Can Rajon Rondo Make Himself the Center of Boston Celtics Rebuild?

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2016

Associated Press

The NBA mechanism moving around Boston Celtics star Rajon Rondo has never been a quiet one, with trade talks taking the place of regularly scheduled programming on a continuous loop since the summer of 2007.

The player himself has often been a part of that noisy mechanism, with publicized outbursts during games, after them and even behind closed doors. However, this summer and maybe even more so since his ACL injury 20 months ago, Rondo has been pretty quiet. He has let things clatter and explode all around him while keeping pace and observing.

He has treated this offseason like so many developing plays he has run as Boston's floor general for the past nine years. Very little is rushed: Teammates are given time to complete their designated routes, the defense is forced to react and show its hand, Rondo's eyes remain ever alert, waiting to make his move.

Rondo won't make the same stink Kevin Love has about wanting to get out of a losing situation before his contract year. He isn't that same entitled player and personality. Yes, he lost his way a handful of times in the past, but in general, Rondo has never been spoiled or had praise heaped upon him the way many high-chosen stars have.

He was chosen 21st overall in the 2006 NBA draft and was even criticized then. Bob Ryan, one of Boston's most prolific and respected sportswriters ever, decimated the Celtics for taking a point guard who couldn't shoot in a story that ran on after the draft but is currently difficult to find.

Since then, Rondo has made a mission out of proving everyone, from coaches to GMs to Ryan, wrong. He still is not a great shooter, but he has a championship ring as a starter, a great database of playoff highlights, four All-Star appearances and four All-NBA defensive team nods.

Becoming the Celtics captain and overall leader on and off the floor is a new challenge. While it may not seem that old, the injury has sapped us all of a year of seeing how he handles that. Missing half of the past two seasons, with the big trades of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers sandwiched in between, has forced this patient play Rondo is orchestrating to run deep into the shot clock.

An inexperienced player might rush a pass or put up an ill-advised, covered jumper at this point. Not Rondo, though. He has seen and heard too much in his career to be frightened by a waning clock. 

When the time comes, those unsubstantiated rumors of Rondo seeking a $100 million contract, brought up by Cedric Maxwell to Yahoo!, may ring true. In the end, though, he will ask for what he feels he deserves. Right now he feels like he deserves nothing except an opportunity to prove himself and win.

With that opportunity, he will certainly hope to earn a mammoth contract. As he should. Rondo has spent his fair share of years as an underpaid star.

The injury has hindered his ability to have a say in what happens with the franchise. With the team losing so many games and him either on the sidelines or trying in vain to get back up to NBA speed, Rondo became an image of the past, stuck on this new-look team in a rough situation.

His challenge, more so than being healthy and confident in his knee, is to bridge the gap between those Rivers/Garnett/Pierce teams and this new situation with Brad Stevens.

Before he makes any kind of contract or trade demands, Rondo wants to try making himself a vital part of the future rather than a piece of the past.

His first step in doing that has been to stay out of the spotlight this summer. Continue flying under the radar while LeBron James makes his move and Flip Saunders picks his Love path. Keep your confidence in Danny Ainge and work to get stronger for the season.

He knows that if he comes out flying this fall, piling up numbers while keeping his young, mediocre team competitive, the money will come from somewhere. Rondo has to hope those dollars come from Boston, where he has declared his loyalty for nearly a decade. That is how he functions.

"It’s kind of like college all over again, with recruiting, only times 50 because they have a ton of money to throw at the guys and they don’t have any restrictions on what they can do. No [NCAA] rules," Rondo told Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe this summer.

When it came time for a popular Louisville, Kentucky, recruit to choose his college destination, it was between the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky. When it comes time for him to face free agency next summer, one has to believe his new home will be at the top of his list. This fact may be even more accentuated with a six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son in tow.

There is plenty to prove still. To be the center of Boston's rebuild, he'll have to be at his most creative, making it work with a new influx of fellow guards.

He has to get Marcus Smart easy enough looks to keep his shooting percentage up. If he can't keep that number in the 40s, more will be talked and written about him needing to be a point and not play off the ball. When Rondo's projected contract starts getting compared to that of Smart's, the stats will start to blur.

This is also his last chance to prove he and Avery Bradley can function successfully together in a starting backcourt. There is a totally new entity in Evan Turner and a possible new starting center in Tyler Zeller. While Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk may seem like veterans at this point, neither has spent much time with Rondo on the floor due to injuries.

To be the center of the rebuild, one must first become the center of the team. The captain label helps, but actions will do more. He can't skip out on any responsibilities, no matter how slight (e.g. the birthday incident). Nothing is small or insignificant to players as young as his teammates are.

Rondo will be the center of Boston's offense, controlling everything and everyone with his cues. That will have to extend off the court as well, though, for everything to be successful and for him to stay in his only NBA home.

The way things are shaping up, there will be a lot of integrating that needs to be done, all while putting together a herculean season of trying to keep a mash-up of role players competitive in a star-driven league.

If he can do that and Ainge is once again unimpressed—as he has been for years—by the Rondo offers sure to come in February, perhaps the situation in Boston can been looked at a little brighter by possible free agents. Maybe Nikola Vucevic or Greg Monroe will wonder what they could do alongside Rondo in a Zeller role. If Rondo and Ainge work together, next summer's possibilities could be just as exciting as this summer's were a few months ago.

Whether he can do it or not, no one will know for a few months. For the time being, though, Rondo doesn't have to do anything more than what he is doing to become the center of Boston's rebuild. He is at the fulcrum of everything Boston can and will do until he is no longer listed on its roster.

Until that point, fans must believe that Boston's immediate future is in very large and capable hands.


We should, you know, hang out sometime.