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Rajon Rondo’s decision to lag behind Celtics not captain’s move

Posted by Adam Kaufman  February 26, 2014 12:27 AM

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By now, it’s well established how I feel about Rajon Rondo.

The mild-mannered Celtics point guard is among the best in the NBA at his position when healthy and an argument could be made he’s a top 20 player overall. There’s no need for the C’s to trade him this offseason or at next year’s deadline, just as there wasn’t last week. The captain can absolutely be part of another championship legacy in Boston before his days of no-look passes and behind-the-back fakes are over.

However, his most recent off-court play was not the one of a man named the leader of his team.

Word surfaced on Tuesday that Rondo missed a leg of the Celts’ unsuccessful four-game road trip when he opted to stay behind in Los Angeles on Friday after a loss to the Lakers to celebrate his 28th birthday with family and friends. It was known he wouldn’t be playing the next day in Sacramento because he isn’t yet taking the floor on consecutive nights, but the captain didn’t bother to get official permission from his club to skip the flight north. Rondo played in the trip’s finale, a 12-point loss to the lowly Jazz on Monday, and finished with 18 points and 10 assists.

Coach Brad Stevens hasn’t said a word about the incident, nor has Rondo beyond, “We already talked about it. There’s nothing to talk about.”

Danny Ainge has.

The team’s president of basketball operations told the Boston Herald, “I plan on talking to Rondo when he gets back into town. I’ll find out more about what went into it, and then we’ll handle it internally. We handle all of those kind of issues internally.”

Naturally, this has incited the masses on talk radio, television, and in the blogosphere. Ainge’s need to respond publicly about a matter he intends to keep private has led people to say everything from “Rondo doesn’t belong here” to “he doesn’t want to be here” to “he just doesn’t get it.”

And, most popular, “Rondo’s not a leader.”

I think the whole story is totally overblown and I’d bet his teammates could not care less.

Is it reasonable to question his leadership in a situation such as this? Well, I’d be lying if I said he’s setting a sterling example, plus a 28th birthday doesn’t exactly call for a milestone celebration, but his actions aren’t suspension-worthy. A discussion in the principal’s office and perhaps a fine would suffice.

Lest we forget, this is the same guy who could have gone off on his merry way for the first half of the season to recuperate from an ACL tear. Instead, he sat on the bench, accompanied the Celtics on road trips dating back to the preseason, attended practices, and spent considerable time around his new coach and mates in an effort to make his transition back to the floor as smooth as possible. Call me a Green-teamer, but I view his captaincy as more than a superficial courtesy. It is earned.

Since, Rondo’s moves have been as enigmatic as his play. While Ainge has publicly praised his star at every opportunity, the guard has gone from saying he could envision spending his entire career in Boston to noting his interest in testing free agency in the span of a week. He’s demanded the keys to the car in his first chance to lead a team, and then snuck out for a joyride when the adults were sleeping.

It doesn’t matter what we think of Rondo. The bigger question is this: What is he thinking?

Does he want to be part of a rebuild in Boston or is he counting the days until he hits the market in 2015? Is he upset he wasn’t traded or simply frustrated to constantly have his name attached to rumors? And, was this last act a blatant disregard for team protocol or just a careless misunderstanding after he’d previously stayed behind when the C’s visited Milwaukee earlier this month on the end of a back-to-back?

There’s been enough drama surrounding the Celtics for one season. Upper management (one could assume) wants to lose to improve the club’s draft standing, the new coach and his players try desperately to win more often than not, fans may as well wear jerseys reading, “Tank” with the No. 1 on the back, and now the face of the franchise – surrounded by trade rumors dating back to the offseason – is marred in controversy as he tries to prove he’s the same rubber-made player he used to be and worthy of one day commanding a max contract.

This is how it works in years when individual game outcomes and stat lines rarely matter and only the bottom line and hiccups fuel discussion. Rondo isn’t under fire because the Celts are 2-11 with him in the lineup. In a sadistic way, it’s probably gaining him more fans among the lottery supporters.

Rondo is being criticized because people like long-time captain Paul Pierce and many others before him wouldn’t have remained behind in a road city for a party rather than cheering on his teammates from the bench, and he shouldn’t have either. Making the situation uglier is that he did so without going through the proper channels and in the midst of a losing streak. Just as he was earlier in the season before receiving the ‘C,” captains should be present even when they can’t play.

It was a mistake, a stupid one a teenager would make, not someone approaching 30. That’s it. His misstep wasn’t nearly as impressive as his stutter-step. That doesn’t mean he deserves special treatment, but is the excessive fanning of the flames required?

At this point, barring new details, I’m willing to follow Rondo’s lead: we talked about it and there’s nothing more to say.

Let’s move on.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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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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