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For Rajon Rondo, The Time Is Now
Posted By Moke Hamilton On August 28, 2013 @ 9:00 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
His gargantuan hands cradled the basketball. And, like many times prior to this point, all eyes were on him.
With the score tied up, 101-all, like many times prior to this point, he found himself with the ball in his hands and the hopes of his team on his shoulders.
On this day, with the defender standing in front of him before being screened, the defense, just as it had done consistently throughout the night, switched. And when Rondo rose up and fired, he nailed the 23-foot jumper that broke the tie.
Though his Boston Celtics lost Game 2 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami HEAT back on that May 30th day, it became known as the night when at least some of the reservations that the NBA public maintained about Rondo ceased. En route to scoring 44 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out 10 assists, Rondo converted on 16 of his 24 shot attempts. More impressively, he scored on 11 of the 13 shots he took from outside of the paint.
It was not the only all-world performance he had in which he led the Celtics, but it was the most awe-inspiring.
Now, just over one year later, a new journey for Rondo awaits. With general manager Danny Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens steering the cart, it is here that the road diverges. Now, it is here that Ainge must decide whether or not the Celtics—beginning the descent into a rebuilding phase—would be best served by trading the 27-year-old Rondo for younger players or assets. That is Option A.
Option B? Entrusting him to be the leader that Paul Pierce was before the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and hoping he learned enough in the five fateful years in which he was an understudy to those three and Doc Rivers. He pranced around Boston’s TD Garden with them, and won it all with them.
This season, as Rondo looks around at those wearing Celtic green, there will not be even one familiar face from the franchise’s 2008 championship team. Instead of Pierce, it will be Gerald Wallace and instead of Garnett, it will be Kris Humphries. It is just more of the same in his life as a Celtic.
Since being acquired by the Celtics in June 2006, Rondo has experienced all walks of life as a member of the team.
As a rookie, when the team won just 24 games, he was the fourth guard off of the bench behind Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and Tony Allen. Thrust into the starting lineup out of necessity, both Rondo and Kendrick Perkins were the bookends on Boston’s Big Three after, in July 2007, Ainge managed to procure both Allen and Garnett.
By July 2008, the team had gone 66-16 over the course of the regular season and had defeated the Los Angeles Lakers for the 2008 NBA Championship. Along the way, Rondo went through some growing pains, and the team signed Sam Cassell to provide a steady influence as the backup lead guard.
The story that was told, though, was that the Celtics ended their 22-year championship drought not because of Rondo or his contributions, but in spite of him. And that is the story that will be told until he proves it wrong.
Since then, and partially due to being featured on a roster with three first ballot Hall-of-Famers, Rondo’s respect of being amongst the NBA’s top point guards has been slowly earned.
Since June 2006, after seeing 79 other players come and go, he now has the potential to be for the Celtics’ face of the franchise.
As Garnett, Pierce and Allen began to regress, Rondo emerged as the best player on Rivers’ team. But as late as April 2011, his contributions on the court were still met with a shocking lack of respect.
Current Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni, then coaching the New York Knicks, intimated that Rondo’s success was merely a product of who he was playing with. The Celtics had just defeated the Knicks in Game 3 of the first round of the 2011 playoffs, 113-96.
Pierce and Allen combined for 70 points, but it was Rondo’s 15-point, 11-rebound, 20-assist performance—as well as the fact that the Celtics were up 3-0 in the series and were on the verge of sweeping the Knicks—that everyone wanted to talk about.
It was then that D’Antoni said that he would like to see how and to what extent Rondo excelled as a member of a less talented team. He cited the Minnesota Timberwolves as a potential test case. On that night, D’Antoni refused to pay homage to Rondo and any of his many gifts—his ability to see the entire floor, the way he barks out instructions to his teammates when playing off the ball and his proficiency in finding his teammates when they are in rhythm and ready to shoot.
They are all under-appreciated gifts that one simply cannot comprehend unless watching Rondo play in person. For him, though, this was nothing new. By April 2011, he had already heard the same kinds of arguments from the likes of Chris Paul and even Brandon Jennings.
No, this was nothing new.
But 2013-14? It will be.
Over the years, there has been a fair amount of conjecture as to Rondo’s temperament, including spats that he has had with teammates, opponents, cameramen, media members and even authority figures.
Persistent questions about Rondo’s attitude coupled with the seemingly annual rumors involving him potentially being traded have his current trade value on the low, at least at the moment.
This past summer, as the Celtics ended an era, the best reported proposal the Celtics received for Rondo was one from the Detroit Pistons, offering a package built around the since-traded Brandon Knight.
In the long-run, trading Rondo to the highest bidder may be the best play for Ainge, and with just two years left on Rondo’s current contract, the time to seriously consider such a trade is now. What seems fairly certain, though, is that his value on the trade market can and will increase between now and February’s trade deadline if Rondo returns and shows no ill effects of the ACL tear he suffered last season.
And as those roads diverge, Rondo will have a great opportunity to either prove himself as being a malcontent diva, or as being worthy of the moniker “superstar.”
In the NBA, there are many different types of players. Two such types are those that are something, all by themselves, and those that want to be a part of something.
The emotional letdown a left-behind player experiences when his team trades away or allows an important member of the team to walk away and takes a few steps backwards in order to move forward is tremendous.
“Future” is a word that fans love, but it is not one that an in-prime player wants to hear.
For the player in his prime, the future is now. That same belief led Kobe Bryant to wanting out of Los Angeles at one point and that same belief has LaMarcus Aldridge at the end of his wits in Portland.
The select few—Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Paul for many years, and yes, Paul Pierce—stand tall as franchise players and give their guts, making their careers bigger than ring chasing.
After seven years in the NBA, as a result of being blessed with Hall-of-Famers by his side, there is no way to know how Rondo will carry this load. There is no way of knowing whether the Celtics will ultimately trade him and if it will be against his will.
But how Rondo carries himself and how he carries his team moving forward will go a long way toward determining whether history remembers him more as Tony Parker or more like Mario Chalmers.
Yes, for Rajon Rondo, the road diverges this season.
The universal adoration of the city of Boston, the trust of coach Brad Stevens, the respect of the Mike D’Antoni’s—it is all there for the taking.
And on the other side? Bitterness, complacency, kicking and screaming, followed by a forced exit.
The choice is his.
Yes, here the road diverges. And it is all in Rondo’s hands, those gargantuan hands that showed what brilliance on the basketball court was on that May day against LeBron James.
If his shoulders are anywhere near as big, and if his heart matches his grit, then Rondo will be an afterthought among the NBA’s top point guards no longer.
As the roads diverge, the choice is his.
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