One of the fascinating subplots heading into the Celtics’ 2013-14 season was whether or not fresh-faced head coach Brad Stevens, who is listed as 37-years-old in the C’s media guide but looks more like a third year Econ major at BU, would be able to handle the mood swings of point guard Rajon Rondo.
Leading up to the NBA trade deadline last Thursday, we did not hear a peep about Rondo reverting back to his cranky ways and/or challenging young Stevens.
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That famed incident in which Rondo allegedly threw a Snapple bottle that smashed a video screen during a film session, the incident(s) in which he was late for multiple games in the 2008-09 season and the incident in which he got himself ejected for pushing now-teammate Kris Humphries into the stands in November of 2012 were said to be things that were part of an immature, younger Rondo package. It was all in the past, we were told. Rondo had grown up so much, in fact, that he was named Celtics captain in his return against the Lakers back on Jan. 17.
But the Celtics’ 28-year-old floor general had his first real public slip-up in the Stevens era this past weekend. According to the Boston Herald, Rondo did not fly with the team from Los Angeles to Sacramento. He reportedly did not have permission to stay in LA from the Celtics, even though he wasn’t likely to play against the Kings (Stevens is giving Rondo the night off on the second night of back-to-backs). While the C’s were getting beat by the similarly pathetic Kings Saturday night, reports say that Rondo was eating birthday cake with family and friends in Hollywood.
Rondo apparently assumed that it was OK for him to stay behind, because he didn’t fly with the team to Milwaukee on Feb. 10, which was the second night of a back-to-back as well. We’ve already heard that it’s not a big deal from Rondo. But, really. Seriously - this type of thing just does not look good. It is certainly not “captain behavior” and although it has a tad of Manny Ramirez pre-2008 sort of innocence to it, it sends the wrong message to, well, basically everyone in and around the Celtics organization.
The good news for Rondo is that the incident will be forgotten about almost immediately in Boston because the Celtics are a distant fourth in terms of sports team popularity right now and because this incident could be seen as something that could actually do damage to the team’s chances of winning games this season. I mean, what’s better than your best player being an insubordinate soldier when the goal is to lose as many games as possible, anyway?
But this story is one more of the long-term variety than of the short-term. After all, it appears as though the Celtics are, indeed, building around Rondo (a sentiment I’m in favor of, by the way). If the C's are fortunate enough to land a Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, that young 19 or 20-year-old mind will be partially molded by Mr. Rondo next season. Stevens will have a say in that young player’s development, for sure, but Rondo will be the one in charge of making him a pro – the same way Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were the ones who were in charge of keeping Rondo in check.
Rondo’s Snapple and Hump incidents could be chalked up to his “competitiveness.” But the whole being late thing we once saw? And the whole not showing up at all, thing? That just makes Rondo appear passionless for the task at hand. That is the type of stuff, coming from a supposed leader, that sinks a team at any level and in any team sport. Other players on the team start talking to each other and begin asking things like, “why the hell does he get away with it when we don't?”
Perception is reality when it comes to the Boston Celtics in 2013-14. And right now, in a shocking turn of events, it is someone like the former E! star Humphries who appears to be the Celtics’ working man instead of Rondo. Humphries is Boston’s current Joe Six-Pack, lunch-pail, son of a plumber-type that everyone rallies around. Yes, in this warped season, it’s as though Kris Humphries would be the one most likely to be ordering shots of Jack with you at Sully’s Tap after a tough loss. Rondo, on the other hand, would be the one most likely to be ordering an ironic Pabst at Lord Hobo’s in Cambridge while wearing non-prescription glasses, a V-neck sweater and a backpack.
That perception also says that Stevens and Rondo are headed toward some sort of giant clash. For that not to happen, everyone’s favorite, grumpy fashionista point guard will have to grow up. For real this time.
Follow Metro Boston sports editor and columnist Matt Burke on Twitter @BurkeMetroBOS