WALTHAM, Mass. — Once upon a time, Rajon Rondo and Marcus Williams was a toss-up.
It is wild to think now, one championship and four All-Star games later, that Rondo was once even with or lower than Williams on most draft boards. Questions about Rondo’s attitude and Williams’ off-court history dogged the guards, enough that the Boston Celtics invited them back for a second workout together in the run-up to the 2006 NBA draft.
Inviting players back for a second workout is not rare for the Celtics, but it’s not exactly common, either. In Rondo’s case, the second look showed them exactly what they wanted to see.
“It’s really where we’ve got usually a couple guys at a certain position that we just can’t decide between,” Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge said Monday. “Sometimes, you bring them back and you still can’t (decide), and sometimes you bring them back and it’s a knockout punch. We did that with Rondo, brought him back with Marcus Williams from UConn, and it was clear in the workout that Rondo was just a cut above. That helps us a lot.”
The Celtics took Rondo 21st, with Williams going to the New Jersey Nets one pick later, and it worked out for Boston. Now, Ainge and the Celtics are at the point where they are beginning to ponder second workouts for the class of 2014. They have held seven sessions over three weeks, most recently Monday’s workout highlighted by Roxbury native Shabazz Napier, with at least two more upcoming later in the week.
Not every workout has featured familiar names, but Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been impressed by the level of competition at each closed session. The surefire lottery picks have not been any less intense than the unknown players battling to be drafted at all, he said.
“I would say, the more I’ve been around it, that it’s unpredictable,” Stevens said. “You would think that a guy that may be less likely to be drafted or is a second-round guy according to most would bring more fire than a top-10 projected guy. But I haven’t seen that to be the case.
“That’s more a compliment to the top-10 guys than it is to the guys that are projected later. It’s been more consistent, across the board, no matter where they’re being picked. Hey, you’re working out for a chance to play in the NBA. If you don’t bring it, that’s a red flag.”
The Celtics have picks Nos. 6 and 17, which they could either use on incoming amateur players or package in a trade offer for Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love. Whatever they do, they want to be as informed as possible about the talent available in the draft. A second look can’t hurt.