The Great Boston Celtics Experiment is one of the more interesting storylines we're looking forward to as the 2012-13 season spins into action. The C's, once again, are going all-in with two superstars that are clearly past their prime, but also brilliant enough to serve as the pillars of a championship team. Behind them is impressive depth, perhaps the best coaching staff in the league, a rabid section of cheering fans, and the presence of all-world point guard Rajon Rondo.
[Marc J. Spears: Rajon Rondo commits to leading Celtics]
Rondo, who is the subject of a fantastic profile put together by Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears on Wednesday, is being counted on to stir the drink once again as the Celtics attempt to get past Miami and back into their third Finals appearance in six years. And he's best-suited for that role, says team architect Danny Ainge, because he's the team's best player.
Wait … what?
Ainge, in two separate interviews on Tuesday, called Rondo out without provocation as the squad's best player; a pretty significant statement considering the game-changing dominance of Kevin Garnett, and the fact that this generation's Mr. Celtic, 15-year veteran Paul Pierce, is still putting that team's offense on his shoulders. Via WEEI, let's take a look at Danny's designation:
"The way he played last year in the playoffs was, I thought, pretty incredible," Ainge said. "He proved he's the best player on the team and he's earned the respect of his teammates and coaches. That's a big step. We're excited for him this year."
Just in case anyone missed it, Ainge went on WEEI's Mut & Merloni and repeated the assertion with a little more context. (You can listen to the whole interview here.)
"What you saw in the playoffs is what we've known for a little while about Rajon, is Rajon," Ainge said. "A lot of people will say Rajon's had success because he's had three superstars and Hall-of-Famers playing with him, and what we saw in the playoffs is that Rajon's the best player on the team. Even the game that Paul [Pierce] fouls out, Rajon goes and scores nine straight points and was more aggressive where he probably wouldn't have been that aggressive had Paul still been on the court.["]
It's hard to break down Ainge's statements with more precision than WEEI's Paul Flannery already has, but the quick take is that this is only worth discussing if Ainge is referring to the 19-game stretch (against only three teams; even if they were two pretty good and one championship-worthy teams) during last year's postseason, and forgetting that the lockout-induced slog that was the regular season ever happened.
Rondo was brilliant in that postseason, putting together a player efficiency rating of over 22 while averaging 17.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.4 steals and nearly 12 assists per contest in 42 minutes per game. It still came on the heels of a pretty good but not "best Celtic"-regular season, though, one that saw Rajon shoot less than 60 percent from the free-throw line as his all-around efficiency sort of stagnated. Rondo led the NBA in assists with 11.7 a contest, but he often overpassed on his way to those dimes; and shouldn't the best player on your team, charged with leading your offense, lead it to more than the 27th ranking on that end?
Ainge, in both interviews, is referring to the playoffs. Even then, we'd probably go with Kevin Garnett, and his ability to change the game defensively while adding an efficient touch offensively. Perhaps Ainge expects KG to fall off a bit in the time between last spring's Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat and the start of the season one month from now.
Or, perhaps, Ainge expects Rondo to step in and act like it's the playoffs in November. To maybe think twice before giving up on that runner in the lane for a dish to the corner. Ainge is an ex-player, and ex-coach, so a set of expectations put down on record (under that "I really like him, he's the best"-smokescreen) wouldn't be an odd move for a guy with Ainge's history. And, to the Celtics' benefit, merely getting to enjoy a "who's the best player on the team?" argument between Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett is a pretty nice luxury.
Rajon, as you'd guess, is unfazed by any of it. In talking with Spears he doesn't come off as aloof. Just his own dude. Just his own Rondo. From Marc's piece:
The event planner for the week of bonding was point guard Rajon Rondo. After an offseason in which his maturity was questioned and his relationship with former teammate Ray Allen was scrutinized, Rondo wants to show he can lead the Celtics. One of the first steps was welcoming a couple of new teammates — Jason Terry and Courtney Lee — to Boston's L.A. retreat.
"I wanted J.T. to play with Kevin. I wanted Courtney to see how Paul likes to play. I wanted Paul and Jeff Green to go at each other," Rondo told Yahoo! Sports. "I wanted to play with those guys. It was getting guys away from our actual training facility to get a new view.
"I wanted the guys to have fun. When you're with me I want you to say, 'Man, I had a good time with Rondo.' And I think that's what they did."
Even if Boston's offense ranks in the lower reaches overall, we always have a good time with Rondo. And to his and Boston's credit, we've entered every season of the Kevin Garnett era (even the first year, when the C's took their first title in over two decades) talking as much about the team's closing championship window as we do the squad's chances at a ring; and five years removed from the KG deal we wouldn't blink at the thought of Boston hoisting another trophy next June.
He may not be their best player, or even their most important when you consider how Garnett drives this defense-first club. But he's certainly the team's most unique talent, and possibly the most unique player in the NBA. As he hits his prime, it's going to be a good time with Rondo as we see how this all meshes with the idea of orthodox, Celtic-style, greatness.
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