While injuries and fatigue helped end the Celtics' title defense in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, those factors also allowed young point guard Rajon Rondo to demonstrate his capabilities as something more than a facilitator to Boston's three All-Stars. In 14 playoff games, Rondo averaged 16.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.7 assists.
Surprisingly, the strong postseason performance was greeted with expressions of concern from general manager Danny Ainge over Rondo's maturity and rumors that the Celtics were looking to trade the 23-year-old guard. What lies ahead for Rondo? SI.com caught up with the three-year veteran recently to find out.
SI.com: You put together your best season as a pro last year, but most players try to add something new to their games over the summer. What did you look to improve on?
Rajon Rondo: [Coach] Doc [Rivers] and I talked after the season. He wants me to become a better floor general, a better leader. I've also been working on my shot and my strength. I've gained about eight pounds; I'm up to like 187 now. I came into the league at 160. But with the type of game I play, taking the contact and the hits, hitting the floor, it's still a game of muscle. And my body fat has improved a little bit. I'm down to like 5.1 [percent] now.
SI.com: How do you work on being a better floor general?
RR: I think it's just growing more mature, really. The more experience I get, the better I'll become. You have to know how to manage people's attitudes and you have to deal everyone differently. I can't respond to KG [Kevin Garnett] like I respond to Baby [Glen Davis]. Now we have Rasheed [Wallace] this year, so I have to manage his mind-set. Every player we pick up I have to learn their personality and learn how to deal with them on the court.
SI.com: With Rasheed now in Boston, do you have any concern on how all the big personalities will fit together?
RR: KG and Rasheed are pretty close friends. And Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen] flew out to Rasheed's house with Doc and Danny [to recruit him]. But as far as having egos, they should have them; they've earned them, they're All-Stars. The younger guys just have to follow, and I have to be the first young guy to follow and lead by example.
SI.com: Will you have to change your game with KG back and Rasheed in the fold?
RR: I have to stay aggressive, not necessarily offensively, but throughout the entire game on both ends of the court. Just knowing when to get guys the ball, who has it going. Just like the last two years, if Paul has it going then Ray and Kevin have to sit back and let Paul go to work. Those guys are easy to work with. I'm sure Rasheed will fall in line. I don't know him much but I'm sure he won't be a problem trying to get shots. He's a very unselfish guy, and he wants to win a title.
SI.com: Is it difficult to dial back the urge to beat opponents offensively?
RR: It is. But the game is 48 minutes long, and the physical game that I play as far as hitting the floor and getting through picks [means that] you may feel you have a mismatch, but then again, you may be a little tired or you're not able to blow past a guy and then finish at the rim. And I've got four other guys on the court with me that I feel can get a good shot up every time. It's easy for me; I don't have to come down and have a scoring mentality, and I like to get assists more than opportunities to score points. But when teams do lay off me and make me take a shot, that's when I have to take a shot and be aggressive.
SI.com: How have you developed the confidence to direct the multiple All-Stars on your team, to make sure your voice is heard?
RR: I've never had that problem. There may be times I say stuff I shouldn't say. When I play with Kevin, Paul and Ray, I don't really look at them as 10-time All-Stars; I look at them as great teammates that I love playing with. And I don't get shy telling those guys what to do once in a while. Whether I'm right or wrong, I'm going to voice my opinion. At times it's not the right thing to do and at times it is.
But I'm still learning. Those guys are vets, and they know more about this game than I do They're almost 10 years older than me, so I have to pay attention to them, along with Coach Rivers. He's been around this game for as long as I've been alive.
SI.com: You mentioned Doc wanted you to be more of a leader. Danny Ainge made some headlines over the summer by saying he wanted you to offer more leadership and grow up in some cases. Were you surprised to hear his comments?
RR: I wasn't surprised. If he feels that way, then I have to pay attention and grow.
SI.com: Were Ainge's comments fair? Could you have handled some things better last season?
RR: Maybe on the court ... [when] a possession or two may go by and I'm frustrated about the game, and things aren't going well for me, I may get quiet or shut down, I may not talk as much on the defensive end and call out all the sets and all the screens. But I still have to call the plays and not be difficult in front of my teammates. I'm my harshest critic. If I can keep the team first whether I'm playing well or poorly and help us win, then my game doesn't really matter.
SI.com: Is it difficult to play for a coach who has been a point guard, who has done what you are doing?
RR: Doc wasn't just a bum; he was a good player, he made All-Star Games. And he played with great players like Dominique [Wilkins], like I'm playing with great players now. So he understands the game, he's been through everything I've been going through and he understands what I've been going through. Still, it's difficult at times to play for a coach who's played the point guard position because he's critiquing everything you do. But at the end of the day, he's on my side, he's trying to make me better.
SI.com: Your name was bandied about in trade rumors around draft time. What were your thoughts about that?
RR: It seems like there's only been about five different guys who have been with one team their entire career, so there's always a possibility, especially for a guy of my caliber, to get traded. I'm sure if the Celtics had the opportunity to get a better point guard and not have to give up much ... you never know. But that's the business. I want to be wherever I'm wanted. I love being in Boston, but whoever wants me that's who I'm happy to play for.
SI.com: You could sign a contract extension this fall or you could test free agency next summer when a number of teams will be looking to buy talent. Is that an enticing possibility?
RR: That could be, but it's still early so I've got some time to see how things settle in Boston. If it doesn't, I'll play out the fourth year and see how things go next summer.
SI.com: Is it safe to assume you'd prefer to stay with the Celtics?
RR: If the Celtics want me, then I'd be happy to stay.
SI.com: Speaking of happiness, you enjoy roller skating. How did you develop an interest in it?
RR: About four years ago I went to a birthday party, and there were a few guys I knew who were good at it, and I thought their style was pretty cool and unique. I bought some skates the next day and I went out every day and practiced and got better. I'm a competitor, I love to be the best at what I do at everything, whether it's cards, whether it's basketball or skating.
SI.com: How often do you skate? Are you allowed to skate during the season?
RR: I am. Danny knows about it, obviously. There's a group of kids I work with here in Boston. I took them skating a couple of times [during the season], and Danny approved it and everything was fine. I'm pretty good, so I don't fall much. Plus, I don't try any crazy stuff that would hurt me. I haven't skated too much this offseason because I was busy traveling and working out, but last summer I skated about two times a week.
SI.com: Back to the court -- with all of the changes Orlando and Cleveland made over the summer, do you think the Celtics will have to take a different approach with those two rivals?
RR: I think they'll have to play us differently. We want to make teams adjust to us. That's how Doc coaches and that's what we try to do when we play.
SI.com: Is getting home-court advantage in the playoffs as important as staying healthy?
RR: For us, having veteran guys, we just need to be healthy. We've been through adversity as a team the last two years, and we showed we could win on the road. And last season, Orlando came into our building and won Game 7. They didn't have home court, but at the end of the day, they were healthy and they got the job done.
SI.com: As a former Kentucky Wildcat, what are your thoughts on John Calipari taking over the program?
SI.com: I ran into him at Game 3 of the Chicago series [in the first round]. I think he was there to see Derrick [Rose], but he came into our locker room after the game. I don't know much about him but I do know the style he plays and it looks like a great style of play for the offense they run. They get the ball up the court quick and move at a fast pace.