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It seems like ages ago that we were getting daily rumors about Rondo being offered up for various pu pu platters of picks and players, but it was just a couple months ago.  All that talk died shortly after draft day but Ainge's public criticisms (deserved or not) left a bad taste in many fans' mouths. 

It seems like even longer ago (April) that we were treated to a first round statistical 3 course meal.  Setting his teammates up for scores was the appetizer.  Matching ROY Rose point for point was the main course.  Soaring over 7 footers to snatch boards was just icing on the dessert.

So how did things go from so high to so low to so quickly forgotten about so fast?  I hope I'm not forcing an analogy too much when I say that it just goes with the territory with Rondo.

If you charted out his performance over the first 3 years of his career, the graph would read much like an E.K.G.  The glorious peaks are always balanced with forgettable lows.  On the highs, fanboys like me get a little carried away with accolades:

At some point you have to start including him in the conversation with the Chris Paul's and Deron Williams' of the world.  He's got a ring already and he's peaking exactly when his team needs him the most.

Of course it is that same adoration that sets us up for disappointment if and when he has a couple mortal games in a row.  The truth is that he's still working on that consistency that separates the Almost All Stars from the All Stars.

Not to make excuses for him, but here are a few excuses for him.  First of all he was handed the keys to the Ferrari in his 2nd year and told to be aggressive but "don't you dare crash the car."  He was never quite sure when to throttle back and when to up the RPMs.  Last year he grew more into the role and took the next step but the challenges didn't stop. 

He was feeling a beautiful groove tossing alley oops to KG and running the offense like a 10 year vet.  Then we ran into the Lakers and a post-Christmas losing streak (he struggled in most of those games and it might have cost him an All Star appearance).  Just when things were starting to turn around, KG went down with an injury and Rondo had to carry more of the load.  Not only was the team looking to him more, but the other teams were able to gameplan against him more.

Of course excuses can only last so long.  Ainge was clear back in April what Rondo needed to do to take the next step:

"The single biggest thing with him," said Ainge, "is getting him to compete night in and night out."

Maybe I'm reading too much into this but it doesn't say that he "wasn't good" night in and night out.  It says he didn't "compete."  So maybe it is focus or maybe it is his attitude.  By all accounts he has a stubborn streak and he has no shortage of confidence.  I could see how a little too much of each could get him into trouble.  But they also make him who he is. 

Without confidence he wouldn't be able to shake off the Big 3 when he knows the best option is to feed the ball into the post.  That stubborn streak keeps him driving to the hole despite the defense sagging off him.  So you have to take those qualities and harness them.  Which means that Danny and Doc have to handle the tiller with care and point this ship in the right direction.

Which brings me to Danny's comments and Rondo's contract situation.  Motivation is a funny thing.  What works for one person may not work for the next.  Some folks need honey and sugar and sweet, sweet words to rev their engines.  Others need a slap to the back of the head and a kick in the backside.  Then there are mules who need a carrot on a stick to to get their feet moving.  And to be honest, we all need varying degrees of each depending on the situation and the season of our lives.

I wasn't crazy about Danny talking Rondo down with trade rumors swirling around this summer.  I know Ainge was just answering questions but why did we have to find out about Rondo's tardy fines months after the fact?  But I have to admit that I'm not in the locker room and I don't know Rajon any better than you do.  Perhaps Danny was purposely using the "kick in the backside" motivational tool.  Maybe that's what he needs.

Ainge could have extended Rondo's contract already, but he's not going to even look at that until later in the summer (seems like it is later now, but I guess we'll have to wait and see).  I'm sure that if the Celtics can get Rajon to agree to a reasonable contract that he'll be locked up by training camp (but what is reasonable?).  If not, then they may be counting on "the carrot."  Just look at David Lee to see how much leverage restricted free agents have.  If he plays like an All Star, he'll be paid like one (most likely by the Celtics).  If not, we can still negotiate a salary that's fair.

All in all I cannot complain with the results thus far.  He's already outplayed almost all of the 20 players picked ahead of him in '06.  He was good enough often enough to help us win a title in his second year.  He has made progressive leaps from "prospect" to "solid starter" to "near All Star."  He's got all the tools to make that last leap into the elite category but even if he doesn't he's already proven that he can be very very good at a critical position on a great team.

As an unapologetic fan, I fully expect him to develop a nice midrange jumper to keep defenses honest, play much more consistently, and make his first (of many) All Star appearances in Dallas this year.  As a blogger making a passing attempt at objectivity I wouldn't be too surprised if there were a few more bumps in the road ahead.