Rajon Rondo, Celtics Keep Expectations Tempered For Upcoming Season

Rajon RondoWALTHAM, Mass. — Ah, media day. Hope springs eternal, every player is in the best shape of his life and every team is tied for first place.

Anything is possible, and everyone proclaims that this could be their year.

Well, almost everyone.

“I’m pretty smart,” Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo said Monday at the team’s media day. “I know this isn’t a championship team. But we’re going to go out there every night and fight hard, do the little things, believe in each other, believe in Brad Stevens. We’ll surprise a lot of people.”

That’s not exactly a slogan likely to be picked up by the Celtics’ marketing department, but there’s no fooling fans in Boston. Not for a franchise with an NBA-best 17 titles or for a city that has celebrated eight major-sports championships in the last 13 years. Whereas other fan bases might inhale the smoke blown in their faces, longtime Celtics fans are more likely to wave it off. Even the second-year head coach has figured out that it’s best to be straightforward.

“I think that if you wrote down the people that you think are contenders in the NBA right now, you may not have us on there,” Stevens said. “I think it’d be fair to say that a lot of people feel that way. So to make up ground, you have to be great at the little things. You have to be great at being a team. You have to look at it through a different lens.”

The list of obstacles the Celtics carry into the season is long. They are coming off a 25-win season, their worst in six years. Rondo’s broken hand, a result of a fall at home in the shower, could keep him out for the first month of the season or more. They still lack a rim-protecting big man, although Tyler Zeller adds the element of a floor-running center the team lacked last season. They have packed the perimeter with shooting guards — Marcus Thornton, Evan Turner, James Young and others — who don’t shoot well consistently.

They don’t boast matchups that will strike fear into the hearts of opposing coaches, which is why most of the Celtics’ younger players fell in line with Rondo’s assessment. Most agreed that a ring is an unrealistic expectation.

Most, but not all.

“Why not?” forward Brandon Bass said. “You don’t play this game to be like, ‘Oh, we’re going to be mediocre this year. We’re going to be OK.’ When you play the game, you come to practice every morning to try to be the best you can be. To be the best, you have to strive to be the champion. So every day, we’re going to strive to be our best.”

Bass wasn’t around for the 2008 title, but he was around for the near-run to the NBA Finals in 2012. He’s never won it all, but he has won quite a bit. Told of Rondo’s assessment, Bass respectfully disagreed.

“That’s Rondo’s opinion, and personally I feel like it carries some weight because he played on a championship team,” Bass said. “I haven’t won a championship, cool, but that’s not going to be my mindset. Because in that case, what’s the point of playing the season, especially when you’re competing night in and night out? Why not have that trophy in your mind, in the back of your head?

“Every day, we’re going to try to improve and be our best. If that’s a playoff team, cool. If that’s a championship, cool. But I’m not going to strive for anything less.”

Photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images

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