(h/t Celtics Life for the video)
Because the SI cover jinx wasn’t enough to slow Rajon Rondo down, ESPN has an epic nine-part story titled “9 stories on #9: The legend of Rajon Rondo.”
You should read the whole thing — mostly because it’s epic — but one part interested me the most: Wyc Grousbeck was an absolute savior in getting Rondo to Boston and keeping him there. (Peter May, ESPN)
Ainge was a Rondo fan but, as the draft progressed that night, it certainly looked like he was in a party of one. The Celtics had already used their own pick, No. 7 overall, in a deal with Portland, which brought them point guard Sebastian Telfair and rid them of the final year of Raef LaFrentz’s onerous contract. They already had Delonte West and now, with Telfair, they appeared to be covered at the position.
But there had been something about Rondo. Ainge, himself a headstrong player, downplayed Rondo’s rebellious stint at Kentucky under Tubby Smith. He worried less about Rondo’s lack of outside shooting ability and instead focused on the kid’s speed and athleticism. He looked at Rondo and saw big hands, long arms, a confidence that sometimes bordered on arrogance — and watched in disbelief as team after team passed on him that night.
Finally, Grousbeck told Ainge to do what he needed to do to get Rondo. “You’ve already saved us a lot of money,” he told Ainge, referring to the LaFrentz deal. “I know you’ve always liked him. If you need to spend the money to do it, go do it.” This was not characteristic of the Celtics in those days. They watched their pennies. They stayed away from the mid-level exception and avoided the luxury tax threshold as if it was radioactive. But here was Grousbeck allowing Ainge to buy a first-rounder and take on a guaranteed contract for someone who projected to be a third string point guard.
One by one, teams made picks in the teens and none of them was named Rajon Rondo. Among the players who were picked ahead of Rondo: Cedric Simmons (New Orleans), Rodney Carney (Chicago), Shawne Williams (Indiana), Oleksiy Pecherov (Washington) and Quincy Douby (Sacramento.)
By that point, Ainge wasn’t capable of exhaling. He had arranged for his old team, the Phoenix Suns, to draft Rondo if Rondo was still there when the Suns were to pick at No. 21. He and the Celtics were sure that the Knicks’ boss, Isiah Thomas, would ruin everything and draft Rondo at No. 20. But Thomas, himself a point guard, elected to go with Renaldo Balkman at No. 20.
I always wonder what would have happened had the Knicks picked Rondo and the Celtics picked Renaldo Balkman. The Celtics probably would have had at least three championships by now, don’t you think? Nice pick, Isiah. Renaldo Balkman’s really worked out pretty well. Come to think of it, so did Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Penny Hardaway, Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury.
Once Rondo got to Boston, it was Wyc (with a huge assist to Danny Ainge) who helped keep him there when the Sonics and Timberwolves tried to pry him away.
As Grousbeck explained to Taylor, Rondo was the Celtics’ starting point guard. He would not necessarily be so in Minnesota, which had Marko Jaric, the newly drafted Randy Foye and the veteran Troy Hudson on its roster. Clearly, Grousbeck explained further, Rondo was far more valuable to Boston than he would be to Minnesota.
Taylor didn’t buy it. Why, he wondered, would the Celtics jeopardize a deal for a first-ballot Hall of Famer, a game-changer, for a player who had been in the league for only one season? All the other pieces were in place. But the Timberwolves demanded Rondo. Grousbeck would not budge and told Taylor to get back to him no later than 5 p.m. that day. He had to know either way. Grousbeck also agreed to pay a portion of Sebastian Telfair’s salary. The Celtics were quite willing to include him in the deal instead of Rondo.
Grousbeck was alone on the aforementioned beach when his cellphone rang. It was the end of July. It was Taylor on the line. He had blinked. The Timberwolves would take Telfair and drop their demand that Rondo be included in the deal.
All along, the Celtics have seen Rondo’s value. I’m sure they never foresaw he would become THIS good, but they’ve known all along he had the making of someone special. Read the whole series; as I think I’ve mentioned before, it’s pretty damn epic.
Another must-read on Rondo: Scoop Jackson. I love Scoop and I love Rondo. Put those together and you get either Scondo or Roop… or a pretty damn good story.