Rajon Rondo was in a good mood yesterday at Celtics Media Day. That’s at least somewhat due to the fact that he’s always in a good mood at media day. It’s an event that’s tailor made for the more endearing side of Rondo’s personality — which typically reveals itself when the point guard finds himself in front of a horde of reporters asking super serious questions at a not so serious time.
That’s Media Day in a nutshell. And Rondo thrives on it.
“When do you expect to be playing for the Celtics again?” a reporter asked, as Rondo sat down for his individual press conference.
Rondo: (deadpan) “The 2013-2014 season.”
Follow up: “At what point in the season?”
Rondo: “Sometime in the winter . . . maybe the fall. You just never know.”
Reading that over, it might sound like he was being an ass, but that wasn’t the case. Well, OK. Maybe it was the case, but it wasn’t mean-spirited. He was clearly joking, and kept that tone throughout most of the 10-minute session.
He sarcastically referred to the exercise bike as his best friend. At another point, he sarcastically referred to Brad Stevens as his best friend. When talking about a recent team dinner that he hosted at his house, Rondo lamented the fact that he had to pay for it and was quick to point out that Jared Sullinger (who’s looking Big Babyesque, by the way) ate the most of anyone. When asked how it felt after Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to Brooklyn “It wasn’t difficult at all,” said Rondo. “I didn’t feel anything.”
But by the end of the press conference, the conversation came full circle back to his injury, and finally, without even a hint of sarcasm, Rondo got real. How much will his return be based on the mental aspect of the recovery?
“Everything,” he said. “When I’m mentally ready, I’ll play. Until you go through this type of injury — a lot of people gave Derrick Rose a lot of heat about not playing or whatever the case may be — this injury isn’t easy. At the same time, it’s more mental when you come back, and when you get around 10-11 months, it’s just feeling confident.”
The reference to Rose was the most interesting takeaway. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that folks wondered whether Rondo might be able to make it back for last year’s playoffs. And even if that was totally bonkers, all along, at the very least, both Rondo and the organization suggested that he’d be back for training camp and certainly ready for opening night. And now, eight months later, he’s not close to a return and is comparing himself to a player who most recently sat out an entire season?
“You want to feel confident,” Rondo continued, “especially the type of players at the point guard position that we are. Our legs are pretty much everything. We use our speed. He’s very athletic; I’m athletic. And you need that mental aspect to go up and jump and come down without thinking about your leg again, because the last jump, for myself and (Rose), we’ve come down and torn our ACL. It’s just being mentally ready, and when I get there, I’ll play.”
You can already see where this story is headed. It’s pretty clear that Rondo will not return to the court as soon as he’s medically cleared to do so. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him come back after Kobe Bryant, who’s eight years older than Rondo and tore his ACL two and a half months later. Given Rondo’s relationship with the Boston media and the nature of the Boston media in general, it will get ugly. Before long, the fact he’s not playing will create the perception that he doesn’t want to play and doesn’t care about the team and set off the same old string of tired Rondo criticism.
In preparation for that, here’s my advice for Celtics fans: Ignore it. Don’t buy into the nonsense. Let the haters hate because that’s all they do and, considering that there won’t be too many other major storylines surrounding the team this season, that’s all they’ll be able to do.
But it’s OK.
I’ve already written that I think it’s in the best interest of both Rondo and the Celtics if No. 9 sits out the entire season. Whether that’s a realistic option is another story, but facts are facts.
1) Given the depth and star power in this summer’s draft, the Celtics are better for the long term by being worse in the short term. If Rondo’s already going to miss at least the first month or so and leave the Celtics in a hole, it makes no sense for him to rush back and pull them out and leave them in a “worse” position come lottery time. 2) Given the state of Rondo’s contract (he’s got two years left) and the general uncertainty surrounding his future in Boston, it makes no sense to rush back and try to prove himself on a team that’s in total flux. I mean, look at the Celtics roster right now. Without Rondo, they have zero legitimate point guards, five shooting guards, two small forwards, five power forwards and zero centers. With all the draft picks they’ve stocked up there’s definitely hope for the future, but the present is a mess. And for this season, they should want it to be a mess. Adding Rondo to that mix doesn’t help. Or, it helps just enough that it doesn’t really help.
Not the team or him.
But let’s say that sitting out the entire season isn’t in the cards. Let’s say that at some point, he will come back. And let’s definitely say that it won’t be early enough to appease most of the people who are paid to talk about the team.
Do you really think his delayed return will be rooted in a lack of desire? That deep down, he’ll be thinking to himself, “Yeah, I can play right now. I could come back and dominate the game like I always have. I just don’t want to.”
Say what you will about Rondo, and I’ve said my share over the years, but I’ll never question his competitiveness.
“I'm excited about the fresh start,” he said yesterday. “I'm excited every year, each team, but getting back on the court, I just want to compete. I haven't competed in a while and I'm a very competitive player and competitive person. I miss being out on the court with my teammates and having them there.”
I believe him when he says that. Rondo’s one of the most competitive players in the league. Almost to a fault. That’s why he has so few friends around the league. Why he’s not one of the NBA’s cool kids. It’s at the source of many of his on and off-the-court outbursts. It’s something he’ll hopefully learn to harness as the years go on. But he’s nothing if not competitive. You better believe he’s doing everything he can to get back on the court as soon as possible.
He’s also one of the smartest players in the league. At least, one of the most cerebral. He knows what’s at stake here. He’s thought it all through. He understands the things that make him the player that he is. He’s not going to comeback before he’s 1000 percent sure that every aspect of his mind and body are in tune. That’s going to take time.
And guess what? The Celtics might not have another point guard. They might not have a center. They might not have any real expectations for the 2013-14 season. But they do have time. This season especially, they have all the time in the world.
So Rondo should take all the time he needs.
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