Friday night Rajon Rondo will be back on the parquet floor, but he won't be wearing green. He'll be playing for his new team the Dallas Mavericks, which still feels weird and wrong. He'll likely get a nice video tribute package, the last one for anyone associated with the 2008 Championship.
Rondo was one of the most polarizing players in the Boston area but I have every reason to believe that his reception in the arena will be overwhelmingly appreciative. The cheers will rain down on him and he's already letting it be known how much the fans have meant to him.
"Hopefully I won't be too emotional, try not to cry a little bit, but I'm very excited to go back," Rondo said. "Those fans are amazing there. If I do [tear up], hopefully the camera isn't on me too much. I'm going to try to blink a lot."
Most players play with added adrenaline when they play their former team, especially when that team traded them away. Jackie MacMullan reminds us that Rondo should be up for this game for a lot of reasons.
Be prepared to witness a rejuvenated Rondo who will assail his former team with increased intensity and energy. He's playing for a contender, a contract, and in some respects, his reputation. "This second half of the year is a very big one for Rajon,'' Ainge agreed. "Dallas is getting a player who is very motivated to prove he's a max guy.''
On one hand, I'm still sad that we couldn't put a team around Rondo that allowed him that opportunity to shine on the big stage that he loves so well. However, failing that, I'm happy to see him put into a situation where he'll have that opportunity elsewhere.
Dallas is as good a place as any. They won a title not too long ago (bonus points for taking out LeBron and the Heat in their first year together) and it sure beats watching him play alongside breakfast buddy Kobe in L.A.
It will take Rondo and his new teammates a little while to figure each other out and Coach Carlisle will have to figure out how to handle spacing issues and all that. But I have a feeling they'll figure it out. Carlisle is one of the best (and smartest) in the business and Rondo is one of the quickest studies around.
In fact, the new Celtics were talking about how easy it would be to pick up the Celtics defensive system because (so far) Boston is playing the same way each time down the court while Dallas had several different looks for each matchup. In college Rondo would grow frustrated because his teammates needed weeks to master plays that he had down in minutes. Somehow I think he and Carlisle will get along just fine.
The Celtics on the other hand, have some work to do before they'll be fine. Marcus Smart is the point guard of the future, but he's still just a rookie and "has a long way to go" on offense (per Ainge and just about anyone with eyes). The same general concept could be said about most of the roster. As a unit they've got a long way to go, and in some cases, they'll be going a long way away before too long.
On Friday night, we salute the latest star to go away. The last 2008 Champion. The "last of the Mohicans" as KG put it. Rondo will always be a huge part of our history and he'll always have a special place in my heart. Before we move on to the future, we'll have one last chance to tip our cap to what he gave us in the past.