On one side of the relationship stands Rondo, a seven-year veteran with championship experience and an ego to match. His basketball resume includes four All-Star selections, a pair of assists crowns and clashes with teammates and coaches.
On the flip side is Stevens, a 36-year-old basketball whiz kid. He spent the last six seasons at Butler University where guided the Bulldogs to a record of 166-49, five NCAA tournament berths and two title game appearances.
He'd also never spent a day at the NBA level, nor coached in a more prominent place than the mid-major Atlantic 10 Conference before the Boston Celtics signed him to a six-year deal this summer.
With Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge having tipped his rebuilding hand this summer by dealing away franchise mainstays Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and coach Doc Rivers, Rondo and Stevens form an unlikely pairing at the head of this reclamation project.
The pundits said the relationship was doomed from the start. If Rondo wasn't already put off by Ainge's summer cleaning, then surely he'd be miffed at Ainge's coaching choice. Rondo, if reports were true, didn't always see eye-to-eye with coaching great Rivers; he'd never buy into what this mid-major import was selling.
Yet during the pair's unofficial debut, the Celtics media day on Sept. 30, the two made it sound like any potential problems were nothing more than the work of an overzealous media.
Rondo took things as a step further. He said not only have he and Stevens hit it off, they've fostered a relationship better than Ainge could have ever dreamed of seeing:
At media day, via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe, Rondo told reporters that neither he nor Stevens brought any preconceived notions into their meeting. They did the seemingly impossible—they gave this basketball marriage a fresh start:
I don’t really pay attention to what the media said or what anybody said about me. I think [Stevens] has the same mind-set...He was very open and honest, and I think I did the same thing. What people may say is different when we cross these lines. Coach and I right off have got off to a great start, and we’ll continue to stay on those lines. I respect him as a man and as the coach of this organization.
Stevens' analytical mind, he was one of college's first coaches to hire an advanced statistics expert, could appreciate Rondo's unique basketball gifts. Earlier this summer, he told ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg that Rondo is "really, really intelligent, really, really insightful" and is "eager" to take on a leadership role for the suddenly youthful Celtics.
The polarizing point guard has elite-level court vision. He paints picture-perfect passing lanes on a nightly basis. His underrated handles allow him to keep track of his scorers even when both parties are on the move.
And no matter how much he's already shown in his hoops career, Rondo may just be scratching the surface of his potential. The league hasn't seen him in a consistently aggressive scoring role (career 9.5 field-goal attempts per game), which is a mindset he'll have to adopt this season.
With his length (6'9" wingspan and the hands of a 7-footer) and underutilized shooting stroke (remember his game of H.O.R.S.E. with Kevin Durant at All-Star Weekend 2010?), Rondo the scorer could be Boston's secret weapon. Or another secret weapon, rather, alongside his baby-faced coach.
Stevens is going to give Rondo a long leash. And Rondo, per Washburn, will give Stevens something the experts thought he might never have—support:
I think it was important for both of us to get off to a good start, get to know one another. This is his team, this is my team. I’m very supportive of him and he’s been very supportive of me.
Boston has some problems with this roster (namely the lack of rim protection), but it also enters 2013-14 with a number of wild cards.
Jeff Green looks like a star in the making (20.1 points on .523/.519/.762 shooting as a starter in 2012-13). MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford are heat-lamp scorers who have yet to enjoy the benefit of consistency in roles and playing time. Jared Sullinger and rookie Kelly Olynyk can wreak havoc on the offensive low block.
But the Rondo-Stevens pairing isn't a wild card.
Sure, there are questions to be answered. Rondo still doesn't have a return date for his ACL recovery, via Jay King of The Republican. It's easy for the pair to sing praises now when the games haven't started and losses haven't yet piled up.
But the NBA has never been restricted solely to on-court activity. In fact, off-court drama was said to be the biggest only detriment to this relationship.
Yet off the court is where this pair has already come together, already formed a bond that experts said would never come.
Rondo and Stevens are the perfect pair to lead Boston through this turbulent time, as odd as it may seem.
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