Before this season started, it had the decided feel of the 2006-2007 season when the Celtics were also rebuilding. The lottery and free agent signings this summer loom larger than what goes on the court, same as 7 years ago. In both seasons, the team's leaders were on the mend. The 06-07 Celtics had Paul Pierce out 35 games that season . . . and Rajon Rondo already has missed 46 games this season. Pierce was the clear leader on a team that had traded the enigmatic Antoine Walker two years earlier, solidifying the 06-07 team Pierce's team for better or worse.
Seven years later, the Celtics trade Pierce and Garnett for a cache of draft picks leaving Rondo to claim the helm of the Celtics. Rondo, like Pierce, was a lifelong Celtic, and has been left with a cupboard that is not bare but scant. This season, we have seen some great things from Jared Sullinger . . . and perhaps a little goodness from Jeff Green, rookie Kelly Olynyk too. But back in 2006, the Celtics had a stable of young talent including the 22 yr old Al Jefferson, the 20 yr old Rondo, 25 yr old Tony Allen, 22 yr old Kendrick Perkins, and for good measure, the animated 23 yr old Delonte West . . . that my brethren, was a loveable bunch of losers as they come. So how come I can't love this 2013-2014 losing team just as much?
For me, what makes this current team more difficult to embrace is the heir apparent to the face of the team: Rajon Rondo.
Birthday-gate, where he skipped the team trip to Sacramento in defiance of his coach, didn't really bother me in and of itself. However, the actions were a symptom of someone not capable of leading this team. Some media mentioned how Garnett, a true leader, never would have consider skipping a game when Minnie was in the doldrums [which turned out to be false - he did miss a lot games, perhaps excused]. Pierce was the same way.
So now you have the coach and Ainge being apologists for their leader, with Ainge saying "leaders make mistakes". After the Feb 27th win at home against the Hawks, the Boston Herald had Rondo defending his leadership role:
"I think this year is bigger than most," Rondo said of his leadership. "The past three or four years me being a point guard on the floor, the extension of the coach, I've been the leader since I've been here."
I guess the brooding confidence of the Celtic's point guard should be expected, but I'm not buying it. And when Gerald Wallace feels compelled to defend Rondo as a guy that he wants on his side when he's on the court because he's competitive and totally into the game, I want him to stop.
Rondo's post-game response brought up another major grievance I have with him . . . I find his interviews painful. As a fan, I like a leader that can wax a little humor and eloquence when relating to the media . . . after all, it is the portal by which the fans can experience the players . . . instead we get this typical staccato-type response in the Indy post-game interview:
Media: We saw you not letting Pacer players help your teammates up and stuff like that. Does doing things like that really help the team's competitiveness and cohesiveness?
RR: I don't know. It's just how I play. I don't know if it increases it or not. You know, we are out there competing.
Media: What does it do for you?
RR: It doesn't do anything for me. It's just how I play.
Media: Are you just trying to get under the opponents skin?
RR: No, it's just how I play.
Media: KG is kind of famous for that stuff . . . is that something you picked up from him, that he taught you to give you an advantage?
The brevity of Rondo's answers to questions by the media has been his trademark, and he has made it clear that he'd rather speak via his actions on the court . . . which is fine. But being a leader entails being able to interact with others a bit better than he has. Being brutally honest and curt or snarky just isn't going to convince the fence sitters among us (like me), no matter how well he reads defenses and distributes the ball.
Of course, if Rondo can keep providing opportunities to provide commentary like he did last year in Game 4 against the Heat in the playoffs, he becomes worthy of every Celtics fan full attention!
Ainge: Apology and Admission RR will never be like TB
As detailed by Jay King at MassLive, Ainge just spoke today about Rondo and Birthday-gate and said it wasn't a big deal. In fact, he attributed it to the historic team culture with Doc and KG - see Celticsblog's article on this here. Ainge knows Rondo better than anyone and provides this testament about his captain, who won't turn in to Tom Brady in front of the microphone any time soon.
So Rondo is clearly backed by his team mates, coach and GM . . . is he backed by the fans as well? More importantly, we hear that he's sought after as a team mate by the likes of Carmelo Anthony and others . . . so perhaps Rondo should just keep being Rondo, and I will have to let my longing for a charismatic leader subside until the post-Rondo era.