Rondo's maturity isn't the Celtics problem

949207.jpg

Rondo's maturity isn't the Celtics problem

Depending on the angle from which you watched last nights whatever-you-want-to-call-it between Rajon Rondo and Kris Humphries, your opinion of what transpired will be drastically different.

For instance, many of the reporters in attendance who had a clear view of the action from their seats in the southeast corner and who were all (most likely) sober swear that they saw Rondo throw a punch. Multiple punches. Enough punches to earn a significant suspension and a public spanking from David Stern (or more hilariously, Adam Silver).

For those of us who watched on TV, there were no punches at all. Personally, Ive inspected the video at least 25-30 times over the last 12 hours and still cant see a punch or even a moment when Rondo could have thrown a punch. Maybe it was more of a jab? Either way, from the TV angle, the whole thing appeared to be nothing more than your typical overblown modern-day NBA altercation. The kind of thing that the mid-90s Knicks would frequent on the regular, and Bill Laimbeer would liken to a leisurely stroll in the park. (Granted, one that was entirely created and perpetuated by Rondo, and will definitely and justifiably draw some kind of suspension.)

Finally, if your only insight into the brawl was Kris Humphries postgame photo, the only assumption is that Rondos actually some sort of Wolverine-type X-Man, and you know what? That would explain a lot.

The bottom line is that people saw what they saw. Theyre going to believe what they believe. And as is the case every time Rondo throws himself into the heart of controversythe media monster, those beliefs will be screamed and re-iterated in circles from now until much further notice.

Hes a baby! Hes selfish! Hes not ready to lead!

Before you know it, youll hear arguments as to why Rondo is Bostons biggest problem. That theyll never win another title by hitching their wagon to a stubborn hot head. That he doesnt know what it means to BE A CELTIC!

And thats fine.

But all the yelling doesnt change the fact that Rajon Rondo's attitude is not the problem right now.

Rondos maturity is not the problem. Rondos temper is not the problem. Rondos petulance is not the problem. (Or not as big a problem as the number of people who continue to describe him as petulant, despite considerable evidence that its impossible to use the word petulant without sounding like a dick).

Is it unfortunate that his immaturity and temper continue to occasionally inspire incidents like last night? Of course. Its also wildly disappointing to be forced to admit that Rondo clearly still has some growing up to do, and isnt as ready to carry the emotional burden of an NBA franchise as we hoped coming into the season.

But in reality, thats not the end of the world.

These arent the mid-2000s Celtics. This isnt a still-immature Paul Pierce trying to lead a team, flanked by veterans like Ricky Davis and Mark Blount. Instead, from a pure leadership standpoint, Rondo has the best support system in the NBA. He has one of the best leaders of all time, in Kevin Garnett. He has a fully-mature Paul Pierce. He has Jason Terry, who in only two months has already, in his own way, taken over this team, despite the overwhelming presence of the two guys I just mentioned.

The truth is, in respect to this one and only season, Rondos maturity was a luxury. Sure, it might have been nice to see him become that guy, but he didnt need to become that guy. Not yet. The Celtics veteran foundation is still strong enough to carry a freakishly talentedemotionally immature point guard.

Then again, the veteran foundation is entirely useless unless Rondos on the court. If hes suspended for any significant amount of time and thats a possibility, depending on how much weight the league places on the incidents proximity to the fans theres no doubt that the Celtics will suffer. In that case, his immaturity will be costing Boston actual wins, and I guess you can understand why some people will use that to throw Rondo back into the ringer. Hes selfish! Hell never change! Hes letting down his team!

That last one always gets me.

Is he really?

In terms of wins and losses . . . OK, maybe. But in reality, as you listened to the locker room reaction after last nights game, did you get the sense that even one of Rondos teammates felt let down by what happened?

It is what it is, man, Garnett said of the fight and a potential Rondo suspension. Obviously we are worried, but it is what it is. We have to protect each other and we consider ourselves family around here. That's just the way it is.

That might sound ridiculous when you consider the circumstances of this particular incident, but thats just how they think in there. If anything, Rondos suspension will probably end up bringing this team closer together.

On the other hand, Doc certainly sounds disappointed. Im sure Dannys disappointed. Man, were all disappointed. This stuff wasnt supposed to happen anymore.

But you know what? Its not that bad.

After one, three, five or however many games, Rondo is going to rejoin the line-up and go on a tear. I understand the danger in making predictions about an unbelievably unpredictable character, but in this one way, Rondos as predictable as they come. Honestly, what do you think the odds are that he puts up a triple-double in his first game back? What about in his first two games?

And at that point, well forget about Kris Humphries. Well convince ourselves that Rondos learned his lesson and just pray that the motivation sticks around. Well move on.

So hes still a little immature? OK, thats fine. But I dont know how any one could have watched Rondo in the last two playoff series against Miami and not think that hes a player that you want on your side when its all on the line. Hes been that guy for years. (And hey, at least hes graduated from hitting refs to hitting players. Baby steps!)

So like I said before, Rondo and his takedown of Kris Humphries are not the Celtics problem.

The problem is everything that came before it.

The fact that, even with Rondo in the line-up, the Celtics just arent a good team right now. They consistently sleep walk through games against lesser-talented teams like Detroit and Washington. Save for last Friday, theyre consistently out-played and out-classed against the morejust-as-talented teams. And don't get me wrong, Rondo (especially on defense) has contributed to that. But the Celtics also have no rebounding. More pressing, they have no edge. No attitude. Teams arent afraid to play them anymore. Not at home, and not even in the Garden. Like Doc said, the rest of the league thinks theyre soft. So soft that the only potential punishment for landing a hard foul on Kevin Garnett is a two-handed shove from a 6-1 point guard. (At this point, I imagine Kenyon Martin on the phone with his agent: Really? Nothing from Boston yet?)

I know that Danny loves the freedom of that open roster spot, but its also pretty clear that this team needs something. Something larger. Something stronger. Something meaner. For instance, if Reggie Evans has an identical twin, he would be great. But really, isn't it time to make a move?

Once they address that issue, they can start figuring out how to officially get Jeff Green on track. Next, Courtney Lee (who at this point must be Greens biggest fan). They can get to work on improving a defense that ranks 23rd in the NBA in efficiency.

And if theres any time leftover, I guess they can spend a few minute worrying about Rajon Rondos temper, maturity and leadership. But even then, I'm not sure it will be worth it.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

The '86 Celtics Interviews podcast (Ep.8): Dan Shaughnessy

86pod-shaughnessy-dl.png

The '86 Celtics Interviews podcast (Ep.8): Dan Shaughnessy

Boston Globe columnist, and former Celtics beat writer, Dan Shaughnessy sits down with CSN for an extended discussion on "The '86 Celtics Interviews" podcast. Shaughnessy talks about the greatness of that team and the players' surprising reaction when they found out he was moving from the Celtics to the Red Sox beat.

Starter, bench or DNP: Zeller ready for any role with Celtics

ceiling_to_floor-zeller.png

Starter, bench or DNP: Zeller ready for any role with Celtics

Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Tyler Zeller. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON – The NBA is a league full of highs and lows for players.

There are few who understand this as well as Tyler Zeller, a player who has gone from starting to being a backup to not playing at all – at times in the same week.

And through it all, you never heard him gripe about it publicly or privately to teammates.

It’s among the many reasons you constantly hear his teammates talk about how much they respect the way he has handled some extremely difficult situations.

This past season was especially tough for him considering he was heading into free agency and looking to do all he could to not just win, but showcase what he could do as player.

There were many nights when Zeller didn’t have that opportunity, but he understood.

The Celtics have been and will continue to be a team that’s about finding ways to win and on many nights coach Brad Stevens decided to go in a direction that didn’t include Zeller playing.

As the summer dragged on and the Celtics’ joined the handful of teams that came up short in landing Kevin Durant, Zeller’s return became more likely.

And Zeller’s patience was rewarded with a two-year, $16 million contract with the second year of the deal being a team option.

Now that he’s back in the fold, what’s next?

The ceiling for Zeller: Part-time starter

It may not happen on opening night and it may not happen in the first week, or even first month, of the season.

But at some point, Tyler Zeller will be in the Celtics’ starting lineup.

And when he’s there, he’ll do a lot of good things that he has proven he’s capable of doing.

When it comes to running the floor in transition, Zeller has distinguished himself as one of the Celtics best big men.

The Celtics are big on playing with space and pace and there are few 7-footers who can run the floor as well as Zeller.

In fact, his PACE (number of possessions per 48 minutes) last season was 101.93 which was tops among all Celtics frontcourt players and second overall to guard Marcus Smart (102.46).

It’ll get the Celtics a few easy buckets here and there, but it won’t score enough points with the coaching staff to keep a starting job, which would then relegate him back to being one of the team’s frontcourt reserves.

Still, Zeller is a luxury that few teams have: a player who won’t get (overly) bent out of shape even if his minutes resemble this.

The floor for Zeller: On the roster

Zeller has spent the bulk of his NBA career as a back-to-the-basket center, but showed more desire to score more from the perimeter last season, which is one of the reasons why he shot a career-low 47.6 percent from the field.

He’s trying to expand his game because of the direction that the NBA is going with big men who need to be able to score further away from the basket in addition to providing a presence around the rim.

While Zeller has decent mechanics on his perimeter shot, it’s clear that he’s not yet totally comfortable being a “stretch big.”

According to NBA.com/stats, Zeller shot 30.9 percent from the field last season on wide open shot attempts from at least 10 feet away.

With the addition of Al Horford and the return of Amir Johnson as well as Kelly Olynyk, Boston has a nice group of stretch centers they can put on the floor. And let’s not forget about Jonas Jerebko, who closed out the playoffs as a starter for Boston.

Minutes will once again be hard to come by for Zeller with any kind of consistency.

In fact, there’s a very good chance that he will have some games in which he doesn’t play (coaches decision) at all.

And depending on injuries, he may have to be inactive at times just to ensure Boston has depth on the perimeter.

Whether he’s starting, coming off the bench or not suited up at all, Zeller is an important part of this Celtics squad. Above all else, he provides depth, which continues to be one of the hallmarks for this franchise under Stevens.

With Celtics on the rise, so is Isaiah Thomas’ brand

With Celtics on the rise, so is Isaiah Thomas’ brand

READING, Mass. – As Isaiah Thomas stood before a media scrum in the middle of his first basketball camp in New England, it was hard not to notice the Citi corporate backdrop behind his 5-foot-9 frame. And as you walk around gym at Reading Memorial High school, another sign with Body Armor SuperDrink, Hard Rock Café, Wilson and Welch’s Fruit Snacks among other sponsors, adorn a nearby wall.

Thomas’ rags to riches story is impressive when you stick to what he has accomplished on the basketball court.

But when you factor in the growing number of sponsors that have jumped on the Thomas bandwagon since he arrived in Boston, it’s clear his reach extends far beyond being just another player in the NBA.

Thomas will be the first to acknowledge that the perception of Boston and the reality that he has experienced in increasing his brand and overall awareness, are not one and the same.

“Ever since I’ve been here, people here have shown me nothing but love,” Thomas told CSNNE.com recently. “I know I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in, and I’m thankful that Danny [Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations] went and got me. Coming here has really been the best thing to happen for me, both as a player and as a person.

Thomas added, “Being a Celtic is something special; something that I don’t take for granted.”

The evolution of Thomas from the last player selected in the 2011 NBA draft, to being a sought-after player for the most storied franchise in NBA history, is the kind of Hollywood script that would become the lining to some hot shot producer’s trash can because it’s just not believable.

And yet it is indeed the story of Isaiah Thomas’ life, one that has made him a player whose magnetic smile, upbeat demeanor and talent have elevated him to a level few would have envisioned.

For Thomas, he sees the increased interest he has generated being about one thing: winning.

Prior to his first game with the Celtics, they were 20-22.

Thomas’ arrival in the middle of the 2014-15 concluded with Boston getting to the playoffs by winning 20 of its final 30 regular-season, which was a win total that was the third-highest in the league in that span of time.

And last season, Thomas’ first full season in Boston, the Celtics (48-34) finished in a four-way tie for the third-best best record in the Eastern Conference.

“Everything has gone up since I became a Celtic, and that goes with winning,” Thomas told CSNNE.com. “When you win and you’re seen a lot more, things start to happen for you. That says a lot about this organization and where I stand.”

Thomas’ standing as both a favorite of fans and corporate America isn’t all that surprising to Celtics officials.

“What makes Boston different than a lot of markets is how fans embrace the players and not just from a talent perspective, but from their personalities and the intangibles that they bring,” Rich Gotham, president of the Celtics, told CSNNE.com. “That’s what endears players to the Boston market and why fans follow them so closely. It affords them opportunities. A guy like Isaiah Thomas is a great example; we knew fans would love the guy. We knew what a competitor he was. We knew with him being a smaller guy, he was going to be the underdog-personality that fans like.”

Added Thomas: “People liked me a little bit when I played for those other teams and back home as well. But ever since I got on the Celtics, it skyrocketed. Everywhere I go people notice me and that says a lot because I blend in with everybody; I’m short just like everybody.”

While Thomas is admittedly short in stature, he continues to grow into a giant pitch man ranging from the shoe contract he signed with Nike last fall, to Citi, Good Humor Ice cream and Slim Jim beef jerky, just to name a few.

“It’s a blessing,” Thomas said of the uptick in endorsement opportunities. “I dreamed of things like this; for people to come for me for things like this … it’s a surreal moment.”

Thomas adds [seemingly on cue], “I’m excited for Citi … and everybody who is trying to partner with me.”