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Rondo, Celts on top after first week

It was supposed to be over. After weeks of negotiations, Rajon Rondo had reached an impasse with the Celtics on a contract extension. Rondo was seeking a five-year deal in the $55-60 million range. The Celtics were fine with the years but preferred to pay him somewhere between $42-$47 million. So pessimistic was Rondo that he talked openly before Sunday's game about becoming a restricted free agent next summer, even questioning whether he would be a Celtic beyond this season.

But suddenly, just hours before Monday's deadline, Boston agreed with Rondo on a reported five-year, $55 million contract.

It was a smart move by the Celtics, who need a focused Rondo on the court if they hope to contend for their second title in three years. As much as the Celtics' front office likes to take veiled shots at its brash, young point guard through the media, Rondo is the best fit for this team. He's a defensive-minded playmaker who doesn't require many shot attempts and looks increasingly comfortable in a leadership position in this, his fourth season. He makes good decisions in transition and is able to spread shots around so well that there is rarely a whisper of dissatisfaction in the locker room. His faults (erratic shooting, occasional lapses in judgment) aren't uncommon among most young players; they are just magnified by the fact that Rondo is a star on the biggest stage.

It's also a savvy move for the long term. Most of the key players on the roster are on the other side of 30. Ray Allen, 34, will be a free agent after this season. Paul Pierce, 32, holds a $21.5 million player option for next season. Kevin Garnett, 33, has a contract that ends in 2012. Rondo, 23, can't carry a team to a title, but if he continues to develop, he can certainly be a cornerstone player on a championship team in a few years.

Of course, some would argue he already is. Rondo's scoring (6.5 points) has been modest so far, but he has racked up double-digit assists in each one and is a big reason why the Celtics are 4-0 and sit atop our first NBA Power Rankings of the season.

NBA Power Rankings
1Boston Celtics
Last Week: --
Rasheed Wallace is a pretty good fit in Beantown, isn't he? Wallace, who is averaging 10.0 points and 4.0 rebounds, has ensured that the Celtics don't miss a beat when Kevin Garnett is out of the lineup. He may be needed to fill Garnett's shoes more often, too: Said one Bulls player, "KG's knee just doesn't look healthy."
 
2Orlando Magic
Last Week: --
One reason why the absence of Rashard Lewis isn't being felt: Ryan Anderson. Considered a throw-in in the Vince Carter trade, Anderson, who is starting while Lewis serves his 10-game suspension for violating the NBA's substance-abuse policy, is averaging 17.3 points and connecting on 55 percent of his three-point attempts. "I'm basically going to take advantage of the time I get," Anderson said.
 
3Denver Nuggets
Last Week: --
A summer off from USA Basketball seems to have done Carmelo Anthony some good. Last November, Anthony had his least productive month of '08-09 when he averaged 19.9 points. This season, Anthony has powered Denver's victories against Utah, Portland and Memphis with a 37.7-point average. "I wanted to challenge myself mentally to pick up where I left off last year, and I feel that I'm doing that," Anthony told reporters.
 
4Miami Heat
Last Week: --
Jermaine O'Neal promised he would regain his All-Star form, and so far he has delivered. O'Neal has posted at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in two of three games. He's showing no signs of trouble with his often-injured left knee. "This is the best Jermaine has played in at least three years," guard Dwyane Wade told the Miami Herald.
 
5Phoenix Suns
Last Week: --
Back to their high-octane ways, the Suns are averaging a league-high 117.3 points. The 35-year-old Steve Nash doesn't look like he's going to wear down anytime soon: He was the Suns' leading scorer in their season-opening win over the Clippers, he handed out 20 assists in a blowout win over Golden State and had another 14 assists in a victory against the Timberwolves on Sunday.
 
6San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: --
Batman! Manu Ginobili earned the nickname after swatting a flying rat out of the air during a game against the Kings, but his play has also been occasionally superhero-like. Ginobili has scored in double figures in all three games. The three-point line, however, has been his kryptonite, as he is connecting on just 23.1 percent (3-of-13).
 
7Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: --
Shawn Marion's $39 million price tag isn't looking so hefty now. Marion resembled the Matrix of old in a 16-point, 11-rebound, two-block effort in a road win over the Lakers. He also showed he can still be a defensive stopper: Kobe Bryant missed all five shots he took with Marion guarding him.
 
8Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: --
Phil Jackson says he's not worried about Pau Gasol's hamstring injury, but Gasol sure sounds like he is. "I'm concerned about it, definitely," Gasol told the Los Angeles Times. "There's no set time to return, no set date. I just don't want it to turn into something long-term." The All-Star forward missed the team's last six exhibition games and has sat out the first three games of the regular season. "This isn't something you have to be [100 percent back]," Jackson told the Times. "You can't be 100 percent on this unless you take forever and ever to let it heal."
 
9Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: --
Josh Smith, 23, has passed Shaquille O'Neal to become the youngest player with 900 career blocked shots. "It's incredible," Hawks coach Mike Woodson told reporters. "He should try and go out and get three or four a game because it changes the game." Equally impressive is the growth Smith has shown with his shot selection: He has not attempted a three-pointer while shooting 58.8 percent from the field.
 
10Washington Wizards
Last Week: --
Before the season, general manager Ernie Grunfeld told me the Wizards would contend if they could stay "somewhere in the middle" of the defensive categories. So far, so good. The Wizards are 11th in points allowed (98.3) and sixth in opposing field-goal percentage (42.3).
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