Can Rajon Rondo Ever Thrive as Boston Celtics Leader?

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IMarch 3, 2014

Rajon Rondo is giving his all to become a better leader.
Rajon Rondo is giving his all to become a better leader.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Rajon Rondo continues to be an incredibly frustrating professional basketball player for the Boston Celtics.

However, that is just the point, isn't it? When Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers exited the Boston Celtics family last summer, and again when Rondo first donned the "C" on that green jersey, he became more than just a professional basketball player.

Over the past year, Rondo has been making the necessary transformation into a leader.

It has clearly not been without hiccups. The storm following his birthday party debacle is one of the more amusing fallouts we've seen. Which is saying something, considering Rondo's history with opposing players, Snapple bottles, referees and nosy cameramen.

One minor benefit to living beyond the radio-wave reaches of Boston's sports-talk stations is not being inundated with superfluous sensationalism by hosts looking to drum up hate. Out in Western Massachusetts, one has to actually seek out these talk shows.

This is the type of non-story that those shows will feast on and get plenty of agenda-setting mileage out of, all while ignoring the real question. 

Given those events that have happened in the past, this is a minuscule dent that could literally be buffed right out. It wont get that proper maintenance treatment, though, due in large part to the personality of said offender. This issue could be swept under the rug with relative ease, becoming the punch line of a lame Twitter joke, but since Rondo won't do the necessary lip service, it will fester.

With a player like that, more responsibility falls on to the fans to be, well, responsible. Are we really concerned about Rondo skipping a trip to a game he wasn't playing in?

Prior to the season, Jared Sullinger was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. Though the charges were eventually dropped, that is the kind of thing that possibly shows a deeper character flaw. In the grand scheme of things like Raymond Felton's gun charges, Rondo's transgression doesn't hold a ton of weight.

More than that, is Rondo being asked to lead Michael Felger, Lou Merloni, you or I, or is he being asked to lead Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and the future young Celtics?

Of course we as fans and media members are entitled to certain standards for supporting a franchise. However, with a player like Rondo, those standards shift a bit. There is a price to pay for watching his on-court brilliance.

How we perceive him beyond the ranges of assist totals and three-point-shooting percentages is largely a choice. Unfortunately, Boston media is enormously pervasive and the blogosphere clout is even bigger.

The Rondo lens is going to be tinted no matter what fans do, but that tint can be one you choose on your own.

Viewing the bigger picture of Rajon Rondo since these events started to unfold last June tells a different story than a hardheaded 28-year-old playing hooky and throwing a birthday party.

Rondo was at a great majority of Boston Celtics games during his rehab period, which undoubtedly played a huge role in his being awarded the captaincy upon his return.

The rehab itself is illustrative of quality leadership.

In nine games since the start of February, Rondo is averaging 14.9 points, 10 assists and 5.3 rebounds on 46.8/41.9/81 shooting clips.

It took him six games in January to get to a point where he could post those numbers. That is proof of diligent rehab work and a passion for the game. Both qualities befitting of a leadership position.

Coming into the season, the biggest basketball knocks on Rondo were his outside shooting and free-throw shooting. Since his return from injury, Boston's "can't shoot" point guard is 26-of-50 from beyond 15 feet, per NBA.com. He is 20-of-27 from the free-throw line.

On the floor, we have only seen the fun, ultra-competitive Rondo. He isn't going to get along with a lot teams in the NBA, which is a totally fine way for a leader to act. However, when that competitiveness fuels hate and the target slips from his opposition, there is a problem. 

Playing these games now—when they perhaps don't mean quite as much as they did in postseason races past—may help Rondo keep emotions in check. With all the progress he has made, and the faith exemplified by management in that "C" on his jersey, another run-in with an official would be disastrous.

Beyond the court, his Kia Community Assist award in December should speak to how he spent his time away from the court. Fortunately, children rarely stick microphones and cameras into Rondo's face, leaving that relationship unblemished by years of shots at his game.

This birthday party issue is a silly and childish error in judgement. One that a 28-year-old professional should be embarrassed about.

While he won't ever show that regretful face to the opinion-makers of Boston media, it has to affect the man in some way. A man who has spent the past year working on his body for the sole reason of coming back and leading the Boston Celtics.

For the most part, that is what he has accomplished. Compliments for Rondo often stick to his on-court brilliance, court vision and competitive nature.

Gerald Wallace said a lot of things to the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett, but the core thought was of Rondo as a player whom he would follow:

When we’re on the court, we’re five guys together, a whole team together. When we’re off the court, we can be individuals. You know, you do your own thing and I do my own thing. It’s what you do on the court that makes me want to follow you. If you’re fighting and diving and scrapping for things, I want to follow you. That’s the kind of leader you want.

Wallace hammered home the point that Rondo hates to lose. That he wears losses on his sleeve and can't laugh off a failing performance.

Rondo lost in this birthday party situation, no matter which lens you view it through. If Wallace is right about his teammate and captain, this will only make him stronger moving forward.

For now, this franchise isn't looking for a leader in the way Tim Duncan is a leader, or even how Paul Pierce wore the "C" for the past handful of years. 

The Boston Celtics aren't looking for a captain to rule a team and lead them to a championship. All they are concerned with right now is forward progress and momentum. Progress like working on your shortcomings, keeping a positive attitude in the face of constant losing and being agreeable with management.

Rondo isn't a perfect leader right now. However, he has proven that he worked on the stagnating parts of his game. He has kept a positive outlook on the situation at hand, and he's worked well with Brad Stevens and staff thus far. The two seem to be in sync on things like his minutes restrictions and not playing back-to-backs.

To thrive as a leader doesn't mean one has reached the pinnacle of that definition. Instead, thriving is onward progression and the process of amassing experience.

That is what the Boston Celtics are concerned with, and Rajon Rondo is right on the same page.


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