Rondo ready for leadership role earned from Celtics

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Rondo ready for leadership role earned from Celtics

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.

Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

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Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

A. Sherrod Blakely joins SNC to give his NBA Draft preview, and explains why he thinks the Boston Celtics should roll the dice on 18-year-old Dragan Bender if they get the chance.

Could early Thunder exit help Celtics chances for Durant?

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Could early Thunder exit help Celtics chances for Durant?

A. Sherrod Blakely joins SportsNet Central to give his opinion on whether an early Thunder exit from the NBA Playoffs would help the Boston Celtics chances to land Kevin Durant in the offseason.

Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

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Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

BOSTON – There’s a certain amount of mystery surrounding most players when they enter the NBA draft.

And then there’s 19-year-old Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1 Sudan-born basketball player who successfully challenged the NBA’s rule restrictions placed on high school players entering the league.                                                  

Maker reclassified academically in 2015 but elected to stay at Orangeville District Secondary School in Orangeville, Ontario for an additional year which was later deemed a “post-graduate” year.

In doing so, he satisfied the NBA’s rules regarding draft-eligible players being one year removed from their graduating high school class as well as the league’s age requirement.

This will be the second straight draft where there will be at least one player who played their prep basketball in North American who did not play in college or professionally overseas prior to entering the draft.

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks selected Indian-born Satnam Singh in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. The 7-foot-2, 290-pound center played his prep basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

To be in such select company alone makes Maker’s journey to the NBA unique.

But in this narrative, that becomes more of a footnote as Maker’s path towards pro basketball has already taken him to three different continents (Africa, Australia and most recently North America) in which he has played for at least five different institutions.

CSNNE.com spoke to two different scouts, a league executive and an NBA assistant who was among those to see him play during a Basketball Without Borders event in 2015.

Their opinions of Maker’s chances of playing at the NBA level are kind of like the places Maker has played basketball – all over the map.

“There is no way this kid should be in this year’s draft,” one Eastern Conference scout told CSNNE.com. “He’s nowhere close to being ready to play or make any kind of impact that will help a team anytime soon. He’s one of those two years away from being two years away kind of players. If you take him near the end of the second round, he’s worth it. But a first-rounder? I just don’t see it.”

Another executive with a Western Conference team offered a similar assessment of Maker.

“He’s going to have to show some things that we haven’t seen yet, in workouts,” the executive told CSNNE.com. “Every draft has a player or two that you draft because he has upside, but he’s a project. That’s Thon Maker; a project with upside, the kind of upside that you’re probably not going to really see or really be helped by for years down the road.”

A second scout added, “He’s not ready for the NBA. Not even close. But this league drafts on potential and because of that, somebody will take him. It may not be until the second round, but he’ll be drafted by someone.”

However, one current NBA assistant had a chance to see him play at a Basketball Without Borders tournament and came away with a very different opinion of Maker.

“You immediately saw the separation of talent, of God-given ability,” the assistant coach told CSNNE.com. “He’s a multi-faceted player, a willing learner.”

Originally from Sudan, Maker was discovered by Edward Smith whose guidance has taken Maker on a basketball odyssey across the globe with stops in Louisiana, Virginian and most recently, Ontario.

During each stop, Maker's potential was evident.

But most of his best work came against questionable competition, the kind of thing that tends to raise eye-brows among NBA decision-makers.

As impressed as the assistant coach was with Maker, he too wonders how the 19-year-old will fare against bigger, stronger, more seasoned competition.

"We'll find out soon enough," the assistant coach said. "He's in the draft now. His skills, the good ones and the ones that need some work, will be on display for all to see."

Maker burst on the scene as an internet sensation a couple of years ago with a YouTube video that drew immediate comparisons to former Celtic Kevin Garnett.

But as more folks began to watch him play, the flaws to his game became more pronounced.

He is a 7-1 wing player with a lithe frame whose physical strength leaves a lot to be desired. While he has shown a great work ethic according to most scouts, he doesn’t have a true feel for the game in large part because he is so relatively raw.

And maybe most telling is how he has been on the floor with other above-average competition and more often than not, has done little to stand out as one of the better players competing.

Throw in the fact that he bypassed college altogether and it stands to reason that collectively there are more questions about his game than answers right now.

In an interview with Draft Express shortly after announcing he would enter this year’s draft, Maker shed some light on his controversial decision.

“When I found out I had the opportunity to enter this year's draft it was a no brainer to me,” Maker told Draft Express last month. “I've always had the dream of playing in the NBA and I feel that I am ready.”

Maker added, “When I had the chance to enter the Draft, I started of thinking about College versus Pro. The NBA game, talent, spacing, rotations, terminology, clock and practice time is so much more different than college. I watch a lot of ball, both games and practices. I felt that if I could do this full time, it would be great. If I went to college I could not see myself not taking my academics seriously. I would want to take serious classes and do well in them. I would have to split time in my focus. My approach is to always go all out and try to be the best if I'm going to do something.”

That’s why his decision to turn pro is not something that he says he will not have a change of heart about.

Players who enter the draft can pull out as late as May 25.

But listening to Maker, that doesn’t seem to be an option he’s giving any thought.

“I'm all in,” he said. “If you're doing something you have to be confident in your choice. This process is not a game. I've played with NBA players before and their approach is business like, even though they are having fun out there.”
 
When pressed on whether he would consider withdrawing from the draft if he doesn’t like the feedback he’s hearing during the pre-draft process, Maker reiterated his position.

“As I said, I’m all in,” Maker said.

“He wants to be a star,” the assistant coach said. “He wants to be a star and I think he will be. I don’t want to put too much on the kid before he gets a chance to get out there and show what he can do. But as of right now, in my heart of hearts I feel the kid is going to be a special player.”