For a day, at least, the earthquake had been reduced to tremors as the Celtics’ once-shaken home merely jiggled a little. They began the cleanup process, attempting to restore their reputation and regain their lost respect with a strong second half.
The most volatile Celtic of all, Rajon Rondo, dominated Wednesday’s 102-96 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in a way that only he can.
His triple-doubles are works of art, products of old-school hustle. He chases down offensive rebounds in front of meatier defenders, looks for the pass first (instead of only when he is triple-teamed), and scores when the defense allows him a lane to the basket - or when he creates one with his shiftiness.
But just when Rondo appeared settled and focused, a report surfaced late Wednesday that the Celtics were using any means possible - cellphone, SkyPager, a string and a tin can - to get the word out that Rondo was available in trade.
Apparently, his attitude, moodiness, mercurial ways, and arrogance had become enough. And yesterday, the Celtics brass once again had to reaffirm its commitment to Rondo and hope that he doesn’t allow the rumors to affect his play or his psyche.
Rondo is a confident but fragile personality. He has a well-known propensity for letting outside forces annoy him and then attempting to camouflage his feelings with surliness. It happened a few weeks ago when he boycotted the media for no apparent reason, refusing to discuss his triple-double against the Chicago Bulls.
On Wednesday night, he had a long conversation with a team official before talking with the media briefly after another triple-double. He was brief and hurried, perhaps because he had checked his cellphone and learned of the report.
So the Celtics spent yesterday doing damage control. The brass is more than bothered by what they say are unfounded rumors. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge wouldn’t comment on trade rumors other than to say, “Rondo’s been our best player.’’
He is a three-time All-Star, an assist machine when he is focused, and has shown little hesitation in attacking the basket. There is one primary reason, however, why the Celtics would part with Rondo: the chance to rebuild quickly after the Big Three era.
Although Rondo is a franchise cornerstone, the Celtics would listen if another All-Star-caliber point guard such as Chris Paul or Deron Williams were offered. That’s not surprising. And Rondo shouldn’t be insulted by that. What should insult him are names such as Pau Gasol and Stephen Curry.
Gasol will be 32 in July, his numbers are steadily decreasing, and his production has been spotty when the spotlight is brightest.
Curry is a nice player, a potential All-Star, but ankle problems have hampered his development.
In other words, the only way the Celtics are going to part with Rondo is if they get a player with Rondo-like impact in return. The Celtics aren’t seeking nice players or potential All-Stars. They will listen to offers with names that would advance the rebuilding process.
As for Rondo’s attitude, it has been an issue at times, but the organization has understood that he basically became an All-Star because of that same arrogance and refusal to listen to critics who thought he was kidding himself leaving Kentucky after his sophomore season.
To force Rondo to suppress that would also rob him of some of those leadership skills that have made him a top-five point guard. Some of the surliness does wear on team officials, but they also understand that he just turned 26 and is still maturing.
And unlike other NBA players who have been difficult with the media and team officials, Rondo has an uncanny intelligence and ability to understand his weaknesses.
“I talk to both of those guys [Rondo and Rivers] often,’’ said Ainge, “and I see [the relationship] is getting better and better. Things that are being reported now are things that are being regurgitated. They are rehashing old stuff.’’
Ainge said he meets with his players often, and there obviously could be another chat with Rondo soon to reiterate that while he was offered to New Orleans for Paul, this time there was no near-deal that sparked this latest tremor.
The Celtics have every intention to move forward after the Big Three without a series of lottery appearances, and they are as willing to begin that new era with Rondo running the offense as they are without him.
But the perception that the Celtics are fed up with Rondo and are looking to move him for, say, two second-rounders in 2022 is untrue. They understand his value, they realize that with experience comes maturity, and they know that nights like Wednesday are rare in this league - and Rondo is one of the few players who can produce them.
“Rondo has been spectacular at times this season,’’ Ainge said. “Like all of our guys, we just need more consistency. There’s a lot of good things happening on the team, and the next two weeks will tell a lot.’’