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


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.
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 "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."
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 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."

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

BOSTON — Tyler Thornburg’s gone for the season and there’s really no telling when the other set-up man the Sox expected to help in 2017, Carson Smith, will be back.

The Sox have already made inroads, if minor ones, in bolstering their third-base situation and rotation. Smith’s situation leaves a question of whether the Sox will need to pursue help in the bullpen as well.

There's not an easy answer to settle on at this point.

For one, the timetable with the right-hander Smith — whose shoulder has bothered him on the way back from Tommy John surgery — isn’t clear.

“He's in a no-throw [time] through the weekend,” Sox manager John Farrell said Friday afternoon at Fenway Park. “He'll be reevaluated on Monday to hopefully initiate a throwing program. He's responding favorably to the treatment. He continues to rehab as he's been. We have not closed the book in a sense on anything Carson can contribute this year.”

What does this year mean, though? Will they be able to know by July, by the trade deadline?

“Still too early to tell,” Farrell said. “We thought he was days from starting his rehab assignment after his last live BP session in New York [on June 6]. Unfortunately, that was put on hold for the time being. To get into any kind of timeframes, timetables, I don't know that any of us can predict that right now.”

The Sox relievers have done extraordinarily well without either Thornburg or Smith. Can that continue without reinforcements? The bullpen’s ERA entering Friday was 2.94, the second best mark in the majors. Its innings total, 217, was the second. lowest in the majors. 

So it’s not like the entire group is about to collapse from fatigue. But a guy like Joe Kelly, for example, isn’t someone the Sox want to use back to back.

It’s a young group and ultimately an inexperienced group. But Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already fallen into the trap of trading for premium set-up men twice, and that’s a dangerous road to pursue again. Perhaps a smaller trade makes more sense.

“Well, at this point, we’re open minded to help,” Dombrowski said when asked if he was targeting either third-base or relief help. “I’m not going to get into specifics at this time on what else we’re looking for. Keep an open mind on a lot of ways on which we can improve. We have guys coming back and both the spots, I think Carson Smith is very important to us and our bullpen has pitched great. The other day, we struggled but that was one of the few times we really struggled all year. 

“I think Carson still has a chance to come back and help us this year.”