Are there issues growing behind closed doors in Boston? Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo hinted after last week's loss to the Atlanta Hawks that some changes needed to be made in the Boston locker room.
"We gotta make a change and do something about it quick," Rondo said after the Hawks capped a four-game season sweep of the Celtics on Friday at Philips Arena. "Not a trade or anything, but just making some changes in the locker room, amongst ourselves. Every guy has to look in the mirror and hold themselves accountable."
Without prompting, Rondo elaborated on his thoughts, suggesting to the Boston Herald that some players might have individual agendas.
"I can't really elaborate on it too much, but I think we've just got to be a team with no agendas," Rondo told the paper. "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."
Asked if he and the Celtics had tried to clear the air on this, he said, "We haven't really been talking about it, but you've just got to know.
"In the locker room, you can feel it," Rondo added. "You don't feel like it's the same continuity and camaraderie in the locker room as it was the first year [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."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Rondo's comments might have been "a little overblown, to be honest" and said he felt the fourth-year guard was simply restating what Rivers had been telling the team last month.
"I do like our chemistry, I like it a lot," Rivers said before Wednesday game against the Heat. "[Rondo] was almost repeating what I said three weeks ago. It was more about the focus going into the last three or four weeks before the All-Star break. Too many agendas, too many guys worried about travel, worried about everything except for basketball and it tears your team apart for that stretch.
"And as far as us not being [the team of two years ago], he basically was repeating everything I told the team. I said we're not going to be the team of two years ago, or last year, every team is different -- stop looking for that. Be this team. That was the point I was making, so he just said what I said."
Following the Celtics' 107-102 win over Miami on Wednesday night,Kevin Garnett did his best to put the issue to rest. During Boston's postgame press conference, Rondo was asked about the comments. Garnett, seated beside Rondo, never gave him a chance to say a word.
"Let me saying something," said Garnett. "I'm not speaking for [Rondo], but on this team we have a lot of strong personalities. At the end of day, we're all seeking, especially when you lose, man, I remember we lost to Portland, we lost three straight, I could just sense that everybody, within themselves, was trying to do more than they should, or reverting back to being leaders on this team versus the way we have been doing it.
"When I read the comments, I talked to him personally because, we have a lot of personal conversations. That's what it was. We're not a team here to point fingers, we keep everybody accountable, everybody knows what this is in the locker room. If we have anything that needs to be said, it will be said in closed confinement of the locker room and among each other as men. I want everyone to respect that, all right? Next question."
Rondo simply smiled and added, "Word."
Rondo did most of his talking on the court, anyhow, registering 22 points, 14 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals in 44 minutes.
Earlier in the day, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said during an appearance on Boston sports radio station WEEI that he agreed with some of Rondo's assessment, but didn't endorse Rondo's decision to speak out.
"First of all I think that does exist," Ainge said on the issue of there being some different agendas on the team, when compared with their 2007-08 championship season. "The year that we won the championship was very special and very unique. With the great teams I've had a chance to play on I've never seen a team that was more focused and had better chemistry on and off the court. There was no agendas, and I think it had to do with the three stars coming from such difficult situations with great new hope and energy. We had young players, it was a perfect situation, a perfect storm."
After the title, things changed.
"These guys the next year, we start out [27-2] and we still weren't playing as great as we could have been playing and there was little bit of rumbling that last year," Ainge said. "This year I think there has been a little bit of that. I still think it has more to do with what Rondo was saying, it's just the attitude and is that a priority for each player to win a championship? That's what I think he is referring to."
Ainge, who averaged 11.5 points per game during his career but won two championships with the Celtics, knows something about roles on good teams.
"If nothing else mattered, to making All-Star teams, to future contracts, to how many minutes I'm playing, how many shots I'm getting -- do those things matter or is the only thing that matters winning an NBA championship for every single guy," he said. "And even the 10th, 11th and 12th guys matter in attitude and character."
When asked if Rondo's comments represented a show of leadership, Ainge said, "I don't think that's leadership. I think leadership is how KG and Paul [Pierce] handled it. Even though it may be true, that's what all of a sudden brings speculation."
For his part, Celtics center Kendrick Perkins stressed after Sunday's loss to the Lakers that the players in Boston's locker room are behind each other more than ever.
"I don't think it's anything," Perkins said. "I know a lot of people are turning their backs on us, which is cool. That's fine with us. We've just got to keep believing. Everybody's got to be accountable for their actions. Don't point the finger. Everybody look at themselves in the mirror and go from there.
"We're cool, we're real cool. There's no beef. Guys still talk, laugh, joke -- we've all got each other's back. That's one thing you don't have to worry about in this locker room, especially with [KG], Paul, Ray [Allen] and [Rasheed Wallace] in here. Guys will stick together."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.