Rajon Rondo wouldn't be Rajon Rondo if controversy didn't follow him at every step of his career.
There are a handful of players whose names can be brought up in a bar and a debate is sure to follow. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook and Rajon Rondo are the leading candidates for the 2013-14 season, as they're all household names who inspire a wide range of opinions.
And Rondo isn't exactly helping remove himself from that list.
Going into the first season of the post-Paul Pierce era for the Boston Celtics, Rondo is the unquestioned No. 1 player on the roster. Jeff Green may get there one day, but he and the rest of the C's are well behind the All-Star point guard.
But the question remains: Will Boston continue to coddle Rondo, or will they let him step forth and emerge as a true leader? The answer isn't looking so good right now, and that could lead to some major ramifications down the road.
Rajon Rondo's career has been plagued by unnecessary beefs with teammates and coaches. As talented as he is, he hasn't been able to maintain working relationships with many people he's worked with.
Remember the feud between the point guard and Ray Allen, one that may have driven the sharpshooting 2-guard to the rival Miami Heat? According to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix, Rondo and Allen's relationship took turns for the worse as their time together progressed:
From there the relationship soured—quickly. When Allen arrived in Boston in 2007, Rondo was a wide-eyed, second-year player eager to learn. He followed Allen around and studied his meticulous pregame routine. Yet as the years went by and Rondo's role with the team increased, the two drifted apart and the animosity grew. Sources say Rondo's rapid ascension irked Allen, and that as the relationship deteriorated, Allen felt the fallout was spilling onto the court. According to sources, at least once last season the two had to be separated in the locker room because Allen believed Rondo was intentionally looking him off.
Mannix also relayed a quote from an anonymous source close to the team that spoke volumes: "It's pretty simple. They hated each other. And there was no way Ray was coming back as long as he [Rondo] was there."
Was that the only feud? Nope, definitely not.
How about this interview that Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com gave to Bill Lekas of SiriusMadDog Radio?
Doc Rivers does not like Rajon Rondo, OK? This is the No. 1 thing that's driving Doc outta there. He's sick of coaching Rajon Rondo. Rajon is a bad locker room guy. ...
That's why Doc wants out of Boston.
It's a report that has been denied, most recently by Paul Pierce (courtesy of The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn), but that may just be political correctness taking over. It's undeniable that Rondo and Rivers never shared a particularly close relationship, and the talented point guard did develop a bit of a reputation as a tough player to coach over the years.
In fact, that's a reputation that he's willing to admit to, as he did in an interview with Roel Concepcion back in June. Kind of.
It’s not that I’m hard to coach, it’s that I may challenge what you say. I know the game myself. I’m out there playing the game, so I may have saw something different versus what you saw from the sidelines, so I’m going to be respectful.
Rondo's status as a coach-killer is probably overblown. He's tough to get along with and generally keeps to himself, but he doesn't actively bash coaches and players in press conferences and interviews.
Still, he's not exactly the easiest player to handle.
Getting a Mentor
Brad Stevens is going to need help to properly manage Rondo during the former Butler coach's first season in charge of the Celtics.
According to Washburn, the C's are well aware of that and looking to remedy the potential problem before it ever arises.
That's a damning word if I ever heard one.
It expresses a large degree of urgency and even suggests that Rondo might not be able to coexist with the current coaching staff.
Rondo is 27 years old. He's not a kid anymore. He's an NBA veteran with seven full seasons under his belt. Does he really need someone else that he can trust? Someone that can serve as a mentor?
Something smells fishy here, and it doesn't speak well to the current state of the organization, or at least to the status of the relationship between Boston and its star player. At what point is he capable of stepping up and becoming the leader of the team?
Rondo was able to avoid that role while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were on the roster, but the two aging stars are now members of the Brooklyn Nets. Rondo is the veteran presence on this team because he's the most established member of the roster, as well as the clear No. 1 player.
It's time that he starts acting like one, but the need for a James Posey or another former teammate with leadership skills to be added to the team doesn't speak too kindly about that.
The Rebuilding Process
Boston is not currently in a win-now state, and that's also problematic for Rondo's future with the team. He's just entering into his prime, and it's unlikely that he wants to waste that prime with a squad that can't win championships.
There are two primary, conflicting views when it comes to the league's best facilitating point guard:
- He was a product of Allen/Garnett/Pierce, relying on the stars to manufacture assists and make up for his lack of scoring skills.
- While he was aided by the Big Three, he's still unquestionably a superstar capable of carrying a team.
Personally, I'm a bit in the middle. I don't think Rondo can be the centerpiece of a championship team unless he's surrounded by the best supporting cast in basketball, but I also strongly believe that he'd be an All-Star no matter what team he landed on. He's that good at making plays for his teammates.
And the C's really aren't ready to compete for a championship during the 2013-14 season.
Frankly, a playoff push—while not out of the question—seems unlikely given the increasing strength of the Eastern Conference. The Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks are likely locks for the postseason, which leaves the Celtics competing for one of the final three spots.
Boston should be entering a rebuilding period, but general manager Danny Ainge has yet to fully commit to that path. It seemed likely he would be trending that way after trading away both Pierce and KG, but he hasn't pulled off any additional moves since.
How many pieces on the C's roster are actually going to be future stars? Jeff Green certainly looks the part, and there's a chance that Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and MarShon Brooks could join him in that category.
But still, that's not a championship core, nor will it be in the future. If Boston is consistently hovering around the end of the lottery, there aren't going to be any incoming stud rookies to build around.
It all points toward Rondo struggling to compete for another championship, and rebuilding teams tend to not mix well with tough-to-coach stars in their primes.
What Should/Will Happen?
It's interesting to note that Pierce, Rondo's longtime teammate, is rather adamant when it comes to Rondo's ability to lead, as reported by Washburn:
Without question [he can be the man in Boston]. I’ve already talked to Rajon; Rajon’s mature. People talk about the relationship with Doc [Rivers], and they probably had their best years over the last two years. So I don’t think that was a reason for Doc leaving. I’ve heard that, but that wasn’t a reason for Doc not coming back.
Rondo is one of the best players in the league. He’s a guy who can be the face of a franchise. He’s won a championship, he’s been an All-Star. There’s a lot of organizations who don’t even have a face of that caliber.
I definitely think he’s matured and can handle a lot. I talked to him and he’s ready for the challenge. He knows that it’s his team. He knows he has to be a leader, and from being around me and Kevin [Garnett] and seeing how we work.
What else was Pierce supposed to say here? He hasn't burned any bridges with Boston, nor does he want to. And even if Rondo has indeed matured, as Pierce claims, there's still the whole needing-to-hire-a-mentor thing.
I've said this ever since Brad Stevens was hired, and I'll continue to do so: The C's will end up trading Rondo.
They can't afford to have any clashes between the team's best player and the promising head coach of the future. That's a toxic combo during a rebuilding process because it means that one of the two will be on the way out, and it's more likely to be Rondo. But conflict would depress his value and limit what could be brought back in assets.
Boston doesn't need to trade Rondo—not yet, anyway—but Ainge needs to at least put him on the trading block. If he can get fair value, it's worth pulling the trigger and bringing in more players to help A) the rebuilding process and B) the chances at landing someone like Andrew Wiggins in the stacked 2014 NBA draft.
Rondo remains one of the best point guards in basketball, even coming off a torn ACL. He sees things on the floor that no one else can, and he also possesses the passing skills necessary to actually hit those gaps.
But he just doesn't work with the current makeup of the organization, and that's why he shouldn't play a single game with the C's past the 2013-14 trading deadline.