How, in four brief years, does the No. 21 pick in the draft turn into an All-Star leader with a championship ring? Here is the story of the Celtics' 24-year-old point guard,
One year after helping the Celtics win the 2008 NBA Finals, Rondo heard undeniable rumors that Boston was shopping him for possible trades. He has yet to feel secure as a top point guard.
"I want guys like that," Celtics coach
Boston wasn't expecting to pick Rondo in 2006. On draft day the Celtics unloaded
"I'd heard from
The Celtics bought the No. 21 pick of the Suns, with the deal contingent on the right player being available. "When [
Rondo started 25 games as a rookie, and when the Celtics dealt for
"He has no clue of the history of the game," said 36-year-old
This is not to say that Rondo isn't plugged into his job. "He studies film as much as anybody on the team, he knows the [opponents'] plays as good as anybody," Finley said. "I've met a couple of people in my career who watch as much basketball as me. His life is based around basketball. His knowledge of game situations is what helps him get rebounds and steals and puts the team in good situations.
"He's just focused on the time that affects him, and because of that I guess he doesn't get burnt out watching basketball all the time."
"I don't think he had great habits," Ainge said. "That will be my speech to Rondo again this year at the end of the season -- just continue to develop habits and those habits will help him be great.
"I would say the same thing to [
Rondo was hearing the same advice from Rivers, and he took it to heart. Last summer he lifted weights to bulk up to his current 188 pounds, and he improved his shooting with the help of
Just before the season Grousbeck pushed through the negotiations to sign Rondo for five years at $55 million. "I think that's one of the key events of this season or the next five," Grousbeck said. "I knew that I wanted him here, and I told him as we went into the negotiations that we were either going to sign or match him -- he's going to be here, so get it out of his head."
Said Rivers: "He wanted the extension -- he really wanted it, and I didn't know if he was going to get it or not. And I was really happy when it got done, just so that barrier is removed.
"It was something that definitely weighed on his mind. It would have been talked about all during the course of the season. I think Rondo would have still had a good year, but the fact that he could relax and be more of a leader and feel that there was not any separation between him and ownership and management and coaches -- there wasn't any divide there. It was, We all trust you, we're all investing in you, so don't worry about that anymore. Just go worry about winning."
Said Rondo: "Both parties were happy with the deal, and hopefully I'll be here for those five years."
"It wasn't easy, especially at first," Rondo said. "He's the biggest critic. You've got to take it as a positive, though. He's played 13 years and coached 11, so he's been in the game as long as I've been alive, so he knows what he's talking about. He's pushing me a lot, he wants me to be great, so that's what I have to realize when he's coaching me and he's critiquing me as hard as he is. It's taken me a couple of years to realize that but now I think I'm doing a better job each year of maturing and growing and understanding that he wants the best of me."
Rivers sees him growing in several areas. "The thing Rondo has to still improve on is he gets upset about a guy blowing a play,'' Rivers said. "And it affects how he plays for the next five minutes. He said, 'Coach, I'm not mad at you or anybody, I'm just mad.' I've said, 'Does it really matter who you're mad at? If you're mad and you can't function -- I don't care who you're mad at, just play and do your job.'
"But as the year's gone on, he's made better and better strides at it. He would get so mad at a guy who misses two plays, he'd pout the next six minutes of the game and literally not play. And now it's one play maybe, or not even, and he'll catch himself. He's gotten better and that's really important, because I can see where coaches or even teammates would have taken that personally, like he's quitting, he just gives in. But he's not. We had to get that out of him, and this year has been his best year by far."
Rivers also credits him with knowing when and how to apply the ball-fakes and enthralling bounce passes off the dribble that inspire teammates. "I always remind him, It's a competition," Rivers said. "It's short, he gets it now. He'll giggle sometimes or laugh, and I'll say, 'Don't! It's a competition, it's not a show. You don't get extra points for flair.'
"But some part of that flair, he actually needs it in his game. It's like a great shooter -- you've got to give him more latitude because he's gifted. You don't want to choke off his talent, but you want to make sure he doesn't cross that line to make it a hard play instead of a simple play. But he catches himself now.''
The coach adds that Rondo is also grasping his potential to disrupt opponents by pressuring the ball full-court defensively. "He finally understands how important he is,'' Rivers said, "which I don't think he got before."
I asked Rondo if he understands what Rivers means about learning to appreciate his own value to the team. "No, not really," he said. "He tells me all the time, and I'm like, OK, and I continue to try to get better. And when I do play well he tells me, 'That's what I'm talking about.' "
So sometimes you're nodding along, I said, even though you're not really sure what he means?
Rondo nodded and laughed. "I know somewhat he's talking about maybe picking up full-court defensively, so I'm not letting them get into their sets until 16 or 17 [seconds] on the shot clock so that way they only have one option."
It said a lot for Rondo that he has been able to meet the high standards of three elder teammates who couldn't wait for him to grow up, in addition to a demanding coach who was a former All-Star himself. "It definitely was hard playing for a coach who played point and knows the game so well that you can't get [away with] anything."
When Rondo speaks now, his teammates are more inclined to listen. "He always spoke up, especially being a young point guard," Pierce said. "It's just that he's got more ears now. There's a difference."
"I saw an incident in Miami -- it must have been Game 3 because I was sitting right behind the bench," Ainge said. "I could see Perk and
One way to nullify his effectiveness is to turn him into a scorer, and Rondo understands this as well as anyone. On the one hand he must be aggressive, because "his speed gives us a dimension that we don't have," Rivers said. "Without his speed we're a slow basketball team. He's very important [to create shots] for Kevin and Ray; Paul can get his own, but it's really important for those other two."
If Rondo is scoring at a high rate, then the opportunities are diminished for Garnett and Allen, and the Celtics ultimately lose two of their vital weapons. That's why Rondo responded to his opening half of 19 points and eight assists in Game 1 by driving less often and trying to move the ball around to his teammates, but it was too late to create the new rhythm. In Game 2, he took the opposite tack of spreading the ball around before eventually imposing himself with the dribble, and his 13-point, 19-assist performance had everything to do with Boston's 104-86 win.
The Celtics are bracing for a stronger effort from the heretofore blasé Cavs, who must split the two weekend games in Boston. As important as the health of Garnett and Pierce have been to the Celtics, Rondo may be their one indispensable player. Over the last three years he's had no true backup point guard, and he was averaging 43.5 minutes in this series because Rivers can't afford to play any longer without him.
Rondo insists he doesn't need a No. 2 -- he wants "as many minutes as possible," he said. "I'm 24, I feel great. I'd rather play 48 minutes a night if I could."
Pierce, Garnett and Allen remember how they used to feel that way, and no doubt they're glad Rondo feels that way now. Because he has the potential to extend their usefulness.
I hear you, Edward, and I know a lot of people agree with you. My feeling is that a decade of 50-win seasons without fail should not be taken for granted, and it's no coincidence that the two franchises that have succeeded at that level are supervised on a daily basis by the man in charge, whether it's
He has made mistakes, as he admits, but you have to accept the whole package. You can't ask him to invest his money without accepting his management style. On the whole the franchise is far better off than if he never had bought the team.
Now, have they failed to fulfill their potential in the playoffs because of his management style? That's a fair question that Cuban will have to answer until he wins a championship. My view is that the makeup of the team has been the main issue, and that Cuban's daily oversight does far more good than harm -- that they wouldn't contend every year if he wasn't around the team throughout the regular season. Most NBA teams suffer because the players aren't held accountable, but that isn't a problem in Dallas.
That would be an amazing backcourt, Adam. Both players can drive inside at will and create and defend, and Rose is going to improve his jump shot just as Wade has improved his. But I don't expect them to wind up together. This is completely a hunch, but I'm guessing Wade would be less likely to move to Chicago than to New York, where his celebrity could grow exponentially. But the likelihood is that he'll remain with
I don't agree, Johnathan. He can win games in a lot of ways -- with his passing especially -- and he is surrounded by shooters and low-post scorers. If he is limited offensively, maybe he offsets that by inspiring his team to play better defense.
The same goes for the Lakers: No one should rule them out just because
In the first round, they looked like they expected the Bucks to accept defeat, but that wasn't happening. Now they're getting clobbered by a superior team. The Hawks have done as much as they can with their limited resources, but they were never going to win a second-round series against the richer payroll of Orlando or Cleveland. They've done as well within their means as they can possibly do.
I spoke with the Spurs' 35-year-old big man toward the end of their first-round upset of the Mavericks. His words have new relevance now that San Antonio finds itself down 2-0 to Phoenix.