ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy joined Dennis & Callahan to talk about Rajon Rondo's birthday mishap.
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Last weekend Rondo made the decision not to travel with the Celtics to the team’s game in Sacramento — a game he was not scheduled to play — reportedly so that he could celebrate his birthday with family and friends in Los Angeles.
“I think if Rondo had a do-over, he would’ve gotten on the plane, because your best player has to set the example,” Van Gundy said.
“I can understand wanting to have a birthday celebration in L.A. versus in Sacramento, but when you’re the best player, you’re charged with setting an example that everyone should follow, and one of those things is sacrificing what you want to do for what you should do, and I don’t think there’s one argument that could be made that a guy who’s traveling with the team should miss a game to blow out birthday candles.”
Despite Rondo’s decision, Van Gundy says the four-time All Star has the ideal “Boston fan mentality.”
“A guy’s greatest strength is often his greatest weakness,” Van Gundy said. “What I love about Rondo is his surly, competitive, nasty streak. I love that about him. Now, does that go the other way at times where he may go over the line? Maybe. But it’s hard to find guys in today’s NBA — everybody knows what to say now. Everybody is so polished media-wise.
“To me, Rondo, and every player, has times where he would like to handle situation X a little bit differently, but for the most part, I think his attitude is absolutely the type that you need to win.”
Over the last month, Rondo has been the subject of some trade rumors.
“Can Rondo be a centerpiece of a championship team going forward? Absolutely,” Van Gundy said. “I think the only question that any management person should ask themselves is, ‘Are we better with him or better going in a different direction?’
“These are the decisions that only the guys who are around people every day know. Those are tough calls for Danny Ainge, but he’s made some good decisions in the past, and I’m sure he’ll make some good ones going forward as well.”
On Brad Stevens‘ assimilation to the NBA: “What he undertook was very difficult in that he had never been an assistant in the NBA. He was taking over a very proud franchise with the best history in the NBA and he was taking over for a very good and popular coach.
“You take all that — boy, that’s a tough job. He has handled it all so perfectly. He’s made the transition seem seamless when it’s anything but. My thing, I was saying to a couple of coaching friends of mine, is that Brad Stevens‘ worst attitude at Butler in his whole career would be the best attitude in the NBA.”
On the NBA draft lottery system: “What you have to do is eliminate any incentive to lose. If you didn’t have the NBA lottery system, the teams would still be going through a rebuilding phase, but they would be giving fans the best product available instead of so many teams today try to give their fans a substandard team in the hopes that it then leads to a better team down the road. … Quite frankly, some of the teams that are out on the floor this year are not worth the ticket prices you ask people to pay to see what’s supposed to be the best basketball in the world. At times it’s just utterly unwatchable.”
On Jason Collins: “I think everybody is going to say the right thing. Behind the scenes will they all say the right things. When they’re with their boys and with each other? I don’t know. I think the Nets are a little bit older, probably a little more mature. And with the [Kevin Garnett], [Paul Pierce] type having had a previous relationship with Collins at the Celtics, I think that’ll go smoothly.
“League wide, there’s always going to be some knuckleheads who either say things or tweet things or say things behind Collins’ back in the locker room, but you can’t worry about that. Change is never as easy, never as smooth, and you don’t have to worry about whether every single person is ready for that change. You plow ahead with what is right and everybody else has to fall into line.”
Wednesday night provided an interesting perspective for the Celtics on the 2014 NBA draft. Boston returned to the Garden and defeated the Hawks, ending a five-game losing streak — which both hurt and improved their draft picks.
Kansas stars Andrew Wiggins (22) and Joel Embiid (21) are holding firm at the top two spots in NBA draft. (AP)
The Celts earned their 20th victory of the season, moving past the Lakers in the standings in the process. Boston holds the fifth-highest lottery odds, but don’t forget about the Brooklyn/Atlanta pick that Danny Ainge owns as well. Not only are the Hawks coming off a loss, the Nets got slammed by the Blazers by 44 points Wednesday in Portland. Boston gets whichever pick is less favorable between the two teams, and as of Thursday afternoon, those are the two worst records of playoff teams.
If only one of the two picks end up in the lottery, the higher pick would belong to Atlanta, but if both teams miss the postseason, Boston would be in luck. Although it is highly unlikely, Wednesday night reminded us it is too early to rule out the Celtics owning a second lottery pick.
Although there is some silver lining in beating a team like Atlanta, the real value remains in the Celtics’ own first-rounder. One thing we are learning this season is that each loss makes a difference, and Wednesday would have been a good night to lose. Had the C’s lost, they not only would have had the fourth-highest lottery odds, they would have been just one win ahead of the Magic.
Orlando was able to collect a victory Wednesday over the 76ers, opening up an opportunity for a new team to get a taste of the bottom three for the first time in weeks. The Lakers appear to have the inside track, but the Celtics have a tough month of March. Boston plays 10 of 15 games against teams above .500, including the Pacers twice and the Heat. That doesn’t even include two games against the Nets and a game at New Orleans — the Celtics are 0-13 against the Western Conference this season.
Boston has a golden opportunity to land in the top five of this draft, and the brutal March schedule is the key to getting there. Wednesday just proves how important each night in the NBA will be to lottery odds/draft order as we go down the home stretch. But for now, here is what the draft lottery (plus the next two picks) could look like if it were held today.
1. Bucks: Joel Embiid (Kansas, freshman) – Embiid remains the top prospect based on pure potential. In his three games since returning from injury, Embiid has averaged 14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.3 blocks — all while committing significantly less fouls. He is simply too rare of a prospect for Milwaukee to pass up.
2. 76ers: Andrew Wiggins (Kansas, freshman) – Wiggins still has not posted the overall numbers that he was expected to, but he is starting to back up some of the hype. He has become much more consistent of late, scoring 14 or more points in 10 of his last 11 games. Wiggins also finished off Texas Tech with a game-winner, a good sign after his competitive drive has been questioned. Philly is loaded with young talent; even though Wiggins may be a project, he will have time to develop there.
3. Magic: Jabari Parker (Duke, freshman) – Parker has been fantastic recently, just as he has been all season. Parker’s 19 points on eight shots that helped take down then-top-ranked Syracuse is becoming a typical performance. Even when Parker struggles, like he did shooting 3-for-11 against Virginia Tech, he still seems to find a way to dominate. Parker did so in coming up with 12 boards, three assists, three blocks and three steals.
4. Lakers: Julius Randle (Kentucky, freshman) – The Lakers always have it easier than everyone else. They will have Kobe Bryant back next season and most likely will attract key free agents over the upcoming summers. Therefore, they take the best player on the board, which is Randle. He will be a double-double machine at the next level. Much like Parker, even when he has an off night he still contributes. Randle only had eight points in his last game against LSU, but he corralled 15 rebounds and hit the game-winner in OT.
5. Celtics: Dante Exum (Australia) – Exum remains the mystery man of the draft. All that’s really available are YouTube clips — we can’t watch him play like most of the other top prospects. However, scouts who have seen Exum play say that he is tremendous. He is 6-foot-6 and can play both guard positions, giving him both the size and skill set to play alongside Rajon Rondo. Obviously one of the top three picks would be more welcomed in Boston, but Exum surely would become a fan favorite. He really has his head on his shoulders. Get to know Exum in this video.
6. Kings: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State, sophomore) – Smart has been playing very well since returning from his suspension. His talent is simply too much to keep him out of the top 10 of the draft. He fits a need for the Kings and would give them a big strong guard who is well-rounded.
7. Jazz: Aaron Gordon (Arizona, freshman) – Gordon has been playing well of late and could fill a need for the Jazz. He has Blake Griffin potential, so Gordon could be another young big to add to Utah’s core. However, Gordon is improving his shooting — he is still so young that he could develop into small forward in the NBA ‘ exactly what the Jazz need.
8. Nuggets: Noah Vonleh (Indiana, freshman) – Vonleh has a ton of potential but is thought of as a class below the prospects that are going in the top five. He would be a good fit in Denver, yet also has the ability to leap ahead of guys like Gordon or Smart come draft day.
9. Cavaliers: Rodney Hood (Duke, sophomore) – The Cavs have been missing a small forward since LeBron James left town. Hood would be the perfect fit and can also play the four spot if the Cavs wanted to go small.
10. Bobcats (from Pistons): Doug McDermott (Creighton, senior) – I’ve been saying all along, the Bobcats can’t afford to blow this pick. McDermott is a sure thing in terms of being an NBA role player at worst. Don’t blow it, MJ.
11. 76ers (from Pelicans): Gary Harris (Michigan State, sophomore) – With Evan Turner gone, Philly is in need of wings. Even with Wiggins in the picture, Harris would be a great addition. The 76ers would now just be sitting back waiting to see if all their lottery picks can come to life.
12. Magic (from Nuggets): Tyler Ennis (Syracuse, freshman) — Jameer Nelson is on his way out, and Ennis is the perfect solution. Orlando already has some decent young talent, now add Parker and Ennis and the Magic are really onto something.
13. Timberwolves: Wayne Selden (Kansas, freshman) – The Wolves just need to take the best wing player on the board here, and that is Selden. He goes relatively unnoticed behind Wiggins and Embiid, but the Roxbury native has all the tools to be a solid NBA guard.
14. Grizzlies: Dario Saric (Croatia) – Saric has been called a “point power forward” by many scouts. The Grizz have a record of 32-24 yet find themselves in the lottery. They can afford to take a risk here, and if Saric falls to them, they will.
15. Hawks: Jerami Grant (Syracuse, sophomore) – Grant is very athletic and could be a Josh Smith-type player in Atlanta, just on a much more affordable contract. Grant has the upside of Smith, but that also comes with the inconsistent jumper.
16. Celtics: Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky, sophomore) – WCS is a legit 7-footer who can block shots and grab boards. He was projected as a much higher pick earlier in the season, but if he fell to the Celtics it would be a good fit.
What does he make of the media firestorm unleashed after his alleged decision to remain in Los Angeles to celebrate his 28th birthday with friends and family? “I haven’t really read much about it,” he said. “I heard a lot of comments. Nobody knows the story, so you guys keep making up every story you guys possibly can.”
What, exactly, is the story? “It’s my business,” he followed. “It’s not yours.”
Likewise, Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters prior to his team’s 115-104 victory against the Hawks that the organization would handle the matter internally. According to the Herald, C’s president Danny Ainge will meet with Rondo next week upon returning from a college scouting trip and has not ruled out a fine.
If the entire Eastern Conference weren’t so dreadful, the Celtics might have a shot at two lottery picks this June.
The C’s handed the undermanned Hawks their 10th loss in 12 games with a 115-104 win at the Garden on Wednesday night. It was a welcome respite for the Celtics, whose own rough streak included falling to 0-13 on the road against Western Conference on their recent road trip. The C’s own the lesser first-round pick between Atlana and Brooklyn, which may come into Boston next week with a sub-.500 record.
As for Wednesday’s game, Jerryd Bayless led all scorers with a season-high 29 points. Rajon Rondo (22 points, 11 assists) and Gerald Wallace (12 points, 10 rebounds) added double-doubles. Jeff Green (17 points), Brandon Bass (14 points) and Kris Humphries (10 points) also reached double figures, as the Celtics improved to 20-34.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rondo ready: While others may rant and rave about the birthday bash drama, Rondo hasn’t been effected. He scored 11 of the C’s 25 first-quarter points, attempting six shots in the opening frame and making four of them. He then began directing an offense that shot 53.7 percent and scored 58 points by the break. Rondo logged his fourth double-double in as many appearances, and he’s beginning to prove that the double-digit assist streak awhile back wasn’t solely dependent on his superstar teammates.
Expect more. Bayless: Starting in the absence of Avery Bradley, Bayless netted 20 points for the first time this season since scoring 22 against the Celtics as a member of the Grizzlies on Nov. 27. He connected on eight of his first 12 shots, including a trio of third-quarter 3-pointers that gave the Celtics a five-point cushion midway through the third quarter.
Board to death: In the absence of three of their six frontcourt rotation players, the Celtics wings banged the boards against a Hawks squad without the services of stars Al Horford (torn pectoral) and Paul Millsap (knee). Green, Wallace and Chris Johnson combined for 25 rebounds as the C’s outworked Atlanta 46-29 on the glass.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Injury bug: A rash of injuries left the Celtics with just nine available players for Wednesday’s game against the Hawks. The absences of Jared Sullinger (concussion), Kelly Olynyk (toe) and Vitor Faverani (knee) left the Celtics particularly shorthanded in the frontcourt, which meant more minutes for Joel Anthony. While Sullinger and Olynyk could return as soon as Saturday, Bradley’s absence from the backcourt remains uncertain, as the soon-to-be restricted free agent missed his eight straight game with an ankle injury.
3′s a crowd: As has been the case for years, Kyle Korver continued to be a thorn in the C’s side. The league’s second-leading 3-point shooter connected on his first four triples, leading a 9-for-19 Hawks effort from beyond the arc.
Going Carroll-ing: Perhaps motivated by the rumors that had him potentially headed to the Celtics in exchange for Green, Hawks forward DeMarre Carroll had his way in the paint opposite the undermanned C’s frontcourt, collecting 24 points on just 11 shots and adding seven boards.