Never say, “Never.” But do say, “Not right now.”
Since the somewhat surprising summer trade of captain Paul Pierce and team-leader Kevin Garnett to the Nets, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has told every radio talk show host, TV reporter, and print and online writer who would listen that talented point guard Rajon Rondo will not be traded.
It’s borderline shocking he hasn’t paid to put it on a billboard or the side of the Garden.
All along, I’ve believed him. If you haven’t, you should start.
Rondo was named the 15th captain in franchise history upon his return Friday night from an 11-month injury-driven hiatus from the court. The news was broken by public address announcer Eddie Palladino when he uttered the words, “And at the other guard, 6-1 from Kentucky, the captain, Rajon Rondo!” before a wide television audience and thousands of Green-goggled onlookers.
That’s right; the C’s quiet leader had no idea.
“It really didn’t hit me at first,” he admitted. “I was just trying to lock in.”
“I never told him,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “Maybe it’s something I should have done, but I think it’s something you earn through your effort, through your leadership, through your involvement in the community and all of those things. So, yeah, he earned his captaincy. He didn’t need to be named it by me.”
Know what Rondo really didn’t need?
To be named captain at all.
Stevens isn’t required to have a captain, and even hinted earlier this year that he wouldn’t. Just because Pierce held the title in part since 2000 and exclusively since 2003 doesn’t mean there had to be an immediate replacement.
It was a not-so-subtle way for the Celtics to not only reward a deserving player of a celebrated honor, but to also share with the NBA community and their fans, “This guy is here to stay, at least for now.”
Players aren’t named captain and sent packing one month later. With the league’s trade deadline approaching on Feb. 20, there will be deals, but Rondo won’t be among those sent out.
Not Rondo, not yet.
The four-time All-Star’s trade value is at an all-time low. To maximize his worth, he needs to show he’s the same rubber-made, quick-cutting, explosive, wide-eyed player he was before last Jan. 25’s setback.
That will take longer than a few weeks.
Moreover, consider the historical importance of being a captain, at least in the Celtics’ organization.
From 1950-92, the C’s had only five captains – legends Bob Cousy (1950-63), Bill Russell (1963-69), John Havlicek (1969-78), Dave Cowens (1978-80), and Larry Bird (1980-92) – and their respective reigns didn’t end until retirement. A first retirement for some.
The next two decades followed a different trend.
Reggie Lewis enjoyed a brief captaincy (1992-93) before tragically passing away.
Robert Parish, then 40 and in his 14th season in the Hub, was captain (1993-94) before leaving as a free agent.
In his sixth year, Dee Brown was named co-captain with new veteran Dominique Wilkins in 1994-95. The (former) Human Highlight Film left after only one year, but Brown secured the solo title for the following season.
In 1997-98, three men shared the distinction: Brown, Pervis Ellison, and Antoine Walker. But, Brown was sent to the Raptors midseason in the deal that famously transported Chauncey Billups out of town, and Ellison missed the next season with an injury.
That left Walker all alone as captain in 1998-99, before he re-added the “co” to his title with veteran Dana Barros, who was traded to the Mavericks after the season.
For the following three years, from 2000-03, it was Walker and Pierce.
Walker was traded to Dallas after his last All-Star campaign, and that left just Pierce all the way until last summer.
Yes, captains have been traded. But none after a mere month, and none with the talent of Rondo at that stage of their careers, aside from perhaps Walker, who was returned a short time later. Wilkins, Brown, Barros, and Pierce – whether because of age or injury – were all long past their primes. As for Fox’s release, it’s hard to take anything seriously that happened during the Pitino regime.
Rondo is just 27. He hasn’t even signed his big contract yet (he’s due to be a free agent after next season). That may not come in Boston, but make no mistake, Ainge and company are still evaluating that question, and the basketball brass will take its time to do so.
For now, believe that Ainge and Stevens plan to build around Rondo. He’s the last remaining piece of the 2008 championship puzzle and they hope he possesses the same elite talent and all the mental and emotional leadership qualities required to raise Banner 18 at the conclusion of this rebuild.
If they decide he doesn’t, then maybe he’ll be traded. But, rest assured, such a move won’t occur before the offseason, if then. The Celtics told us that when they attached “captain” to Rondo’s name.
Try not to get swept up in the rumors along the way.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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