An inside look at Rondo: To play with him is to know him

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An inside look at Rondo: To play with him is to know him

Rajon Rondo doesn't blur the line between his teammates and his opponents. If you are a member of the Boston Celtics, you're in. If you wear a different uniform, though, forget it.
Rondo is focused on the players who sit within in the walls of the Celtics locker room. He is constantly watching his teammates -- "Give him five minutes to cool down," he told reporters on Wednesday after Avery Bradley took a seat following his pregame workout -- and makes it no secret that he wants them to feel comfortable in the confines of their own quarters. 
The often tight-lipped point guard is not one to flaunt his friendship with players on other teams, either. Take Kendrick Perkins for example. Rondo and Perkins have been best friends dating back to Rondo's rookie season six years ago. Both players were crushed when Perkins was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011. But when asked if he planned to see Perkins when he arrived in Boston prior to last week's game at the TD Garden, Rondo downplayed their bond, pointing out Perkins' current squad and noting, "I don't mess with him anymore." (Perkins laughed when told of Rondo's response, unfazed by his friend's camouflaged answer.) He also doesn't make a big deal out of his longstanding friendship with Atlanta Hawks Josh Smith which began as teenagers at Oak Hill Academy. 
On Thursday, Rondo earned a two-game suspension for fighting the Brooklyn Nets' Kris Humphries following Humphries' post-whistle foul against Kevin Garnett. He heated up when he saw his big brother figure go down, losing his cool, his composure, and his professionalism in that moment. What he didn't lose sight of, though, was his allegiance to his teammates. 
To play with Rondo is to know him. The 26-year-old can be stubborn, moody, and challenging at times. But for those who spend 82 games a season with him, they see a different side that is only exposed to those who don green and white.
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Brandon Bass took a seat in the upper level of the Celtics practice facility to watch his new team on the court below. He had been traded from the Orlando Magic days earlier and was getting his first glimpse of the Celtics system in action. Bass was observing the X's and O's when he was handed a basketball.
"Someone brought me a ball from Rondo," Bass recalled to CSNNE.com. "He threw a ball up to me just letting me know be ready, that hes going to be getting me the ball. It made me feel more welcome knowing that my teammates were excited to have me. That was cool. He definitely makes it easier on me by finding me (on the court). It wasnt hard for him to find me -- he knew I liked my shot within a 15 to 17-foot range. It didnt take long."
Rondo has taken on the role of both team greeter and recruiter. When Courtney Lee was weighing his options this summer, he was pleasantly surprised to receive phone calls and text messages from Rondo. Although the two were not friends off the court -- they knew each other through the basketball circuit and mutual friends in Kentucky where they attended college -- Rondo made a strong effort make his future lockermate feel wanted.
"He called me during free agency and expressed that he wanted me to come here," Lee said. "It was, 'Whats up, how are you doing' for the most part. Then he got into it, 'You can fill this role, we can do this, we can do that. Ultimately the decisions up to you, so wed love to have you here.' It influenced my decision a lot. Playing with people that you already know and then the caliber of players that are here, it definitely made an impact. 
"After getting here, weve been communicating, building a relationship on and off the court. Then on the court, if youre open in the right spots hes getting it to you. Thats the best thing a point guard can do for you."
Now in his seventh NBA season, Rondo is one of the veterans on the Celtics after playing with three future Hall of Famers in his early 20's. Rather than brushing rookies to the side, he embraces the younger players as they enter the league. 
Two seasons ago, Avery Bradley battled with shyness and hesitancy around his older teammates. Rondo made it a point to let the then 19-year-old know that he was supporting his career. 
"Probably the thing that stood out the most was when I was in the D-League, he wasnt able to come, but he randomly offered to come to my game," said Bradley, who spent time with the Maine Red Claws. "He tried, but at the last minute he wasnt able to. Just the fact that he wanted to come watch me when I was in the D-League, that stands out the most. I was just surprised at first. I was like, Dang, it really shows that my teammates care about me and my development. That meant a lot to me being a young guy that wasnt that close with or didnt really get that much love from the older guys because they were trying to see what kind of person I was and I had to gain their respect. That coming from him meant a lot to me."
This season Rondo is also making rookie Jared Sullinger, 20, feel welcome. During the team's preseason trip to Europe, Rondo began involving Sullinger in drills that helped his transition to the team. 
"You hardly ever see a rookie be part of a veteran point guards routine after practice and during warmups," said Sullinger. "I think it started in Turkey. He was over shooting and I just decided to set a pick. After a while he kept hitting me on the pop and had me shoot. Then we had somebody pass me the ball, so thats been our routine every time. It's a blessing to be in this situation."
Rondo's interactions are team-wide, as well. This summer he organized a west coast trip prior to the start of training camp to get an early start on workouts and the chemistry-building process. After all the teammates Jason Terry has played with over the years, he never had one present him with an invitation like this. 
"Ive been in the league 14 years and Ive never done that," Terry said. "As an NBA player, I thought that was huge of him. It shows how great of a leader he is and it shows how important it is to him for us to win. That promotes winning by what he did in that instance. He called me personally and said, This is what Im trying to get together. Are you in? I said, No doubt. Whatever you do, Im behind you 100 percent. 
"First I had to think about my wife and see if she was going to let me go (laughs), but after listening to him it was a no-brainer. Im a family man, Ive got kids, so it was tough to get away, but anything for this team and for Rajon, Im here to do it."
During the season, Rondo continues to be one of the Celtics social organizers. Whether in his own home or at a restaurant, he tries to round up his teammates for group dinners. These meals serve as an opportunity to simply talk to one another and form relationships that can strengthen their play on the court. 
"Weve had dinners, multiple dinners which he has paid for," said Jeff Green. "He has cookouts and dinners at his house sometimes. I would say overall the dinners (are the best thing he does as a teammate) because its just us together enjoying one anothers company. Weve done it on the road and in Boston. It comes in spurts. Its not something like, we have a trip to Orlando coming up and hell organize a dinner there. Its something where were on the bus headed to the hotel in Orlando and hell say, Lets go to dinner. Its not planned all out. We take turns paying, but he prompts it. 
"Thats great being able to spend time with each other and learning more about JET (Terry) or Courtney or Weezy (Chris Wilcox). Most of the time its the entire team, only players. It builds a lot of trust just getting to know one another."
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Rondo will serve his suspension on Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers and Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks. His absence, the consequences of his actions in defense of his teammate, could hurt the Celtics. But don't expect this retaliation to affect his teammates' opinion of him. 
"A lot of media has put out stuff like he's not a good teammate, he doesn't get along, all that stuff," Lee told CSNNE.com earlier this season. "Me being here, I think all that's false. Everyone in the locker room gets along with each other, everybody's cool, he's a good guy. He practices hard every day. He's always trying to get a win."

Isaiah Thomas' recent shooting woes mirror those of Celtics

Isaiah Thomas' recent shooting woes mirror those of Celtics

BOSTON – As Isaiah Thomas walked off the TD Garden floor Monday night in the fourth quarter of the Celtics' 114-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the All-Star guard’s franchise streak of 43 games with 20 or more points scored was about to end.
 
Credit the Hawks, whose defense made life miserable for Thomas most of the game, limiting him to 4-for-21 shooting (19 percent) which stands as the worst shooting night for Thomas as Celtic when he has taken at least 10 shots from the field.
 
Thomas chalks up his struggles Monday as just one of those bad nights that comes from time to time in an 82-game season, but it’s part of what has been a stretch of inefficient shooting games for him.
 
And it’s not a coincidence that the Celtics (38-22) have lost three of their past four at the same time Thomas finds himself in one of his worst four-game stretches for shooting the ball this season.
 
In fact, Thomas has shot just 35.4 percent from the field in Boston’s past four games. In that span, he has made less than 45 percent of his shots in each game, which is only the second time this season he has had a four-game stretch like that.
 
And while defenses certainly give him more attention than any other Celtic, he’s still getting to the spots he wants to get to while taking the shots that are best for him.
 
The only difference of late, is that more shots are off the mark than previously.
 
“I missed a lot of shots in the paint. I got where I wanted to,” Thomas said. “That wasn’t just me; that was our team. We missed a lot of shots we normally make.”
 
Which is why there’s no sense of panic or heightened concern on the part of the Celtics heading into their game Wednesday night against the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
 
Boston rookie Jaylen Brown was quick to credit Atlanta for doing a good job defensively against the Celtics.
 
But he too recognized that at times they were their own worst enemy with all of the blown opportunities.
 
“We missed a bunch of easy shots and I think that is just focus,” Brown said. “We’re not going to hit every shot every game, but I do expect us to play a little bit better than what we did and I think we’re more capable of being a bit more locked in. It happens; you just got to forget about it and bounce back Wednesday against Cleveland.”
 
 
 

Mayock: Under-the-radar tight ends, defensive backs could interest Patriots

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Mayock: Under-the-radar tight ends, defensive backs could interest Patriots

Until the tidal wave of free-agent moves comes crashing down in March, it's not exactly clear what anyone's needs are in this year's draft. But that won't keep us from guessing with the NFL Scouting Combine taking place this week in Indy.

From a Patriots perspective, they may need a tight end to provide some Rob Gronkowski insurance, especially if Martellus Bennett leaves town for the highest bidder. Defensively, they might be looking at big bodies up front or linebackers. They could also choose to dip into one of the deeper position groups in this year's class -- defensive back -- if they're taking a strict best-player-available approach. 

No matter which spots they're thinking about in this year's draft, the Patriots have a pretty well-defined set of likes and dislikes when it comes to prospect traits. That's what allows someone like NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock -- who held a marathon two-hour conference call with reporters from around the country on Monday -- to make an educated guess on the types of players Bill Belichick will be thinking about in late April. 

At tight end, Mayock thinks Alabama's OJ Howard is a perfect match for New England. He can catch. He can block. He's an athlete. He came up in Nick Saban's program. The only problem is there seems to be very little chance Howard is available at pick No. 32. 

The good news for the Patriots? It's such a deep tight end class, Mayock rattled off a handful of other names who could potentially find themselves in a huddle looking at Tom Brady in 2017. 

"As you drop down and look at the other tight ends after [Howard], there's some really good pass-catching tight ends that would be more like an [Aaron] Hernandez," Mayock said. "You start talking about David Njoku of Miami, he's an absolute freak, and he's also tough enough to learn how to block. Again, I don't know if he gets to the Patriots [at No. 32].

"Evan Engram and Gerald Everett are the two guys that are kind of the move wide receiver tight end. They can play in the slot. Jake Butt had an ACL at Michigan at the end of his season, but he's one of those in-line blockers. Tough guy. Good enough athletically to catch the ball short and intermediate.

"This is a great tight end class. You can get second and third-round tight ends that make a lot of sense. I think down the road a little bit, Michael Roberts from Toledo is a big guy that needs to block better, but he's got some pass catching skills. New England's going to have their choice of a bunch of different tight ends in this draft and get them in the first three rounds."

Defensive back is another area where the Patriots may be able to wait to find an impact player, Mayock suggested. One of the first names that popped into Mayock's mind when it comes to what intrigues Belichick was a safety who played his college ball in the area.

"I think a guy that would have to be interesting to New England is Obi Melifonwu from Connecticut," he said. "Six-foot-4, 219 [pounds], and he's probably going to run sub 4.5 [40-yard dash]. If he runs in that range, I think teams are going to start looking at him as a corner and a safety.

"The reason I think New England, with Matt Patricia, I think they're the best matchup group in the league. Look what they did with Eric Rowe from the Eagles, what they did with [Kyle] Van Noy -- two guys that were kind of cast-offs. They brought them there for matchup reasons. That's what they do. I look at Melifonwu, he looks like a guy that could cover a tight end one week and go out wide and cover a big wideout the next week. I think he'd be interesting.

"[Another] a really good football player that nobody talks about is Lorenzo Jerome of Saint Francis. And what he runs this week is going to be important. But I think he can play both safety positions, and he's really, really a good football player. Like him a lot . . .

"Other names: Des King, who is a corner from Iowa that I think is going to be a nickel or safety, and I think New England always has success moving those guys around a little bit . . . I like Des King; I like Kevin King from Washington who is a corner that can play some free safety; and I like Chidobe Awuzie from Colorado, who (is a corner that) I think might be better off as a safety."