Originally written on Celtics Town  |  Last updated 10/20/14
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Rajon Rondo can be stubborn, aloof and moody. He can rub teammates and coaches the wrong way. He’s steadfast in his beliefs and willing to share them with any member of the Boston Celtics. But even when he struggled during the second half of last season, there was a belief he had turned the corner personally and become a player the Celtics admired and (mostly) got along with, on and off the court.Or maybe not.Donny Marshall told NBC SportsTalk that Rondo still causes trouble in Boston’s locker room.“My sources tell me he’s started to wear his welcome out a little bit,” Marshall said.In his book (I haven’t read it yet, so my knowledge is second-hand), Shaq noted that Rondo occasionally ticked off his older teammates. Shaq called Rondo stubborn and said he wouldn’t change. But that’s nothing new. We’ve known Rondo to be stubborn and set in his ways, ever since he was a rookie coming out of the University of Kentucky. Calling Rondo stubborn is like calling Kevin Garnett crazy — yeah, no kidding, but his team needs to learn to deal with it, because like it or not, that’s just part of his personality. Good luck potty training a 25-year old dog.Sporting News reporter Sean Deveney wrote a column this week saying the Boston Celtics are just using these trade rumors to motivate Rondo.
Fast forward to this bizarre offseason, and you can’t help but get the sense that the Celtics are leaning on the “trade Rondo” tactic yet again—not because they are actually looking to trade Rondo, but because they want to snap him out of the funk he seemed to fall into after the team traded his good friend Kendrick Perkins in a surprise move last February. Before the trade, Rondo averaged 10.8 points on 50.9 percent shooting, with 12.3 assists. After, he was down to 9.8 points on 41.6 percent shooting, with 9.2 assists. The Celtics were 41-14 before the deal, and 15-12 after. Rondo played hurt against the Heat in the second round of the playoffs, where the Celtics lost in five games. …What it all comes down to is the Celtics looking to give Rondo a kick in the trousers at a time when they know they need their point guard to be at his best. Rondo might not want to admit it, but Pierce, Allen and Garnett are getting older and the championship window is closing. If the Celtics do have another run in them, they need their point man to be well-adjusted and ready to produce the way he had done before Perkins was traded.These trade rumors will likely prove to be little more than a way to assure Rondo comes in with sharpened focus.
But if that’s the case, why didn’t they try motivating him during the regular season? If what Rondo needs to play well is a kick in the rump, why didn’t Doc Rivers just come out and say, “Look, guys, our point guard’s playing like a drunken Jose Calderon. We know he’s capable of better. Hell, he spent the first half of the season threatening to break NBA assist records and generally playing like a top-three point guard in the NBA. But right now, we’re not getting much of anything from him.”Here’s what Rivers said instead:
“I don’t know if he’s slumping. He’s not playing great right now, but I don’t think he’s slumping or anything,” said Rivers, who told reporters in New Jersey that Rondo’s ankle was fine. “He’s just going through a stretch. It’s a long season. He’s human the last time I checked, and he’s going to go through stretches just like Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen] and Kevin [Garnett]. They’ve all gone through stretches.”
Rivers always publicly backed Rondo, no matter how poorly or disinterested the All-Star played at times last season. Maybe that’s because Rondo’s moody — maybe one negative word from Rivers could send him into a tailspin. But that never stopped Rivers with other players. Glen Davis is as moody as an eight-months pregnant woman, yet Rivers took (admittedly subdued) public shots at him fairly frequently. They didn’t work out — Davis just kept spiraling deeper and deeper into the world of bricked jumpers and shaky decisions. But Rivers didn’t hold his tongue with Davis, even though Davis clearly is the type to be adversely affected by being called out in the press.Kevin Garnett backed Rondo, too, even during the depths of last season’s slump. After Rondo went scoreless and rebound-less against the Indiana Pacers, Garnett had this to say:
“Rondo’s playing hurt,” said Garnett. “He’s hurting. He’s giving us everything he has. He’s grinding. He’s playing countless minutes for us, and he’s not playing like a washed-up guy.”
That doesn’t sound like someone fed up with his teammate. Nor does the following comment from Jermaine O’Neal, taken after Rondo returned to the Miami Heat game with one arm (pretty much) tied behind his back.
“He’s one of the tougher point guards in this league and he wants to win. And that’s the first thing I asked him when he came back, I asked him, ‘Are you sure that you want to be back out here?’ And he said, ‘Look, we don’t have any games to give,’ and that’s Rondo.”
Rondo can obviously be a nuisance sometimes. He’s prideful, and not always in a good way. He’s stubborn. Nobody would argue with that. But his teammates and coaches speak about him with respect and sometimes even awe. At one of the games I covered last season, I forget which one, Rivers noted that Rondo occasionally disagreed with sets Rivers called. But Rivers wasn’t upset. He was just impressed, because Rondo saw (and understood) things on the court that even Rivers didn’t.Would I be surprised to hear that Rondo can still be an asshole sometimes? No, not at all. In fact, given his personality, I’m sure he occasionally causes problems in the locker room, at least minor ones. But would I be surprised to hear the Celtics are shopping him around because they’re fed up with his act? Yes. They’re not trying to trade him for 75 cents on the dollar, after all. They’re trying to trade him for Chris Effing Paul, the best damn point guard in the league. If Danny Ainge isn’t simply looking to improve his basketball team, I’d be surprised.Then again, Rondo’s play during the second half of the season can best be described as “the walking dead.” But here was Garnett’s explanation of that:
“I’ve seen him play through some (injuries). I’m not going to go through the list of injuries that you all are unaware of. I’m not going to put him out there like that but I’ve seen him play through some horrific injuries. [When he returned after the elbow injury] all of us sort of look at each other like, ‘What is he doing out here? Is he being smart right now?’ When he came in, it was just typical Rondo. Shorty is a really tough, young individual and I don’t know what he’s going to be like when he’s 35 but right now he’s playing through a lot. He’s showing a lot of heart (and) a lot of grit. We see it. That doesn’t go unspoken or unseen. We see he’s out there giving his full effort. We’re following that lead.”
I’m not completely discarding Donny Marshall’s report. But if the Celtics are really fed up with Rondo’s act, they had a funny way of talking about it last season.
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