clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What kind of leader will Rajon Rondo be for this year's Celtics?

We don't even know if Rajon Rondo will finish out the season as a member of the 2014-15 Celtics. But what if he does? What can we expect from him?

It's Rondo's turn to lead.
It's Rondo's turn to lead.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

At the risk of stating the obvious: It's very, very difficult to predict what kind of results we'll be seeing from Rajon Rondo from this season, because we haven't the foggiest notion what the future holds for him. Rondo could sign a nine-figure contract extension this year and become the face of the Celtics for years to come; he could, alternatively, be traded next week. Any analysis of Rondo's upcoming season must begin with that. We have no idea what's going on with the team's All-Star point guard.

Rondo's uncertain future is the massive elephant in the room, but let's be honest - there's nothing new or interesting to be said about that. The story is the story: Boston is rebuilding, Danny Ainge is an active wheeler/dealer, but at the moment no logical trading partner exists. So for now, Rondo's a Celtic, and that's that.

It's a peculiar spot for Rondo to be in. He could be in Sacramento or Houston or New York or lord knows where else before the end of 2014, but since for the moment he's in Boston, he's tasked with being the face of the franchise. He's the de facto leader of a team that might cast him away at a moment's notice.

Of course, that leads us to an interesting question about Rondo, and it's one that likely weighs heavily in calculating his current trade value, or lack thereof: Is Rajon Rondo a leader? Is that a role he's capable of playing? Does he enjoy playing it? On this Celtics team, how necessary is it?

There are skeptics out there who don't see Rondo as a team centerpiece. The Rondo doubters question everything from his on-court basketball skills to his off-court demeanor, grasping at any excuse they can find to knock Rondo down a peg or two. Whether it's his lack of a jump shot or his alleged inability to function like a normal human being socially, there's always something. One prominent Rondo assailant recently told this very blog how he feels about Rondo's lack of leadership ability, arguing that NBA players "talk to one another, hang out together and text constantly," and Rondo "does not have that relationship with many players in the league." Apparently this is why he's not worth $100 million.

Here's the thing, though. Leadership can take on many forms, and no two guys who offer it are exactly alike. Different teams call for different management styles, and it's really not clear what approach will work best for a team that lost 57 games last year and needs to develop a whole new identity. If you don't think Rondo's the right guy to lead this Celtics squad out of the cellar, you should stop and ask yourself - who in the world is?

In Boston, we've seen a bunch of various types of leaders come and go the last decade alone. We had Paul Pierce, who epitomized Celtic pride with his swagger and penchant for the big shot. We had Kevin Garnett, who wasn't afraid to get in your face and scream at you when you did something wrong. We had Ray Allen, who showed up the earliest and worked the hardest and quietly led by example. We had Doc Rivers, the father figure who managed many, many difficult personalities like a true professional.

All of those guys were the right fit for the situation they were in. But that era is over and done with, and this new team requires an entirely new type of guidance. There aren't many big shots for a Pierce type to hit. There's no reason for a KG type to yell in your face when, at best, all it'll do is help the team lose 56 games instead of 57.

No, this team needs a fresh start. And Rondo, by default since he's the team's best player and also its senior member after eight seasons in Boston, is in charge. And he'll run the show his way, thank you very much.

The old ways of running the TD Garden locker room won't work anymore. For as long as he's still the Celtics' captain, Rondo will need to be patient and help nurture a group that's young but talented. He'll need to share wisdom about X's and O's and show some emotional maturity on occasion, too. He'll need to do things a little differently than the old guys did.

Which is actually perfect, because Rondo's always loved being different. He prides himself on zigging when everyone else zags. You want him to shoot? He'll pass. You want him to make the obvious pass? He'll make the crazy one, swooping through two defenders' legs and finding a cutting teammate no one imagined findable. You want him to lead a team one way? He'll undoubtedly find another way.

We've seen a lot of different Rajon Rondos over the last eight years in Boston. There was Rondo the rookie, Rondo the kid among vets, Rondo the playoff hero, Rondo the triple-double machine, Rondo the walking trade rumor. Most recently, he was Rondo the comeback kid after his torn ACL in 2013. But Rondo the leader? That's something altogether new, and we still haven't totally seen it yet. No more resting back-to-backs; no more calling games in the booth with Mike Gorman. This year, it's Rondo's chance to be in the trenches, guiding this Celtics team every single night.

The trade rumors will persist, obviously. They'll probably never end until the day he's traded or retires, whichever comes first. And that's all well and good, because we all love a little controversy, and Rondo's a guy who kinda sorta loves being in the middle of it, in a weird sort of way. For now, we still get to enjoy having that controversy right here in Boston. Maybe along the way, he'll find a teachable moment or two.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Celtics Blog Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Boston Celtics news from Celtics Blog