Rajon Rondo is a complex person, a dream within a dream within a dream, consisting of layers of architecture that only make perfect sense to him.
We’ve heard rumors of Rondo’s stubbornness, the way he can occasionally be a thumb tack into the side of teammates and coaches. He entered the NBA and immediately wanted things done his way. He butts heads with Doc Rivers. He clashes periodically with the Big Three. He’s unafraid to speak his mind, may or may not have struggled last season while mourning the loss of his friend Kendrick Perkins, plays through injuries that would sideline Vince Carter for his entire career, unofficially leads the NBA in “utterly unselfish and sometimes stupidly unselfish” plays, became a leader among several Hall of Famers, and once in a while throws a water bottle (or an iced tea container, depending on who you trust) at a video screen while assistant coaches point out his flaws during a film session, then continues into a diatribe lacing into his teammates.
He’s about as simple as rocket science, as normal as a blue duck, and as volatile as a volcano. He’s Rajon Rondo, a player who has overcome a crushing flaw, yet a person still working to overcome temperamental issues that have scarred and sometimes threatened to fracture relationships with his closest co-workers.
In a wonderful piece in the Boston Herald, Steve Bulpett unearthed the anecdote I briefly mentioned earlier, the one where Rondo throws a water bottle and destroys a video screen during a film session. It’s a startling description of an event that would normally take place behind closed doors and remain behind closed doors, depicting Rondo as a hothead capable of losing his scruples, verbally attacking his teammates and destroying team property, all in one outburst.
But it was later in the story that I thought the most productive quote came.
“I’m not going to point the fingers on anybody,” Rondo said. “Any relationship problems I have with anybody on the team or anybody on the coaching staff, I have to do better as a player and as a leader. You know, I didn’t ask for this role, but it’s part of it — for one, being a point guard, for two, the way I play. So I just have to embrace it better. Each year I think I’m getting better. I may have my incidents, but each year I think I’ve handled criticism a lot better, I’ve been a lot more patient, and I think I’ve grown. KG actually came up to me and told me he was proud of me at how mature I’ve seemed in the first few days. But it’s not just two days; it’s going to have to be consistent throughout the season. That’s what P (captain Paul Pierce) told me the other day: You can’t pick and choose when you’re going to be a leader. You have to do it every day. That’s the biggest thing for me. It’s not just in the games, it’s in practice and in shootarounds in the morning. . . . I’m the first guy out there that people are looking at. You know, I’ve got the ball, so if I’m going to lollygag, then it’s like, OK, well, we’ve got the day off. That can’t be.
“There can’t be any inconsistency about that as far as in my game this year. And there won’t be, because I’ve embraced that role. All eyes are on me, and I’m OK with that.”
The symmetry of Paul Pierce telling Rondo he needs to be a consistent leader is perfect. In his younger days, Pierce was a lot like Rondo, a volatile, head-strong young buck not yet willing or able to coalesce with his teammates at all times. He had spats with Doc Rivers. He took bad shots. He almost requested a trade. He wore mocking head bandages to press conferences. He was Boston’s leader and normally well-behaved, but he was also capable of mind-boggling lapses just when it seemed like he had turned the proverbial corner.
Rondo was put in a different situation career-wise than Pierce, but their evolution is eerily similar. Several small steps toward maturation, one giant leap backward, a self-destructive path that simultaneously leaves fans in love and disappointed. Pierce eventually attained the point of complete maturation, but it took years of petty outbursts and occasionally selfish play before he fully committed himself to the team culture.
In the book Shaq wrote this summer, which talked crap about anybody and everybody, the Big Diesel called Pierce Boston’s unquestioned leader, even in a locker room that includes Kevin Garnett. The next step for Rondo is to become the leader Pierce has developed into, to eliminate the occasional mental lapses and temper tantrums and put aside all the bullshit that clouds his relationships with teammates and coaches.
Rondo is a uniquely talented individual, a point guard who can create assists out of dust, an unselfish passing demigod who should be a dream to play with, and now he must follow Pierce’s lead. He must continue his development into a full-time leader, because really, that’s the only true kind of leader there is.