Now, it looks like that entire concept could be unraveling.
The team won just six games in the month of January, looking at times more like a middle-of-the-pack team than a championship contender. Rajon Rondo said that part of the reason may be a lack of team focus.
"We are getting bored with it some, but I think it's a little bit of different agendas maybe creeping in," Rondo told the Boston Herald. "It just all depends. You know, I think if we all had the right spirit as far as one goal, one thing in common, I think we'd be a lot better."
Those are certainly heavy words from a player who's developed into a bona fide floor leader over the past three seasons. Yet going to the media may be Rondo's best option, as his team meeting on the team's charter flight after a bad loss to the Cavaliers last spring didn't exactly go over well. An attempt at leadership quickly turned into a bickering match, and nobody walked away too pleased.
“It’s hard to play when guys have things on their chest," Rondo told Yahoo back in October. "I think it’s best to get it off there. A lot of guys said what they had to say, but I don’t know if it helped us or hurt us.”
This year, Rondo clearly feels that the team is missing something in the leadership department, and he didn't hold back at all.
"I can't really elaborate on it too much, but I think we've just got to be a team with no agendas," he told the Herald. "We've got to play unselfish, you know? That's on defense and offense. You've got to want the best for the next man out there regardless if you're in the game playing well or you're out of the game not playing well. … In the locker room, you can feel it. You don't feel like it's the same continuity and camaraderie in the locker room as it was [in 2007-08]. The first year, it was a crazy spirit in the locker room. But now it doesn't feel the same. It's not the same right now. We've got to find a way to get that back somehow, some way."
That road won't be easy without Paul Pierce, who could be out indefinitely with a foot injury. With the captain potentially in a three-piece suit for the foreseeable future, Rondo has a second chance to seize a leadership role among the team's veterans, both on and off the court. On the court, that hasn't been a problem, as he's posting career-highs in points (14.1), assists (9.7) and steals (2.4) per game. As evidenced by last year's failed team meeting though, leading the team away from the hardwood is harder than it seems.
Rondo wasn't the only one to address the issue, with Kendrick Perkins telling the Herald that some players may not be putting the team first.
The story raises an important question about the value of team chemistry. During the championship run two years ago, James Posey was a crucial glue guy to the Celtics' success. He was a solid player on the floor, but he's remembered just as much for his pregame man hugs and, according to numerous players, keeping the team tight off the court.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, Posey was so good in his role that he became too expensive for the Celtics to bring back. Since then, they've brought in the likes of Stephon Marbury and Rasheed Wallace while also saying goodbye to another chemistry guy in Leon Powe.
Rondo's now in his fourth year in the NBA, but he's already experienced a career's worth of ups and downs. He was part of the 24-win team in his rookie season, was a role player during the team's championship season and blossomed into a legitimate NBA star last spring in the playoffs. This year, he finds himself caught in between the youngsters and the 10-year veterans, searching for an answer but not sure of how to go about implementing change. He signed a long-term extension and knows he is a central figure in this team's future, and he wants to make sure that future is successful.
It's not hard to see where Rondo is coming from, and it's just as hard to try to imagine an easy solution for the Celtics.
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