The Perkins trade brought in a younger and more athletic swingman in Jeff Green. Even the drafting of Avery Bradley contributed to this idea.
The moves of this summer have marked even more of the transition. The Celtics are going to run a lot more than in the past. No longer will Rondo be forced to pull up on fast breaks because he has no one filling lanes. Lee, Bradley, Green—these are all jerseys that will be racing up and down the court with him.
The fast break is the greatest definition of athleticism and creativity in the world of sports. That is where Rondo is at his absolute peak.
There is no real term used for athletes in the early going of their career. They are a rookie, a sophomore and then suddenly a veteran.
However, a veteran mindset doesn't really kick in until long after a player's third season. It is my belief that around year six or seven, a player truly becomes a veteran. It is long enough for the subpar players to wash out, but early enough to still allow for a lengthy prime.
In 2012-13, Rajon Rondo will be playing in his seventh NBA season. Up until this point has it ever seemed that Rondo was an experienced veteran player? He has been cursed to seem young and out of control in comparison to his veteran teammates. That changes this season. Rondo has entered the public conscious enough so he is not an unknown.
He isn't the guy passing the ball to three future Hall of Famers. He is now the guy who put 44 points on LeBron James and led the league in assists. This is the year where his leadership is fully realized, not just by fans but by himself.
Something I always found difficult to understand was fans' outrage every time Rajon Rondo had a reported spat with Doc Rivers.
To me, this is usually a good thing that can only benefit the growth of both the player and coach.
Rivers was a point guard in the NBA for 13 years. It is obvious that he is going to have an opinion on how the position should be run. He has an eye for Rondo's flaws and areas of improvement. This is simply two great point guard minds clashing together to figure out the best course.
When two minds reach complacency with one another, disaster is not far ahead. Complacency is the enemy of progress. So, it may be rocky and not pretty at times, but this relationship is advancing the point guard position.
Rondo may have almost caught Rivers by surprise with his progress over the past six seasons. It is a fair bet that he didn't know what he had when Rondo entered the league as a late first-round pick.
However they came to this point, it has been beneficial to both parties and year seven will only solidify that thought.
Rajon Rondo is famously moody both on and off the court. His attitude has gotten him in trouble with officials, teammates, Doc Rivers and fans. With everything that has come out regarding his deteriorating relationship with Ray Allen, its no stretch to believe he wasn't happy in 2011-12.
However, virtually everything that could have gone right this offseason for Rondo, has. Ray Allen was signed away from the team, opening the door for new running mate Avery Bradley to get more time. Then the Celtics went out and inked more athletic youth for Rondo to run with—Courtney Lee, Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox.
He has been relatively outspoken in a positive way throughout the summer. Not participating in the Olympics allowed him to spend his down time the way he wanted. He ran camps overseas and even had an internship at GQ. He also made a trip out to visit with the Celtics Summer League entrant and got to know the younger Celtics.
Rondo is in the driver's seat for the Celtics 2012-13 season, and he couldn't be happier.
The way Rondo finished the 2011-12 season was nearly historical. The ease with which he was putting up 10-assist games was something the NBA hadn't seen since John Stockton in 1992.
He has developed a touch for the NBA game and knows his teammates and opponents inside and out. This all allows him to orchestrate possessions from the time the ball is rebounded or inbounded. When Rondo is on his game, like he was through the second half of 2011-12 and the playoffs, he is one of the league's top players.
Unlike some of the other players with that distinction, Rondo only thrives while making teammates better. If Rondo's passes are setting other Celtics up with easier shots, then his game becomes shockingly average. In year seven, Rondo has developed a scary confidence and swagger. He goes out expecting to wrack up a double-double every night.
With a revamped roster, there is no reason Rondo can't pick up right where he left off.
In the NBA, it is very important to have players who can cause matchup problems for your opposition.
Rajon Rondo's versatility on the offensive and defensive ends does just that to many of the league's point guards. He gives the Celtics an automatic advantage over 80 percent of the NBA teams. Whether it is his speed, distribution or even post-up skills, Rondo creates mismatches.
When it comes to the teams with elite point guards, Rondo is what gives the Celtics a chance. Against Brooklyn and Chicago in the East, Rondo at least can even things up for his teammates to take control.
When it comes to a seven-game series, and one team is constantly worrying and trying to figure out a way to stop one player (i.e. putting LeBron James on him), it is beneficial to the Celtics. This opens up the offense to do other things and creatively change up game plans and make the proper in-game adjustments.