We've seen ups and downs in Rondo's game this season. He's gone through stretches where his shooting seemed vastly improved, his defensive play has seemed improved, his handling of pace seemed improved, and so on, and we've seen stretches where these improvements seem to have disappeared. What's more important, though, is that - so far - Rondo has avoided reinjury; his passing game is better than ever (mostly maintaining his usual 11 apg, within a minimal game plan and surrounded by minimal talent); and his leadership skills seem to be growing by the day. What's particularly nice to see is that Rondo seems to be developing a personal style.
Style an important aspect of leadership. Great teams have personalities, and their personalities reflect the personalities of their leaders. Back in 2012, when Rondo's leadership role began to be more overt, he literally imitated KG (remember when he started doing pushups on the floor, during the ECF (?), after being fouled, just as KG had done a game or two earlier?). We still saw that earlier this year, with Rondo making a point of promoting hostilities between the Celtics and opponents, just as KG used to do. A more playful side of Rondo is starting to emerge, however, a personality that is in some ways opposite to KG's personality. When interacting with the media, Rondo has never been bombastic the way KG often is; instead he tends to be introverted, but like KG, he actually says a lot if you really listen. Rondo's recent stint as a commentator with Gorman shows that he is starting to take control of his dealings with the media, sharing more of himself, more on his terms, feeling less like a victim, less under attack. Rondo has a very dry sense of humor, but quite brilliant at times. Recently, Rondo has even started to mend fences with opposing players around the league; he's starting to see himself, it almost seems, as a bit of an elder statesman for the game, a role KG seemed to embrace, but Rondo does it a different way.
There was a moment in last night's game that I thought showed the Rondo leadership personality that is emerging. At some point in the game, Rondo called the team together for an informal huddle, and Gortat took it into his head to imitate what we've often seen Rondo do, literally joining the Celtics huddle. Instead of getting into it with Gortat, Rondo literally put his arm around the opposing big man and welcomed him into the huddle. Now that's darned funny, if you ask me! That's something only Rondo would do. What a funny, understated, and telling way of saying to Gortat "yes, big fella, imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery!" Rondo's Celtics, when they finally emerge, are going to be a smart team, a team with a lot of competitive fire, but also a fun and funny team.
Maxwell gave good commentary during the game last night, though I think Heinsohn is generally better (weird how the young basketball know-it-alls today love to sneer at Heinie). One point Maxwell made that I disagree with has to do with Sully. Maxwell trotted out the usual claim that Sullinger needs to lose weight. To his credit, Maxwell said a bit more about that. He said that Sully needs to gain upper body strength and suggested that a good model for him might be Karl Malone. Now, as much as I'd love to see Sully have a career as great as Malone's career, I think Malone is a wrong-headed choice as an exemplar for Sullinger. I think a better model would be Wes Unseld. Of course it would be good to see Sully become more cut and powerful in the upper body area, but I think the Celtics should be more concerned about his tree trunks - his legs. Sully's potential for greatness as a player has to do more with his lower body than his upper body, it seems to me. He seems to be built wide and low. Because of this, he is able to take up a lot of room, and carve out a lot of space, near the basket. If I were the Celtics, I'd be more concerned with Sullinger's lower body strength than his upper body strength. As Heinsohn showed in the recent game against Brooklyn, Sully's problem against the league's big guys isn't so much height and agility; it's that he's getting bullied down low. I think lower body power is the key for him. He should be able to control almost any big man in the league by denying them position.
I'd like to see the Cs bring Dave Cowens on board as a part-time or full-time big man coach. These guys really need a dose of hardball, and it should also do them some good to see that you can be 6' 8" and still have a HOF career as a center/big man (and remember, Cowens played in the golden age for centers, against quite a few hulking brutes). When Cowens came into the NBA, he was projected as a power forward. He had different ideas. Also, like Sully, an important part of Cowens' game was the ability to draw bigs outside with his long-range shooting.
Shawn, following Forsberg, suggested that Stevens ought to play Sully and Olynyck in the starting lineup the rest of the way, perhaps with Johnson at the 2. I strongly agree with this. The veterans seem to have pretty much checked out at this point (one can't really blame them). Let's see what the young guys can do and let's see Rondo working on his relationship with them.