WALTHAM It hasn't even been a year since rumors surfaced of the Celtics trying to kick Rajon Rondo out the door for Chris Paul.
But on Friday, there was no more trade talk. No backtracking. No unhappiness on either side with any particular situation not even a hint.
Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers, and even Rondo sat up at the podium and instead answered questions about Rondo's transformation into a leader on this veteran Celtics team.
My, what one season can do.
Rondo has been a prolific NBA player for a few years now. We've seen him take over games big games against big time players. There's no more doubting his ability as he's one of the best point guards in the game. But there has been doubt about his maturity and leadership skills. Now, those too look to be behind him.
"Rajon is really becoming a leader," Ainge said. "I'm not sure a few years ago we could have said that. He's obviously a great player, but he right before our eyes has grown as a person and as a leader. I think the hardest thing to do is to convince guys like Doc Rivers, and Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce that you're a leader. And that's something that you can't just give to somebody that's something that has to be earned. And I think that he is earning that respect from them as a leader of the team."
It's a lot easier to be a veteran and lead a team of young players. But flip the script, and we've got a situation. Of course, it took Rondo a few years to earn the respect that Ainge is talking about, but when you hear Rondo say that he and Garnett are best friends on the team (he said it Friday), well, that's all you need to know about where his maturity level has risen to.
"Well he is a leader," Rivers said. "I think it's happened over - it's a process. Three year ago he was learning how to be a leader, two years ago he got better, last year he got a lot better, and now he's here. But I just think it takes time, especially for him. Young, going to a veteran team, that's hard."
Rivers was put in a similar situation as a player when he entered the league: he was a rookie point guard on a veteran Hawks squad. Rivers knows that it's hard to earn that respect at first, but he sees that Rondo has gotten it.
"It just takes time," Rivers said. "What it really takes is actions. You have to prove it with your actions before anybody will listen to your voice, and I think over the last couple of years Rondo has proven that."
Rondo showed enough through his actions to earn a sit-down with the most important members of the team. At that point, the official changing of the guards (passing of the torch, etc.) took place.
"Well honestly I think it started last year," Rondo said. "The Big Three, Doc, and myself, we had a meeting to start the season and they all told me this is my team now and we go as you go. So for them to embrace and I wouldn't say let go but kind of let me lead the way speaks volumes of their characters. It's not easy accepting a young guy with my type of demeanor or attitude to come in and kind of take charge.
"It's a work in progress, I think I've gained or earned their respect. They see how hard I work here in the gym, they see how I play the game, they see how unselfish I am I think over time, and they accept the role of me stepping up and becoming a leader."
Rondo knows that while he is more of a leader now, that nowhere near makes him more accomplished or better than veterans like Paul Pierce or Garnett. He admits that it's hard to be too cocky around those guys after all, they have some impressive hardware that he doesn't have . . . yet.
That doesn't mean he isn't confident in his abilities though. He has to show he belongs on the court with them.
"Well I'm biased," Rondo said when asked if he thought he was the best point guard in the NBA. "There's a lot of great point guards in the NBA. I made the comment earlier in the summer, I made it two years ago. That's how I approach the game. I don't think I'd be the player that I am today if I didn't believe it. You don't want to be cocky, but at the same time you want to be confident, especially with this type of team, this type of role. It can kind of be overwhelming to play with three future Hall of Famers and me being such a young point guard if I didn't have the confidence to play with those guys or the confidence to take charge at times, I don't think I would've became the type of player I am today."
If it's Rondo's time to lead, great, but it's where he leads them to that matters.