WALTHAM, MASS. -- In the last few weeks the image of Rajon Rondo has morphed from an enigmatic weirdo into a vicious coach-killing monster who shoots lasers beams from his cold, unblinking eyes. That's only a slight exaggeration, considering every other question lobbed at new Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens in his introductory press conference involved some variation of The Rondo Problem.
From the direct to the implied, that's basically what it boils down at the moment for the Celtics and their 36-year-old coach. The roster is young and will get younger in the coming years. They will have as much to prove as he does and most of those players already have some sort of a relationship with Stevens, or at least are aware of his work at Butler.
For the record, Rondo does as well. Danny Ainge said his point guard's first reaction to the news was asking if it was the guy who coached Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack. You make a mistake if you think Rondo doesn't go into every situation prepared, whether it's on the court or off. He is hyper aware, sometimes to his detriment.
To be fair, Rondo has done himself no favors during this tenuous transition in the Celtics history by maintaining a rather strict radio silence that basically went into effect after he tore his ACL back in late January. He wasn't at the press conference but then there weren't any other players visible during the meet and greet either. Rondo had a valid reason for his absence. He's in Louisville preparing for his annual summer camp.
So, we are left to guess what he's thinking in the wake of the departure of the only pro coach he's ever had along with the rest of the Big Three who nurtured him from talented pup to full-blown All-Star and NBA champion. Is he pissed at being left behind, planning an escape route or merely contemplating his next Connect Four move?
To many, this has disaster written all over it. Without the stern voice of Doc Rivers or the steadying presence of Kevin Garnett to balance his moods, Rondo will eat Stevens alive and run amok in an impressionable locker room. Even a more charitable view of Rondo would suggest that the time is right for Ainge to divest fully of all appreciable assets and really start over from scratch.
Allow me to present an alternate theory of Rondo's next life in Boston.
Perhaps what he really needs is less of a firm hand and more of a collaboration with a like-minded savant. The days of being the little brother are gone and in its place is a chance to form a partnership with a coach who has much to gain from establishing a relationship. With the established hierarchy gone, Rondo can stake his own claim as a player, free of the pecking order that had him forever striving for acceptance and legitimacy.
"There is no bigger fan of Rajon Rondo than me," Stevens said and of all the thousands of words that were said on Friday, none were more immediately important than those.
Ainge said he was "certain" that Rondo would be with the Celtics this season -- while allowing the requisite, "nothing in life is guaranteed" disclaimer -- and that "Brad really wants to coach Rondo."
Let's play this out a little more. Rondo is not a follower, which the previous era demanded. He's intelligent, quirky, competitive as hell and yes, difficult in the way that most intelligent people are difficult for the rest of the world to deal with on a regular basis. If this situation doesn't appeal to him, then there's a real question of what, exactly, would satisfy his professional needs.
"I think Brad is a great communicator and Rajon is a brilliant basketball player," Ainge said. "I think they'll see eye to eye. Rajon has been our best player for the last few years. There's a reason why we've had so much success at times in the playoffs. Brad, being a new coach in the NBA will need to rely on Rondo for input, strategy and his feedback."
That all sounds great on July 5, but what gives this a chance to really work is that Stevens seems cut from the same analytical mold as Rondo. He may not possess the guard's uncanny court sense, but he's a believer in a process over results approach that stems from a deep understanding of mathematical probabilities.
"I'm a numbers guy," Stevens said. "That's just the way I was born. It's not like I embraced some statistical revolution. It's just the way my mind works."
He's also a believer in communication and working with the personnel on hand to create a system that plays to their strengths and limits their weaknesses. He understands that respect in this league is earned and that he'll have to work to gain his players' trust.
The Celtics plan to surround Stevens with experienced NBA hands, but Ainge believes much of that knowledge is already in place including unheralded assistant coach Jamie Young, who has been involved in advanced scouting for a dozen years and knows the tendencies of every player in the league cold.
This is a brand new day for the franchise with fresh ideas and input from young, talented people. The opportunity is there for Rondo to "get on the bus" -- to use one of Stevens' pet phrases -- and establish his own legacy as the leader of this new generation.
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