We’re counting down the 10 most important developments of the Celtics offseason.
No. 6: Rajon Rondo leaves Team USA
By this point Celtics fans are aware that nothing is ever really simple with Rajon Rondo. He’s either weird or quirky, moody or enigmatic, difficult or genius.
Even his game causes consternation. Everyone knows he’s an exceptional player, but he does it in a way that defies conventional description.
Adding to the mystery is that Rondo appears to delight in confounding the people around him. Reporters tend to find this trait either annoying or fascinating, while his teammates often respond with an eye roll or an embrace.
It’s hard to get a read on anything Rondo does and he seems to like it that way.
Not surprisingly, there was all matter of conjecture when Rondo abruptly left Team USA just before it departed for the FIBA World Championships in Turkey, effectively making himself the final cut.
Some say he actually was cut and having him excuse himself was a pride-saving gesture. Others say the death of his uncle in August affected him deeply, and he had every reason to not make the trip.
Still others note that playing for the national team has never seemed like too high a priority for him and perhaps Jerry Colangelo was itching to make an example out of someone, anyone, after getting stood up by the likes of LeBron, D-Wade and Chris Paul.
There’s also the not-incidental matter of how his style of play – odd and enchanting as it is – would go over in an international environment with its emphasis on zone defenses and shooting. Rondo himself noted that he got a DNP-Coach’s Decision against Spain and in his words, “That pretty much speaks for itself.”
In the grand scheme of things, Rondo’s departure turned out not to be that big of a deal. Team USA captured the gold medal as Kevin Durant approached supernova status and the Celtics certainly weren’t upset that Rondo had some time to rest after a physically punishing run in the playoffs.
But as he enters his fifth season, and first of a five-year contract extension, Rondo remains as big an enigma as ever.
Still just 24 years old, his playoff performance pushed him into the upper strata of NBA point guards alongside Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Yet that didn’t help him crack the national team roster against the likes of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook.
All the 2010-11 Celtics have something to prove, but while his teammates have carved out their own particular niches in league history, Rondo is still fighting for his place. Is he one of the best in the game, a perennial All-Star and a darkhorse MVP candidate, or is his style simply too strange to be in that select company?
That dynamic between Rondo and the veteran stars that make up the bulk of the roster -- a combustible mix in most NBA cities -- is the internal fuel that drives the Celtics. Sometimes it blows up in their faces, other times it pushes them to greater heights than were thought possible.
It became fashionable to write that the C’s were now Rondo’s team after his epic performance against the Cavaliers in the playoffs, yet his time in office lasted only until the Finals when Kobe Bryant pulled out his one-man zone defense.
As always, it’s never that simple. Finding the right balance between Rondo’s brilliance and the needs of the team is one of Doc Rivers top priorities this season.
Those two sides meshed beautifully in the playoffs when the only thing that mattered was wins and losses. But there were problems during the regular season. ‘Agendas’ was the word, and Rondo’s word at that.
Make no mistake: Rondo is not about points and shots. He’s not really about numbers or stats and he’s not anything close to a ‘locker room cancer’ as someone wrote without much thought after he left Team USA.
He is, however, one of the game’s singular talents and as the new season dawns, he may be the most important element in the Celtics' drive to a title.
Up next: Is Jermaine O’Neal the answer in the middle?