Rondo uncut: Why the C's point guard is the way he is

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Rondo uncut: Why the C's point guard is the way he is

Rajon Rondo was never looking for attention.

It wasn’t there for him anyways, not at first.

Rondo was an unconventional selection for Oak Hill Academy’s point guard. Many wrote him off because of his offensive limitations. But head coach Steve Smith was drawn to Rondo’s court vision and defensive prowess, and even if he didn’t light up the scoreboard, he knew he could count on the senior if he needed a basket.

Scoring in big numbers wasn’t Rondo’s role. That was more of Josh Smith’s game. The current Atlanta Hawks forward was the standout on the team, the hot prospect with sights set on going straight to the NBA. He dunked, he blocked shots, he wowed spectators with his athleticism. In turn, he attracted the attention.

“Josh got most of the limelight,” Oak Hill Academy head coach Steve Smith told CSNNE.com in a telephone interview. “When people would come to do stories on Oak Hill that year, they would always talk to Josh because he was this high-profile guy and Rajon would always take a backseat. It didn’t seem to bother him at all. He would just go out and play. He didn’t care what people said, what they wrote. If they highlighted another player, that was fine with him. He just wanted to win. He’s the main reason we won that year. He’s the guy that made us go.”

That season Rondo let his game do the talking as Oak Hill Academy finished the season a perfect 38-0. He was named to the 2004 McDonalds All-American Team along with players including Smith, Dwight Howard, Rudy Gay, and future NBA teammates Glen Davis, Al Jefferson, and Sebastian Telfair.

Even as Rondo was on the stage of the nation’s top high school basketball players, he never gravitated any more toward the media spotlight.

“He was a confident player,” said Smith. “He thought he was as good as anybody else, maybe he thought he was underrated, especially back when he was in high school. But he wouldn’t go around tooting his horn about it. He kept to himself and he’s not that type of guy. He’s not going to open up to a lot of people but if he gets to know you, he does.”

Smith continued, “He’s always been the type of guy who kind of keeps things close to his vest, doesn’t say much about his past, doesn’t say much about where he came from. To the guy off the street or the people that don’t know him, I think a lot of people might think he’s standoffish or maybe a shy guy. But once you know him, he’s a great guy to be around. I’ve noticed with his friends and with his teammates, he always opened up to those guys a lot more. But he was kind of a quiet guy even at a young age.”

Rondo went on to play two seasons at the University of Kentucky before entering the NBA Draft in 2006. 21 picks into the evening, the Phoenix Suns selected the 20-year-old point guard and traded him to the Boston Celtics.
Rondo’s first role was playing back up to Sebastian Telfair, whom the Celtics had acquired from the Portland Trail Blazers on the same night they traded for Rondo. But when Telfair got injured, the rookie started 25 of his 78 games that season.

That summer Telfair was sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of the Kevin Garnett trade and combo guard Delonte West was dealt to the Seattle SuperSonics in the Ray Allen deal. That left Rondo at the point.

In only his second NBA season (2007-08), Rondo was running the floor for a trio of future Hall of Famers. And if he didn't want to be in the spotlight, he didn't have a choice anymore.

With the formation of the new Big Three, Paul Pierce, Garnett, and Allen, the Celtics became the hottest team in the NBA and an instant title contender. The influx of media attention was a complete 180 from the previous year in which the Celtics went 24-58 and made headlines for an 18-game losing streak. In just one season, they won a championship.

This sudden change forced Rondo to grow up in front of a larger audience than he had expected.

“I didn’t have that option,” Rondo, now 26, told CSNNE.com. “It was difficult. I didn’t want it, but I guess my play asked for it or grabbed that type of attention. So I’ve tried to embrace it.”

Rondo has established himself as one of the league’s top point guards during his six-year career. He is a three-time All-Star, led all players in steals during the 2010 season, and currently ranks second in assists per game. On Sunday he recorded a jaw-dropping 18-point, 17-rebound, and 20-assist triple-double against the New York Knicks.
Yet over the years, Rondo’s impressive plays on the court have been contrasted with reports of his frustrating behaviors. Talk surrounding personality issues have become nearly as prevalent as discussions about his game and often come up when his name is mentioned in trade rumors.

“I try to keep it even keel on the court, even demeanor, never too high, never too low. But off the court, I think I’m a fun guy to be around, especially if I like you,” he said with a laugh. “I’m pretty much like a go-with-the-flow guy. I’m laidback, I’m very competitive. I pretty much think I can do anything if you put the challenge to me, so I just try to have fun while I’m doing it.”

“Actually, my sister, she calls me Oscar like the grouch because I work her a little bit,” Rondo continued. They get on me, call me a divo. Doc (Rivers), KG, they get on me, say I’m high maintenance. I just try to fly under the radar. I just tell them they’re the same, obviously I’ve learned from guys that’s in front of me (laughs). My coach is a leader, Kevin’s my vet, so if I get it, it’s from them (smiles).”

Said Rivers, “He’s just trying to be a better leader. He’s being consistent at it, he’s doing a great job. I think he’s trying to be more outward. People forget about how young he is. It just takes him some time. We call Kevin that (a divo), we kid around with that. But he has a chance to be better than just a great player. He can be a great leader too. If he can do both, that’s big for our team.”

Rondo didn’t become a basketball player because he wanted to hold press conferences for throngs of reporters. There are the days like February 12 when he posted 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds against the Chicago Bulls and did not to speak to reporters after the Celtics win. His lack of a postgame appearance became a topic of discussion in the media.

“It’s about the team,” Rondo explained. “The main thing is that we won, simple as that. Triple-double or not, we got the win. That’s their opinion. I don’t have anything to say to that.”

The reality of the situation, though, is working with the media is part of the gig, especially in a big market such as Boston. While it hasn’t always been easy for Rondo to embrace that side of the job, he knows it is something he has to become accustomed to.

Take a game in January as an example. Ray Allen, one of the league’s most accessible players who addresses the media at his locker before every game, was out of the lineup. Instead, Rondo sat in a chair in the middle of the Celtics locker room. He fielded questions from a circle of reporters for nearly half-an-hour and said he was taking Allen’s place for the night. He was following the advice of his veteran teammate.

“I just told him that he had to seize these opportunities more than let them go by,” Allen told CSNNE.com. “When you’re an athlete and people are curious about what you say, how you think, how you work out, you have to give people that access. At some point, people want to support you more, whether it’s more people coming to games, more people are fans of yours, and you become more likeable. It always has long-term implications. You might make an All-Star Team one year when maybe you’re on the cusp of not making it. All those things have an implication on how your career pans out and how people view you.”

There are times, though, when Rondo would prefer not to let the cameras and microphones in. His community outreach is very personal to him.

Along with the Boston's Got Wings program with Red Bull (in partnership with Boston Parks and Recreation Department) in which he helps refurbish basketball courts around Boston, Rondo also spends time with the MSPCC (Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) and other organizations in the area.

He hopes to start an educational community program to offer children a place to go with access to computers and tutors. The building would also include a gym to stress the importance of fitness and give them a fun reward for completing their work.

Rondo prefers the focus to be placed on the cause rather than himself. But just as he has been advised to be more accessible with the media before and after games, he understands spreading the word about his community service can benefit those he is trying to help.

“I try to do a lot of things in the community,” he said. “I don’t want to get a lot of media attention, but at the same time, I want to bring awareness to what things I’m trying to do.”

There is yet another side to Rondo. In addition to the team player who doesn’t seek out individual accolades and the community advocate who doesn’t want to draw attention to himself for helping others, there is a public figure who enjoys being seen in a different kind of light.

As in, lights, camera, action.

Rondo has been featured on magazine covers, is a Red Bull athlete, has a sneaker campaign with Nike, and made a cameo appearance in the movie Just Wright.

“I just turn into a different person,” Rondo said. “I don’t like taking photos in public, but a photo shoot I don’t mind. Something just clicks and I get into a mode. I love clothes and I love to dress up and I just feel different when I have on those clothes.”

He is currently featured as part of Foot Locker's Advantage Academy with Blake Griffin, Amar'e Stoudemire, Russell Westbrook, and Deron Williams. With a beret and glasses, "Mr. Rondo" teaches the "drama of quickness."

“It’s humbling,” he said. “In my house, I have so many different magazines around the house with me on the cover. It’s a blessing, for one. But at the same time, I just try to keep doing what I’m doing best. If I try to keep a clean image, do the right thing on and off the court, then I think those things will continue to come.”

In less than 10 years Rondo has transformed from a high school student who was overshadowed by his teammate to a young NBA champion thrust into the spotlight to one of the league’s most recognizable faces who plays it up for the camera.

And underneath it all remains a fiery point guard who just wants to win.

“It’s very unusual for a guy who is high-profile like he is now,” said Smith. “He’s had a lot personal accolades that I don’t think he really cares about, he just wants to win. I know in Boston he’s like, all I want to do is win again. He wants to win, that’s more important to him than any individual goals.”

Said Rondo, “I just don’t like the attention. I don’t need the attention. I’m fine with who I am. I don’t want to grab the attention and seek attention. As long as the people I’m affecting, as long as I’m touching their lives and they know it’s coming from a good place, I don’t have to have the attention.”

Somebody else can have it.

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

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At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it. 

Haggerty: Loss of Colin Miller not a significant one for Bruins

Haggerty: Loss of Colin Miller not a significant one for Bruins

There will be some that will absolutely crucify the Bruins for losing Colin Miller in Wednesday night’s expansion draft, and rail against an asset that was lost for nothing. Those people will also miss the absolutely essential point that the whole raison d’etre for an expansion draft is to remove assets from each of the 30 NHL teams, and do it without a cost for the benefit of the new franchise opening up shop in Las Vegas.

It could have been much worse for the Black and Gold as some teams were shipping first round picks to Vegas to shelter their own players from expansion selection, and other teams were losing essential players like James Neal, Marc Methot and David Perron from their respective rosters. The B’s didn’t entertain overpaying simply to avoid losing a useful player, and clearly, they did lose a talented, still undeveloped player in the 24-year-old Miller, who now may be flipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a side deal with Vegas.

But let’s be honest here. A whole lot of people are vastly overestimating a player in Miller that’s long on tools and very short on putting them together, and they’re also vastly underestimating Kevan Miller. The younger Miller can skate like the wind and has a bazooka of a shot when he winds up and fires his clapper at the net.

But despite those clear offensive talents, Colin had the same number of points as stay-at-home defenseman Kevan this season despite the bigger, stronger and older Miller playing three less games this season. Kevan also had more goals (five) and more points (18) than Colin did two years ago in his rookie season for Boston.

This isn’t to say that Colin doesn’t have more discernible offensive skill than Kevan when it comes to moving the puck or creating offense. He does, but all that talent hasn’t manifested into real points, real offense or anything else for the Black and Gold over the last couple of seasons. At a certain point, a prospect like Colin needs to put all the tools together into production on the ice if he wants to become the sum of his hockey parts, and that hasn’t happened in two full seasons in Boston.

Instead, Miller continues to struggle with decision-making with the puck, consistency and finding ways to turn the quality skating and shot package into any kind of playmaking on the ice. Miller had his challenges defensively and he was never going to be the most physical guy on the ice, but those could have been overlooked if he was lighting it up in the offensive zone on a regular basis.

Plain and simple that wasn’t happening, and over the last season 20-year-old Brandon Carlo and 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy passed Miller on the organizational depth chart for right shot defenseman, and either Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller would slot in as the third pairing D-man on the right side. It’s clear at this point that Colin Miller needs more time and patience if he’s ever going to develop as a late-blooming defenseman at the NHL level, and he wasn’t going to get those opportunities to develop in Boston.

So how good can Colin Miller really be if he was about to get buried on a Boston defensive depth chart without much hope of being in the starting six every night unless he was able to magically transform himself into a top-4 guy on the left side?

Clearly, there is risk here as Miller could move on to Toronto, develop into the player that posted 19 goals and 52 points in the AHL a couple of seasons ago and torment the Bruins for the next five-plus years. It would become another arrow in the quiver of those critics looking to hammer GM Don Sweeney and President Cam Neely at every turn, and it would generate massive “Why can’t we get players like that?” homages to the legendary Bob Lobel all across New England.    

But there’s just as good a chance that Kevan Miller will still be throwing hits and soaking up heavy minutes of ice time for the Bruins three years down the road, and that Colin Miller will be out of the league after never harnessing together his considerable talent. Perhaps Sweeney could have been better about securing an asset for Miller ahead of the expansion draft if he knew he was going to lose that player for nothing to Vegas.

The bottom line is that the Bruins were going to lose somebody to Las Vegas in the expansion draft, and the Golden Knights weren’t going to do them any favors by taking on misfit toys like Jimmy Hayes, Malcolm Subban or Matt Beleskey. They did instead lose a player with plenty of raw talent in Colin Miller, but it’s not exactly somebody that’s going to be missed in Boston once Carlo and McAvoy start showing just how bright the B’s future is on the back end starting next season.