Rajon Rondo returns from his two-game suspension tomorrow, when his Boston Celtics face the Minnesota Timberwolves at home. Boston went 1-1 in the dynamic point guard's absence, and his unselfish play will be a welcome return to the lineup.
However, the last thing Rondo can do is come back and have the hothead attitude that got him in trouble to begin with.
If anything, Rondo's time away from the team should have served as an eye-opener for him. The Celtics played fairly well without him, but their flaws were also exposed.
The fact is that Rondo's suspension should have served as a wake-up call for him. These were not just two games in which he did not play, but ones that could have hurt the already-struggling Celtics.
If the star point guard can take away a few pointers from his suspension and use them to become a better player, going forward, then he'll be able to further increase his value, and not make team management worry about his attitude getting him in more trouble.
According to a video via CSN New England, Rajon Rondo had quite the interesting time during his two-game suspension. Rondo was able to travel, rest his body and eventually answer a question about whether or not he'd learned his lesson with one word.
"I went to Mexico. Watched the game. It was cool," Rondo said. "A couple days off. Allowed my body to get a chance to rest. I wanted to be out there with my teammates but, obviously, I had a two-game suspension. I was glued in front of my TV."
Rondo's "chip on my shoulder" attitude is part of what makes him the leader of the Boston Celtics. It's also what has made him a villain in eyes outside of Boston.
This video can be of no help to that image.
Fortunately for Rondo and the Celtics, the seventh year point guard could care less how the outside world views him. That too is what makes him an unparalleled floor general, as Rondo will allow his play to do the talking.
The media can run their stories, if they'd like. Rondo has no problem playing the role of rebel in the NBA.
He just better prepare for the criticism that is certain to come his way.
The mark of a good offense is a point guard that runs it well, and Rondo is the definition of a playmaking floor general. He is leading the league with 12.9 assists per game and as a result, the Celtics rank second in passing with 23.5 assists per contest.
Granted, the Celtics averaged 23 assists per game in the two Rondo missed due to his suspension, but his overall presence was still missed. Not only was his passing gone, but his improved scoring was as well.
As a result, he could not focus solely on scoring points, per usual, and shot just five of 17 from the field.
Which leads to the next lesson Rondo must learn...
Besides Rondo, the Celtics' two best players are Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pierce provides scoring, while Garnett mans the paint on both sides of the court.
While both players still have what it takes to produce in the NBA, gone are the days where they can simply get the ball and create their own shot at the drop of a hat.
Head coach Doc Rivers' system calls for the point guard to set plays up that leave Pierce wide open, and Garnett's low-post game requires a viable point guard to get him the ball.
Though Boston did play well in Rondo's absence the past two games, Pierce and Garnett's ability to carry the team without him should not be a reason for Rondo to not change his attitude.
The two averaged a combined 29 points and 12.5 rebounds per game with Rondo gone, and have averaged 17.4 points and 6.5 with him getting them the ball.
Those numbers are a testament to the sense of balance that Rondo brings to the table. Without him, opposing teams automatically lock down on Pierce and Garnett, neither of whom can keep up with younger defenders anymore.
When Rondo is playing, however, the other team is so concerned with shutting him down that one of Pierce or Garnett is often left with an open shot, making them all the more reliant on him.
One of Rondo's most underrated skills is his defense. He is averaging 1.9 steals per game this season, and plays with the tenacity of someone much larger than his 6'1", 186 pound frame.
This was sorely missed when the Celtics played the fast-paced Milwaukee Bucks. Boston managed eight steals, but Rondo's lockdown defense would have been nice against the deadly guard tandem of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
Granted, both struggled that night and shot a combined 11 of 32 from the field, but it was their ability to get the frontcourt involved that sunk Boston.
Bucks forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders combined for 33 points on 12 of 22 shooting, and combined for 33 points and 21 rebounds, plus six blocks.
Were Rondo there to play strong defense slow down the guards and prevent them from getting the ball off to the bigger guys, Boston easily could have won this game.
It's a testament to the fact that Rondo's defense plays a large role in Boston's success, and doesn't do the team any favors while it is absent due to suspension.
The unquestioned leaders of the Celtics may appear to be Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, but their time is nearly up.
Team management holds an option on Pierce's contract for next season and while he will likely be back in Boston in 2013-14, there is always the possibility that the Celtics will choose to move on.
Garnett just signed a new three-year deal over the summer, but he is 36 and there is no telling how much productive play he has left in him.
It is thus all the more important that Rondo keep his attitude in check and start becoming a voice in the locker room.
As of now, while he is a leader on offense, he appears content to let Pierce and Garnett be the team's voices off the court. When push comes to shove, he is a follower.
This likely includes buying into Garnett's no-mercy attitude, which will not help Rondo mature at all. He simply needs to realize that Doc Rivers lets him run the offense for a reason, because he sees fine leadership qualities in him.
It is thus time for Rondo to stop trying to be the tough guy and start being the leader.
He is going to play a key role in the future of the Celtics, and that future won't be bright unless he is willing to assume responsibility and start learning from his and others' mistakes.
As crazy as it sounds, the Celtics have gone 10-6 without Rondo in the lineup dating back to last season. He missed time in 2011-12 with various injuries, and Boston still managed to play well.
Boston's other victories without Rondo were possibly due to the presence of deadly three-point shooter Ray Allen, but those days are gone now.
Allen now plays for the Miami Heat, and the Celtics cannot just rely on Pierce and Garnett to carry them in Rondo's absence.
That said, the fact that Boston seems to play so well without Rondo is enough of a reason for him to drop his attitude. It proves that he could very well be expendable, and that he could find himself on a new team if he does not change his ways.
With Avery Bradley's return looming, it will be to Rondo's benefit to start taking responsibility and becoming more of a positive presence rather than a ticking time bomb, if he does indeed want to stay in Boston.