Bob Ryan

The curious case of Rajon Rondo

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / June 25, 2009
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There’s waaaaay too much smoke for there not to have been at least a small campfire. Something has been going on with Rajon Rondo.

Of course, Danny Ainge implies that the Celtics haven’t been actively trying to move him. That’s a standard GM response.

“We love Rondo,’’ Ainge said on WEEI yesterday morning, “and Rondo is a player we want to have on our team.’’

Check the wording. Nowhere in there does he specifically deny trying to market his 23-year-old point guard. An implication is not a direct statement, so we cannot accuse him of lying. There must be a school where they send these guys so they can learn how to phrase this stuff.

Danny also declared yesterday that no one on his team was “untouchable.’’ In case you were wondering. So he’s completely covered if and when he risks alienating his fan base by trading away a charismatic young player, the specific likes of which we’ve never seen before. That’s textbook GMing, if you ask me.

So what is it with Rondo? Isn’t he coming off a postseason in which he was quite often America’s No. 1 day-after water cooler topic? Didn’t we see him “elevate his game’’ by averaging 16.9 points, 9.8 assists, and, amazingly (well I am taller than he, and I’m only 6-1), 9.8 rebounds per game? Didn’t we see him put up highs of 29 points, 19 rebounds, and 16 assists during the course of a 14-game postseason? Wasn’t all this supposed to signal the arrival of a major young star?

Or were we all hallucinating?

Well, no, we weren’t. Rondo did all of those things. Fans and media gushed and slobbered and raised glasses and composed sonnets to this astonishing 6-foot force of nature. But as impressed and pleased as Ainge often was, he apparently took pains not to get carried away. His job is not to be a fan. His job is to construct the best possible basketball team. Rajon Rondo, he has decided, is far from a perfect ballplayer.

Rajon Rondo still has technical flaws. Start with his basic jumper, which, though significantly improved, is still a frequent liability.

“As we saw in the Orlando series,’’ Ainge says, “they left him wide open. His presence hurt us in winning right now because his man went and doubled onto Ray [Allen] and Paul [Pierce] and made it difficult for us.’’

He also remains a very disappointing free throw shooter. Someone with the capacity to get to the hoop and draw as many fouls as Rondo does has got to be an 80 percent foul shooter. Rondo isn’t anywhere near 70.

But these things are correctable. There appear to be other issues that involve more than merely getting into the gym.

Let’s go back to draft time three years ago. When Rondo declared for the draft, the coaching staff at Kentucky wasn’t exactly what you would call heartbroken. Tubby Smith & Co. appreciated his immense raw talent, but they had grown weary of the packaging. Rondo was known to be something of a coaching handful.

The inference we’ve been drawing of late is that he still is. He’s not some awful person, but let’s just say he has his ways, and he sometimes grates on teammates, coaching staff, and management.

Ainge has even taken the unusual step of confirming a rumor that Rondo had been late for practices this past season.

“There were just a couple of situations where Rajon was late this year,’’ Ainge says. “I don’t know if he was sitting in his car, but he was late. The rest of the team was there. We have team rules, and you have to be on time. He was fined for being late, said he was stuck in traffic, and it’s just not acceptable.’’

Common sense tells us that the reason Ainge is copping to this is that there were surely more transgressions of a higher nature.

Having said that, Ainge insists that Rondo’s behavior is not deviant enough to force the Celtics into making a trade. What Danny is asking is that Rondo become more responsible, more professional, more aware that it’s not just about putting the ball in the basket, making a spectacular pass, grabbing a rebound away from a 7-footer or stealing the ball from Chris Paul.

“We certainly wouldn’t trade him because of these things,’’ Ainge continues. “At the same time, we expect him to play by the rules and be a leader as a point guard. We need him to be more of a leader.’’

As good as Rondo is, he can get better. And there are better players, and also plenty more close enough to him that he could be replaced. There are quite a few very nice point guards these days, and not just the old reliables such as Jason Kidd (36), Steve Nash (35), and Chauncey Billups (32), nor the accepted inner circle of younger point guards such as Paul (23), Deron Williams (24), Tony Parker (27), and, of course, the scary Derrick Rose (20).

You’ve got Jose Calderon (28), Jameer Nelson (27), Mo Williams (26), and Devin Harris (25). You’ve got Raymond Felton (25), Aaron Brooks (24), and Mario Chalmers (23). Is Gilbert Arenas a point guard? He’s still only 27. No one knows what Monta Ellis is, either, but he’s very talented and he’s just 24.

There would be a couple of reasons why Danny could be marketing Rondo. The first is that the entire basketball world did, in fact, sit there with jaws dropping watching Rondo do some of the things he did. Some GM out there might have been so enraptured with Rondo that he might do something foolish that would work to the Celtics’ advantage. You never know about those things.

The second reason is even more intriguing. Among the things Ainge told the WEEI audience yesterday was that, in his view, you don’t need a killer point guard to win an NBA championship. He cites himself and Dennis Johnson as examples, but there are better ones, for sure.

The Bulls won six titles with point guards such as B.J. Armstrong, John Paxson, Craig Hodges, Ron Harper, and Randy Brown. The Rockets won a pair of titles with Sam Cassell, Scott Brooks, Kenny Smith, and Vernon Maxwell. San Antonio won its first title with Avery Johnson. The Lakers have won four championships with Harper, Brian Shaw, Tyronn Lue, Lindsay Hunter, and, of course, Derek Fisher.

Number of All-Star Game appearances for these 14 gentlemen: 1 (one), Sam Cassell, 2004. As a Minnesota Timberwolf.

So beware. None of us wants to see Rajon Rondo go anywhere. We’re all looking forward to seeing him put that ball behind his back and pull it out, squeezing up those floaters in the lane, and throwing down those dunks over people for the next 10-12 years.

But it’s not our call. It’s Danny’s, and if he thinks trading Rajon Rondo will make the Celtics a better team, he won’t hesitate to do it.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on He can be reached at

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