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Keep Rondo: A Lesson Learned From Dennis Johnson

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Chad Finn at the Globe and our very own Brendan O'Hare of CelticsBlog have both made compelling arguments to keep Rajon Rondo since his ridiculous triple-double against the Knicks Sunday afternoon. Since Doc and Danny made public comments last week supporting Rondo, the trade winds have died down but March 15th is still ten days away, but stories of Rondo's petulance have come up like weeds. His brilliant performance have been tempered by these ugly stories of Rondo's attitude and strained relationships with his teammates. This little tidbit from Jackie MacMullen scared me a little bit:

The kid is making strides, but he's not there yet. He still gets caught up in the mano-a-mano moments that often come back to bite you. His courtside manner still grates on his teammates at times, as it did Sunday when he kept chirping at Brandon Bass until his exasperated teammate turned and said, "Shut the [expletive] up!" Rondo, expressionless, merely turned away.

It also worries me that 13 of Rondo's 17 career triple-doubles come on national television. I appreciate that he steps up in big games, but it's his attitude during games like tonight's idle match-up vs. Houston that scares me. There's no Jeremy Lin who's stealing pub and grabbing headlines. There's no "am I as good as top five point guard Deron Williams" pre-game drama. But as Brendan warns us about the high maintenance superstar, Finn compares Rondo to one of the all time Celtic greats, Dennis Johnson.

Before DJ was part of the most iconic steal in NBA history, Red had to steal him away from the Phoenix Suns for Rick Robey. At the time, Rick Robey rarely played as a back up center for the Celtics and Johnson was a Finals MVP and a five-time member of the All-Defensive Team. The only reason that deal gets done was because DJ was an arrogant SOB and a locker room cancer. Of course, the DJ we know is the Dennis Johnson that Larry Legend described as the best teammate he ever had. Sound like somebody we know? Rondo and DJ were both young phenoms and we have to consider that brilliance like this at this age comes with a price.

The Celtics have to be willing to suffer these growing pains in order to reap the benefits when he matures in his prime. Like Chad Finn suggests, I agree that "Ainge can live with Rondo, not as a centerpiece, but as an essential piece." He's not a max contract player, but somebody you use as the foundation to attract max contract players. 137 NBA players ranked Rondo 12th in top players to build a team around and he's only 25. I'm sure Danny recognizes that this is the age of the scoring point guard. If the rumors are true, he's tried to trade Rondo at twice that we know of for Chris Paul and Steph Curry. This is where I hope that Ainge is a loyal CelticsBlog reader.

Danny, consider this: a team led by a scoring point guard hasn't won an NBA championship in twenty years outside of maybe Chauncey Billups. Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook are nice players, but until they've got rings, let the answering machine pick up those trade calls for Rondo. Everybody knows that playoff basketball is more of a grind. The court gets smaller and the play gets more physical; playmaking becomes a premium. Rondo is the epitome of a player that makes his teammates better.

When I watch RR play, what I marvel at is how Rondo is always thinking two to three steps ahead. For people that have played basketball, you understand that basketball is a dance. Moves are predictable like dance steps. There are variations to the pick and roll, but generally, you know where to go. It's a slip or a fade or a hard screen. Rondo knows all this and he's known to study tape for hours. He knows what opposing players are going to do before they even do it. Tonight against the Rockets, just watch Rondo. He can manipulate a defense with one dribble to the left or right and juke a defender with a simple shoulder turn. He's a master on knowing that directing Ray to a corner shifts the D just enough to get KG open on the high block or changing the angle of a pass ever so slightly turns Pierce's hips so that he'll have an advantage after the catch. On fast breaks, Rondo rarely dunks or takes it hard to the rim. He doesn't have to. He knows that you're expecting one thing and does the other.

You played six seasons with Dennis Johnson and Larry Bird (SOB's in their own right) and you have to recognize that a little attitude deserves a little latitude (my apologies to Dr. Seuss and Walt Frazier). By the way, Bird's a fan of Rondo, too. He's not Iverson or Steve Francis. He might be tough to deal with because he thinks he's the smartest player on the court but with his head coach echoing those sentiments, can you blame him? I know Garnett isn't willing to put on pom poms and shorts shorts, but he has been Rondo's biggest cheerleader this season. That says a lot. Rondo may not have Chris Paul's jump shot or Derrick Rose's finishing ability at the rim, but the common trait they share is that little edge that puts the best players over the top. Call it competitive fire. Call it guts. Rondo has it. You can't trade away a guy that goes nose-to-nose with Lebron James at half court or plays through a dislocated elbow. Trust the instincts you had when you traded for him on draft night. Keep the kid.