Rajon Rondo Still a Puzzle Celtics Are Trying to Solve, Not Proof Team Would Reform DeMarcus Cousins Successfully

Rajon RondoCeltics fans cannot seem to get DeMarcus Cousins off their minds, no matter how dead that trade rumor might be. The salary complications and Cousins’ behavioral issues have been debated ad nauseam, so it is not worth going into those massive obstacles any further.

One thing that has been repeated so often in the last few weeks, to the point that it has almost been accepted as fact, is that Doc Rivers and the Celtics have proved they can win with a troubled star. Look at the 2008 team, that argument goes. Those Celtics managed to win with Rajon Rondo, who has shown himself to be sort of a handful for the coaching staff. If those guys could do it once, then repeating the trick with Cousins should be a cinch.

This logic originates from a slightly false premise, though. The current administration of Celtics never won a championship with a troubled star, because Rondo was not a star back then. When the Celtics won it all, Rivers’ biggest challenge was incorporating three proven superstars into a system that only involved one basketball. His task was made easier by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen‘s shared willingness to sacrifice for the whole. Rondo was merely a second-year role player — though an important one — who was along for the ride.

Honestly, folks, Rivers and the Celtics surely appreciate the confidence you have in them. Your faith that they can reform Cousins, a 22-year-old who has yet to “figure it out” in his third year as a pro, is fine. But Rivers himself acknowledged prior to Monday’s game, for which Rondo was suspended for bumping a referee and refusing to cooperate with the league’s discipline procedure over the weekend, that he must not be doing a very good job of getting through to his point guard. Like Rondo’s own role on the team, the organization’s handling of their All-Star floor general is still evolving.

Since Rondo emerged as their best player in 2011, the Celtics have gotten close to the promised land multiple times. (From 2008 to 2010, the Celtics’ best player was Pierce, Pierce and Garnett, respectively.) They even came within one game of the NBA Finals last season. Still, there is a gap between being the best player and being the leader. So far, the equation has worked because Pierce and Garnett are the leaders.

Pierce is the guy giving his game ball to a journeyman center. Garnett is the one taking the likes of Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins under his wing. Neither of them will play forever, though. Adding Cousins would start the Celtics down a path of building their team of the future around two tantalizing talents who have trouble getting out of their own ways.

With all that said, if the Celtics could land Cousins for the right price — which, again, they probably will not because the Kings say he is not available — it would be tough to quibble with the move. Purely from a talent standpoint, a team could do worse than to pin its hopes on a multi-talented big man and a point guard with a penchant for triple-doubles.

Changing people is not easy, though. Perhaps the Celtics would be able to “figure out” Cousins and help him tap his vast potential. That does not mean Rondo is a puzzle they have solved. The Celtics have done their level best, but managing a sensitive situation is a bit different then working a miracle.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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