WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Celtics hadn’t even opened training camp for the 2012-13 season when Rajon Rondo let his present and future teammates know that he was going to be the unquestioned leader of the team.
On the court, that has been an evolving position, one that was firmed up before the start of last season, when Rondo was told it was his team by the people who matter: Coach Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. This year, Rondo doesn’t need anyone’s blessing; he knows. Off the court, he took it upon himself to summon as many players as possible to workouts in Los Angeles.
It was a smart move, given the number of new players (9) on the team. It also solidified Rondo’s status as the de facto leader of the team. Starting his seventh year, he is once again in charge of basketball’s most decorated franchise, surrounded by future Hall of Famers, with one goal in mind: another NBA title.
“Rajon is really becoming a leader and I’m not sure a few years ago we could have said that,’’ Celtics GM Danny Ainge said Friday at the annual Media Day. “He obviously is a great player, but, right before our eyes, he is growing as a person and a leader. I think the hardest thing to do is convince guys like Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce that you’re a leader. And that’s something you can’t just give to somebody. It has to be earned. I think he is earning that respect from them.”
Rondo said he originally wanted the veterans to gather in Las Vegas for a pre-training camp get-together. When that didn’t work out, he chose Los Angeles. Garnett and Pierce were both in the area and several members of the soon-to-be Celtics of 2012-13 gathered at UCLA for games and bonding, capped by a flag football game at the end, one in which Rondo said he scored seven touchdowns.
“I wanted to take everyone out there, so we could play together, get a little chemistry before we start and have a little fun,’’ Rondo said.
While Rondo elevated his play last season, especially in the playoffs, Ainge admitted that the point guard still needs to work on his day-to-day commitment. Rondo is famous for coming up big in marquee games (think the national TV game against Jeremy Lin and the Knicks last season when he went for 18 points, 17 rebounds and 20 assists in a Boston OT win) while tending to disappear against the Miwaukees and Torontos of the league. He even had his ups and downs in the playoffs, including a particularly puzzling through-the-motions performance in Game 6 against the 76ers. (He then went for a triple-double in the Game 7 clincher.)
“That has been a part of his nature, but that has improved dramatically the last couple years,’’ Ainge said. “He can get better. The things I know he can improve on, things like leadership, taking things seriously day in and day out, I think he has made strides every year.”
Last year at this time (or, to be accurate, in December, before the start of the truncated 2011-12 season), the Celtics were shopping Rondo in an effort to land Chris Paul. It wasn’t the first time Rondo has seen his name in trade rumors, but, given the way he played last season, it may be the last.
In his mind, there’s no better NBA point guard. In his mind, his resume is almost bare with only one NBA title. He seems every bit as set and secure in Boston as Pierce, Garnett, Rivers and Lucky the Leprechaun and the 2012-13 Celtics may go only as far as he can take them. And lead them.
“He is the leader,’’ Rivers said. “Three years ago, he was learning how to be a leader. Two years ago, he got better. Last year, he got a lot better. Now, he’s here.”