NBA PM: Rondo’s Happy, But For How Long?
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Rondo’s Happy, But For How Long?
This offseason the Boston Celtics traded away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets, let Doc Rivers out of his contract so he could go to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a future first-round pick and hired a college coach in Brad Stevens with no NBA experience to replace Rivers.
Everyone expected a Rajon Rondo trade would be the next shoe to drop. It only made sense. Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was clearing house and embracing a youth movement; getting rid of Rondo lined up perfectly with everything he was trying to do both in the short term and long term.
Only, he hasn’t done it. Not yet, at least. While getting rid of Rondo seems like the obvious next step in the rebuilding process, everyone within the Celtics organization has gone out of their way to state that their plans are to keep Rondo and build around him. Stevens has voiced his excitement to coach him and to their credit, the two have seemingly been working toward forming a relationship in preparation to potentially work together this season and beyond.
Rondo recently made his strongest statement ever to try and dismiss the rumors out there that he is unhappy or looking for a way out of the only city he’s played for in his seven years as a pro.
“I love it here,” Rondo said to CSNNE.com. “The fans are great here. And Danny [Ainge] has been straightforward with me. This is my team. Why would I want to leave? Why would I want out? I never really backed away from a challenge. This would be a challenge. I’m looking forward to working with coach Stevens. It’s a brand new start for us as a team. A lot of new players and a lot of young guys willing to listen, so I’m very excited about that.”
Rather than being surrounded by future Hall of Famers who helped make his job as a playmaker much easier, Rondo is now surrounded by a much younger cast that will look to him not only to run the show offensively, but serve as a leader both on and off the court.
Even Stevens will be looking to Rondo for help. Rivers was a former player and already had previous NBA head coaching experience with the Orlando Magic, so he wasn’t taking on anything he wasn’t familiar with when he took over in Boston. Stevens, however, has been very blunt with how much different the NBA game is in comparison to the college game that he was so successful in. Luckily for Stevens, though, Rondo seems to have an open mind and will be willing to listen to him despite his greenness.
“Whatever coach asks of me, that’s what I try to do,” Rondo said. “If he wants me to shoot the ball more, I’ll shoot it. But at the end of the day, my natural instincts are to make my teammates better. Regardless of who is out on the floor, I believe I do make everybody out there better. I’m going to push them as hard as I can. I’m going to demand a lot out of them. I wouldn’t demand anything that I wouldn’t demand of myself. So I’m excited to play with a new group of guys.”
If Rondo listens to Stevens and believes in what he’s trying to do, everyone else on the team will follow. But, there’s still no telling when Rondo will be on the court to put their relationship to the true test as he is still recovering from a torn ACL.
“I’m just getting my leg as strong as possible,” Rondo said. “Getting my leg as strong gas possible and getting my mind as strong as possible, get back out there and believe in my leg and do the things that I was able to do before this injury.
“I just play the game. When I’m out there participating in the drills I can participate in, I don’t think about my leg. Basketball is a game of instincts. You have to go out there and just play the game. You can’t second-guess anything you do out there. The way I play; run, jump, change direction so quickly, you don’t have time to think about the injury you had. When I get to that point and I’m doing it with contact, I’ll play.”
We’ve seen this before plenty of times in the past, where two sides who by all accounts other than what they say publicly appear to be headed for an inevitable breakup. No matter what Rondo and the Celtics’ power wielders say, facts are facts. Rondo is in the prime of his career and as currently assembled, the Celtics do not look equipped to contend. It’s easy to say you’re on board with rebuilding and playing for a first-year head coach, but it’s another thing completely to actually go through it and deal with the growing pains on the court.
The February trade deadline is going to come quickly and it will be interesting to see whether each side is maintaining the same tune then.
Kaman-Gasol Combination Holds Promise: It’s well documented how poorly Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol fit together in Mike D’Antoni’s offense last year. Howard’s preference to stay on the low block took away Gasol’s post-up opportunities and kept him away from the basket far too often.
With Howard leaving for Houston this offseason, the Lakers wisely went out and found a replacement for Howard who could play in both the high and low post: Chris Kaman.
“I’m flexible,” Kaman said to ESPN. “I can post up. I can shoot the ball. I can set a ball screen. I can pass the ball. I have good, well-rounded basketball knowledge and skills. I’m not like a superstar, but I’d like to think I do a decent job out there.”
“We knew Pau was great with the ball,” Lakers point guard Steve Nash added. “But I thought Chris was terrific tonight with the ball and setting picks and moving so we didn’t get stagnant. I was pleasantly surprised. I would say it exceeded my expectations.”
Along with having the versatility to mesh well with Gasol, Kaman also came to the Lakers with open ears for D’Antoni and so far he has nothing but praise for the oft-criticized head coach.
“This is the best training camp I’ve ever had,” Kaman said. “He’s an awesome guy. He’s a player’s coach. I don’t know how he gets fired anywhere. I have a lot of respect for him. I think Coach D’Antoni is a very fair guy. He lets everybody have an opportunity and then you need to do well to keep getting opportunities.”
The expectation was with Howard gone that Gasol would slide over the center position and play with more of a hybrid, smaller power forward who could stretch the floor. That may not be the case, though, if the combination of Gasol and Kaman continues to look good in the preseason.