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Adam Kaufman

Celtics Owner Wyc Grousbeck on ‘Stubborn’ Rajon Rondo: 'I Don’t Know How Coachable He Really Is'


Celtics CEO, governor, and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck was a guest on WBZ-TV’s “Sports Final Overtime” Sunday evening to discuss some of his charitable endeavors and, naturally, preview the upcoming basketball season.

With his team working diligently to get back to their recent days of championship contention after an offseason that lacked those promised fireworks, Grousbeck had some interesting things to say when discussing C’s captain and impending free agent Rajon Rondo.

“He’s super stubborn,” revealed Grousbeck, adding Rondo is a good, generous kid who loves being in Boston. “I don’t know how coachable he really is.

“I know if you ask [former, long-time head coach] Doc [Rivers], ‘Was he the most coachable guy, or in the top half, 50 percent,’ he’d say, ‘No, he’s in the bottom 50 percent of being coachable.’ It’s hard with him,” Grousbeck continued.

This, of course, isn’t the first time we’ve heard the high-maintenance, smarter-than-you Rondo can be difficult to manage on the sidelines or in practices.

The earliest reports date back to Rondo’s college days at Kentucky, when he ruffled the feathers of then-coach Tubby Smith.

Then, as recently as last month, Hall of Fame basketball writer Jackie MacMullan could be heard on a behind the scenes segment of ESPN’s “Around the Horn” telling Frank Isola there is no way Rondo – with one year and $12.9 million remaining on his current deal – would be traded to Rivers’ new team in Los Angeles because, “he doesn’t like Rondo, remember that.”

If you’ve forgotten, Rivers and Rondo reportedly once nearly came to blows after the guard cursed at his coach in the locker room during a team meeting. The scuffle had to be broken up before Rivers reached his star player. According to the author of that report, Chris Sheridan, Rivers’ “intense dislike” for Rondo – and not a potentially long rebuild – is the primary reason the coach desired a change of scenery three years before his contract was up.

MacMullan backed up that suggestion, going on to say, “I mean, he’s done with Rondo. They went a good, long way together, but that guy – Rondo drives him nuts.”

To no surprise, Rivers has never confirmed that notion. Frankly, he’s gone out of his way to state the opposite since departing the Green. In fact, after seven seasons together, Rondo has said the two are still very much in touch and he regularly looks to his former teacher for guidance.

Still, whether for his reported and rumored personality clashes with coaches or teammates like Ray Allen, Rondo’s name has surfaced in trade discussions for years. While team president Danny Ainge maintains the only legitimate gossip of the dozens of speculated deals to involve Rondo in the past was one featuring Chris Paul and the Clippers, the perennial All-Star has never publicly asked to leave town.

That’s why it was interesting to hear MacMullan confidently declare Rondo wants out of Boston, either by trade or once he hits free agency next summer. Rondo has hinted as much in the past, mentioned the lure of testing the market and being recruited for the first time since going off to college, but his camp quickly and flatly denied those rumors. His adoration for the city and its organization has been heavily publicized.

When asked point-blank about the idea of moving on, Rondo has told reporters he “doesn’t like change much.” The 28-year-old has evened envisioned a scenario where he’d spend the rest of his career in Boston. Granted, that story may have changed with Boston’s failed pursuit of new Cleveland big man Kevin Love and the Celts’ decision to select fellow point guard Marcus Smart in the June draft.

Grousbeck was asked by anchor Dan Roche about the captain’s future, and the owner said he’d “absolutely” like Rondo to remain for the long-term.

Pressed as to why, “It’s intangible,” Grousbeck said of the man he called a great Celtic. “You just watch him. He played through sort of a broken elbow, a ripped knee. He’s a gamer, he’s a competitor, and he’s got world-class talent.”

Rondo’s leadership skills are constantly a discussion of contention, but there’s no disputing his talent. When healthy – as he hopes to be in his first full-season since ACL surgery – the on-court visionary has the potential to be a walking triple-double and a player who can alter the complexion of a playoff series in his team’s favor. In a league filled with shoot-first point guards, Rondo is one of few who regularly looks to distribute. Paired with the right offensive talent, his team could be deadly.

But, even Rondo will acknowledge what his owner claimed.

“It’s not that I’m hard to coach,” Rondo said last summer at a sponsored event for Red Bull, “it’s just that I may challenge what you say. I know the game myself, I’m out there playing the game. So I may have saw something different versus what you saw from the sideline.”

Even so, it’s rare to hear such comments from the ownership level, particularly when Ainge, current coach Brad Stevens, and Rivers have made efforts in the past to change the narrative.

Ultimately, this story line is nothing new for Celtics fans. They simply want to know whether Rondo will be on the team, who will trade places with him if he isn’t, and how good he can be if he is.

“The real basketball pros, you know, the guys that really run the basketball side out there, think he looks fantastic,” Grousbeck said of his now-healthy face of the franchise.

“I think we’re going to have a big year out of Rajon; that’s my personal belief,” he continued. “I’m a big fan, as he knows, as everybody knows, and the contract thing will play out. We never talk about that stuff before it’s time. We’re glad he’s here. He’s got a ring. He was a starting point guard on a championship team and, ‘nough said.”

Enough said? As Ainge teased on Sunday, the conversation may only be just beginning.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman and email me here.

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