8 Reasons to Believe Rajon Rondo Will Thrive as Boston Celtics' Focal Point

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent ISeptember 13, 2013

8 Reasons to Believe Rajon Rondo Will Thrive as Boston Celtics' Focal Point

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    If we are to believe Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, who teamed up to sing "When You Believe," there is no reason why Rajon Rondo can't thrive as the leader of the Boston Celtics and carry his team into the postseason.

    Near the top of a long list of storylines to watch in 2013-14, Rondo's first season as Boston's focal point is sure to draw many eyes. With Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers out of town, those eyes probably won't have much else to look at when the Celtics are playing.

    Over the past few seasons, the word has been that Boston was Rondo's team and that he was the new leader. There were always two sides to that story, though. This year, there really is no discounting that statement. Rondo is the longest-tenured Celtic by far and is also undoubtedly the team's best and most successful player.

    Whether the Celtics thrive or stumble, credit or blame will be directed almost solely at No. 9. The Celtics' rebuilding could be a long process or it could be put on the backburner if Rondo can carry his team.

Danny Ainge Believes in Him

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    On Sept. 6, Grantland.com's Bill Simmons chatted with Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.

    Ainge made a point to express his sincere trust in Rajon Rondo to run the Celtics this season. He has repeatedly denied that he is attempting to trade his star point guard and that this was just another feather in Rondo's confidence hat:

    He's a special player. There is always a lot of rumors about Rondo... We're not looking to trade Rondo, we think Rondo is a big part of our future.

    Having the confidence of the franchise's shot-caller is a major advantage for Rondo. Beyond job security, he can know that Ainge is looking out for his best interests. That means signing and trading for players who can play with Rondo and utilize him to make the team better.

    Ainge also made note that he is enjoying the relationship developing between his point guard and new head coach Brad Stevens. This could be window dressing by the guy who hired both parties, but it might also be a good sign. The Stevens-Rondo relationship may decide how successful this franchise is next season and beyond.

Brad Stevens Needs Him

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    There were copious head coaching candidates that the Boston Celtics could have hired this summer.

    Brad Stevens wasn't a name found on most lists of Doc Rivers replacements. He went from coaching in the relative obscurity of the Horizon League and Atlantic 10, to coaching the most successful franchise in NBA history.

    Given the lack of success that Stevens' predecessors have had making the college-to-NBA transition, it is safe to say that he needs Rajon Rondo.

    Rick Pitino's 102-146 record with the Celtics still resonates in the minds of Boston fans. Pitino never made a postseason with the franchise. Stevens will attempt to buck that trend starting in 2013-14 by building a foundation and showing incremental improvements throughout the season.

    In order for him to be successful, Rondo is going to have to be a major part of the team. This isn't to say he will be coddled by his new head coach, but in some ways, Rondo will be making calls on and off the floor. It will be up to him to set a tone and culture for his teammates to follow, so the more power that Stevens gives him, the better.

    Since Stevens hopes to stick around at the NBA level, it is in his best interest to help Rondo succeed. The Celtics will go as far as he takes them. For now, Stevens' career will go just as far.

NBA Experience on the Coaching Staff

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    Rajon Rondo is staring at a brand new coach and a team with wildly limited NBA and Boston Celtics experience.

    That is what the draft-night trade and Doc Rivers' departure did to Boston's point guard. He was left with little he knew. Avery Bradley is his longest-tenured teammate and the two have played less than 70 full regular-season games together.

    As a method of quelling those rising concerns, it appears the Celtics are maintaining a coaching staff of recognizable faces. Despite Rivers having left for Los Angeles, long-time assistant coaches Jay Larranaga and Jamie Young look to be staying with Boston.

    The franchise also brought in Walter McCarty, a former Celtic who has been studying the art of coaching for a few years now. Not only can he somewhat relate to Rondo about playing in Boston for seven-plus seasons, but McCarty is also a fellow Wildcat.

    Rondo, McCarty and newcomer Keith Bogans all played college ball for the University of Kentucky. Bogans played for the same coach, Tubby Smith, as Rondo.

    The team is also toying with the idea of bringing in James Posey to join the staff. Posey was on the 2007-08 Celtics with Rondo.

    Even though his on-court mentors have moved on, there are familiar faces on the sidelines for next season. Rondo still has people to lean on when the going gets tough.

Will Be Viewed as a Savior of Sorts

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    The chances that Rajon Rondo is ready to go by the Celtics' season opener are still pretty shaky. It won't be easy to get a grasp on his comeback schedule until training camp kicks off and preseason games start.

    Rondo tore his ACL on Jan. 25 and the Boston Celtics open their 2013-14 campaign on Oct. 30. That is just over nine months of recovery and rehabilitation time, roughly the same length of time that NFL star Adrian Peterson took to return to action. However, more apt comparisons could be Derrick Rose's year-plus rehab or the 10 months for Ricky Rubio.

    A full year of rehab for Rondo would put the Celtics at better than halfway through their season. Given the recent updates of Rondo being able to do shooting drills, he should be good to return before January. Either way, the Celtics will struggle mightily while he remains out.

    If Rondo is sidelined until mid-December, that is roughly 25 games the Celtics will play without him. They could very well be far below .500 at that time, meaning that Rondo's return would be a celebrated thing on the floor, in the locker room and throughout the city.

    If Rondo is viewed as a savior for this season, he'll have added incentive to play well. His return could galvanize his teammates to rally around him and make a second-half surge to respectability.

Plays Well When Lights Are Brightest

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    The idea of "National Television Rajon Rondo" being superior to "Everyday Rajon Rondo" seems to be proven again and again.

    This whole thing stems from the player's spectacular performances in big games. Some view that as a detriment and argue that Rondo is not always giving 100 percent. However, it means that Rondo is at his best when his best is most needed. 

    All postseason games are on national television where the stakes are raised to mammoth levels. It started in the 2008-09 playoffs when Rondo averaged a Jason Kidd-like 16.9 points, 9.8 assists and 9.7 rebounds over 14 games. It continued through the 2012 postseason, when he carried Boston on an incredible run, averaging 17.3 points, 11.7 assists and 6.7 rebounds over 19 games.

    Those playoff games attract eyes and Rondo responds because he enjoys proving himself. While there will be fewer fans watching Boston this season, those who are watching will have their sights set on No. 9.

    Once Rondo realizes that he isn't sharing the spotlight anymore, he should respond well.

Full Season with Avery Bradley

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    As mentioned earlier, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley just haven't been on the court together enough.

    The duo played only 11 games together last season in what should have been a massive step forward in their relationship as the present and future backcourt for the Boston Celtics. Unfortunately major injuries to each player caused a void of a sample size.

    Boston hopes that April of 2012 becomes the standard for what those two players can do together. Rondo averaged 10.6 points and 14.2 assists in 37.3 minutes per game while Bradley had the best month of his career, scoring 15.1 points on 52 percent shooting in 32.9 minutes. Ray Allen played in only five of 15 games that month.

    April was the tide-turning month that began the idea that maybe Boston could play without Allen, as Bradley was scoring, hitting corner threes and playing his usual defense. Rondo appreciated a backcourt mate who could run with him on every possession and time cuts to align with his unique court vision and timing.

    Once Rondo returns from his ACL injury, both guards should be healthy for much of the season. There will be little competition for their starting roles, allowing the on-court relationship to grow naturally and at a pace both are comfortable with this season.

    These two can still be Boston's backcourt of the future. They just need the opportunity for extended play together.

Rondo Makes Players Better

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    If we operate under the idea that Rajon Rondo's greatest skill as a basketball player is an ability to make his teammates better, then the Boston Celtics will be a better team than appears on paper.

    Obviously, the first seven years of Rondo's career have been spent with at least one future Hall of Famer on the court with him. From 2007-08 through last season, the Celtics were more skilled than their incumbent roster. However, were they good enough on paper to always get out of the first round?

    On paper, that roster was always a playoff team, but the intangibles of its players were what made it occasionally great. If Rondo is given very good teammates, he has proven the ability to make them into a great team.

    Therefore, if Rondo is given average players, won't his abilities still kick the roster up a notch to being a good team?

    He will be the focal point of this Celtics team, meaning more field goal attempts and less passes at the rim. However, running the offense and getting teammates open looks in both the half-court and fast-break games are still available avenues where Rondo can improve his team's fortunes. 

    If Rondo's abilities as a ball distributor can turn Jeff Green into an effective scorer, Avery Bradley into a passable offensive player and Kelly Olynyk into a floor-stretching weapon, maybe the Celtics' season won't be quite so bleak.

New Sponsorship Deal to Live Up to

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    As Dime Magazine reported on Sept. 10, there is convincing evidence that Rajon Rondo could be leaving Nike for ANTA.

    The Chinese sportswear company is looking to make a splash in American athletics through the use of NBA players. In 2010, Kevin Garnett left Adidas to join ANTA. Fans in the U.S. might be more familiar with the ANTA-owned company, FILA.

    While no announcement has been made, the folks at Dime Magazine have photographic evidence that Rondo is about to be announced as the newest member of their team. It would make a lot of sense, too. For one, Rondo would be joining his buddy and mentor Garnett in the deal. Though they are playing for different franchises now, the two remain close and Rondo can always use advice from his former big man.

    Down a different avenue, Rondo is trying to separate himself from the masses this season. He wishes to be viewed as a unique player and the best of his class. By sticking with Nike, Rondo is just another name on their list and a face in a commercial. This possible move to ANTA means Rondo can be the true face of a company, much like he has been for Red Bull in the basketball world.

    The responsibility for Rondo that would come with a move like this would be to have a great season, make headlines and become a more recognizable and likeable face worldwide. ANTA's stakes in Rondo would be great and they would need the point guard to have a big year while keeping his emotions in check.