ORLANDO, Fla. - Inasmuch as he attempted to avoid the media and scoffed when he saw the oncoming group approach his table yesterday during the Eastern Conference All-Star availability at the Hilton Hotel, Rajon Rondo was gleeful in discussing his appearance, missing the daily scrum as he served his two-game suspension.
Behind his “here we go again’’ expression was a smile. Rondo doesn’t necessarily embrace the attention, but he does crave it occasionally, even if it means explaining the nature of his anger toward official Sean Wright, who unexpectedly received a fast-pitch softball pass from Rondo after a non-call during the Celtics’ 96-81 loss in Detroit last Sunday.
The furious toss cost Rondo two games and his first NBA ejection. While he insisted that either Brandon Knight or Greg Monroe fouled him on his drive to the basket, he added that his actions were excessive.
“Yes, it was [difficult being away],’’ he said in front of approximately 10 reporters. “I made a mistake and that’s what it is. I don’t think you will see that again from me. Obviously, I learned from it. I’m an emotional player and I felt things were different and I reacted the way I reacted.’’
Nothing occurs with Rondo without intrigue. He found out about the suspension while in Dallas, stunned that the league banned him for two games and not the expected one. He then flew to Oklahoma City and hung out with old friend Kendrick Perkins, and was headed to the Bahamas for a weekend vacation when the Hawks announced Wednesday morning that Joe Johnson would miss the All-Star Game with left knee tendinitis.
The NBA, which had just suspended Rondo, called on him to replace Johnson, an honor he felt he deserved with the original All-Star reserves two weeks ago. Rondo pushed aside the slight and bitterness and expressed gratitude for the opportunity.
“It’s an honor to be here, regardless of how I got here, I’m here,’’ he said. “It’s a credit to my team. We’re not playing great but we’re still able to finally get some type of wins. The guys have been unselfish in letting me do my thing this year.”
Rondo could have easily left the team in Dallas and headed for perhaps a six-day vacation, but he stayed with the Celtics through their trip to Oklahoma City. He considered a one-day trip to the Bahamas, but instead flew back to Boston with the team and barely arrived in time for media availability.
“Yeah, but I had already booked my ticket,’’ he said, when asked about calling off his vacation. “I was already gone. I had to change out my swimming trunks.’’
The jokes stopped there. Rondo is rarely self-reflective but he took responsibility for the team’s 15-17 record because he considers himself one of the team leaders. The Celtics have been besieged with injuries and Rondo has missed 10 of the team’s 32 games.
There is a hope that with better health, improved execution, and chemistry that a 2010-type run is possible. Rondo said he needs to take more responsibility for the offense and will discuss that with coach Doc Rivers.
“I’ve been in his system for six years,’’ Rondo said. “He knows what it takes to win and I think I do as well, so I think I need to be more vocal as far as going to Doc and his offense and try figure out some things we can do to try to get some wins. I’m not satisfied with where we are. I’m not satisfied with where I am. I want to continue to get better for my team and I believe we’ll get better before the end of the year.”
When Rondo is orchestrating the offense and his teammates are peaking, the Celtics are difficult to contain. But that has hardly been the case this season. Paul Pierce began the season injured; Ray Allen has endured a monthlong slump; and Kevin Garnett has concentrated more on defense than scoring.
So while the Celtics are capable of offensive proficiency, they are also capable or prolonged scoring droughts. They scored 2 points in seven minutes Feb. 16 at Chicago and then went 5:59 without a hoop three nights later in Detroit.
In stretches, the Celtics have resembled the team that climbed all the way to the 2010 NBA Finals as a fourth seed. In others, they have looked well past their primes. That disparity is not lost on Rondo, who realizes that he must lead this campaign toward consistency for the Celtics to avoid first-round playoff elimination.
“We may play well for two or three quarters and then go in a lull where we don’t score the ball,’’ Rondo said. “I take full responsibility.’’
The defiant side of Rondo says that the Celtics are title contenders. But he understands that the rest of the league no longer carries the same respect and regard for Boston. And he has assumed the lead role in changing that perception.
“I think everybody expected us to be like this, expected us to fail because of our age,’’ he said. “But we didn’t expect it. Right now it’s not going too well but we’ll change it around.’’