Ideally, an NBA team exists as one unit, with each player always doing what's best for the organization. In practice, this is not usually the case. In a league where fortunes change quickly and players are often described as the terms of their contracts, some understandable selfishness prevails. Sometimes it becomes a big story, as well.
Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo turned 28 years old on Saturday. The same day, his team played at the Sacramento Kings. Looking at the second game of a back-to-back, Rondo was set to sit out as he continues to recover from the ACL tear that kept him out of action for almost a full year. So, with no plans to play, he spent the day in Los Angeles celebrating his birthday.
The problem is that he didn't have permission to do so. From Steve Bulpett for The Boston Herald:
The Celtics are not taking it as a major issue, but the team is still hoping to straighten things out with Rajon Rondo after his decision to stay in Los Angeles and not accompany the team to Sacramento for Saturday’s game.
While some were displeased by the move, for which Rondo did not receive official permission, others pointed out he was not scheduled to play in the game anyway (on the second night of a back-to-back), and that he may have simply been making some assumptions based on precedent. Multiple sources say he remained in LA for a birthday celebration. [...]
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said yesterday he is still looking into the situation. “I plan on talking to Rondo when he gets back into town,” he told the Herald. “I’ll find out more about what went into it, and then we’ll handle it internally. We handle all of those kind of issues internally.”
The possibility exists that Rondo could be fined, but if not, the team will likely gain a more well-defined set of rules from this.
Bulpett also quotes Rondo as saying the issue has been discussed and isn't that huge a deal, so it looks like everyone involved, including Ainge, is seeing it as a minor issue that can be resolved fairly easily. While it might seem like a big deal for a star player not to join his team during a road trip, the fact is that this sort of thing happens fairly often. Enough, in fact, that Rondo seems to have been confused about what was allowed rather than engaging in some flagrant disrespect for his team.
But that's not to say that it's a meaningless act. After the trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett this summer, the Celtics have installed Rondo as the team's clear lead star during a rebuilding process. Many veterans used to success would balk at such a role, but Rondo has taken to it quite well, using it as an opportunity to prepare for a potential career in coaching and understanding that the team could become competitive fairly soon.
Still, he's the subject of various trade rumors, and there's a general sense that Rondo's position as top Celtic might be less stable than it would be for another, standard type of star. As a pass-first point guard with an iffy jumper and an eccentric style, Rondo doesn't immediately strike anyone as a foundational leader. I don't mean this as an insult — it's just that it takes time to get used to his abilities and understand how they fit into a team concept. The Celtics know him well, obviously, but it feels like he has to prove himself to the organization in this new role just as much as they need to show him that they're heading in the right direction.
An incident like this one, then, introduces some uncertainty into everyone's plans. As a single event, it's not a huge deal. But miscommunication and an uncertain set of expectations can cause both parties to become more concerned. It's not the end of a relationship, or really anything close to that, but it's something to keep an eye on.
- - - - - - -