Rajon Rondo not letting contract situation dictate his play

Thursday, October 29, 2009

He was the Celtics’ postseason MVP and then, before you could say “work on your jumper, Rajon”, Rajon Rondo was an immature, egotistical player on the trading block.

After a tumultuous offseason filled with rumors of trades, immaturity and an oversized ego, Rajon Rondo had every reason to sour on the Boston Celtics. They (and specifically, Danny Ainge) publicly humiliated Rondo, calling him out for his childish behavior, boorish personality and lack of punctuality. The C’s tried to trade him all summer, even after Rondo averaged a near triple-double throughout the entire playoffs. They desperately tried to get rid of their rising young star, their team’s future, and tore him to shreds in the process.

If Rondo’s ego was a problem before, it became an enormous asset. Someone who didn’t think as highly of his own abilities, who wasn’t completely assured of his own worth, surely would have folded under the immense scrutiny Rondo underwent this summer. When people are bashing you from all angles, natural human tendency is to react defensively, to lash out at your detractors. But Rondo stood tall and, instead of responding with angry words, he strived to make himself better.

People said he was too skinny, so he put on 11 pounds of muscle and came back stronger than he’d ever been. People said he couldn’t shoot, so he hired Mark Price to be his personal shooting coach and returned with a far-improved shooting form. People said he was a malcontent, so Rajon Rondo spoke with Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge about what he needed to do to improve.

Rondo still isn’t under contract for next season. If the Celtics don’t sign him by Saturday, he will become an unrestricted free agent. The contract talks have apparently hit a snafu; Rondo and his agent think he’s worth more money than the Celtics do. But if you expected Rondo to gun for his own stats, to be out to get his, think again.

If anything, Rondo has become even more selfless on the court. Through the first two games, he’s been perfectly content to take whatever the defense gives him, to use the great scorers he has around him, and to distribute the basketball with great frequency and delicacy. At no point has he looked like a player worrying about a contract; at no point has he looked like a man trying to prove his doubters wrong.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about what goes on behind the scenes. I don’t know what time Rondo arrives at games, I don’t know how often he argues with Doc Rivers, and I can’t observe his relationships with his teammates. All I know is what I hear in the news and what I see on the court.

And from what my eyes tell me, Rajon Rondo is a team player. He may get into arguments; everybody does. He may occasionally show up late; don’t we all? But once the ball is tipped, once the game is underway, there are few players who play with more unselfishness. His play over the first two games hasn’t been spectacular, but it has been nearly flawless.

He’s only averaging 9 points so far, but he’s shooting 64.3% from the field. He’s only taken 14 shots, but he’s made 9 of them. He has 21 assists to go against only 3 turnovers. Not to mention 6 steals in two games.

Rondo could be playing for a contract. He could be out there calling his own number and saying, “Screw the offense.” After all, there’s really no other point guard Doc Rivers can turn to. But he’s not. Instead, Rondo has played two of the most efficient games you could ask for. He has put the team ahead of himself and run the offense just about as well as a point guard could.

I still don’t know much about Rondo’s relationship with the coaching staff, or how well he’s getting along with his teammates. But I don’t really care. As long as he maintains his selflessness and passion every time he steps on that 94’ x 50’ slab of parquet floor, I could care less if he isn’t best friends with Doc or Ray Allen.

Rondo is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and he’s doing it by not trying to compile his own stats.

He’s doing it for the sake of the team.


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