WALTHAM — Rajon Rondo is embracing his role as a leader with the Celtics. He has been working as a motivator and organizer during the offseason, joining teammates at their training center Sept. 4, and gathering them in Los Angeles for workouts.
Rondo confirmed he had been designated a leader by coach Doc Rivers in a meeting last season that included Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce.
“We had a meeting to start the season and they said this is my team,” Rondo said on Friday. “To allow me to lead the way speaks a lot to their character. Obviously, it’s not easy to let a young guy take charge. I earned their respect. I think it was time for me to accept the role and step up.
“It didn’t surprise me. They have character. To accept a new guy who comes in, especially someone like me, it’s a part of life. You get old and slow down, a new guy will come up.”
Said president of basketball operations Danny Ainge, “Rajon is really becoming a leader. I’m not sure we could have said that a few years ago. He’s obviously a great player but he, right before our eyes, is growing as a person and as a leader. I think the hardest thing to do is convince guys like Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce you’re a leader. He’s earning that respect.”
Rondo would not back off on his claim to be the league’s top point guard, but also noted the difficulty of walking the line between appearing cocky and confident.
“There’s a lot of great point guards,” he said. “I made the comment, I made it two years ago — it’s how I approach the game. I don’t think I would be the player I am today if I didn’t believe it.
“You can’t be cocky but you’ve got to be confident, especially with this type of team. Especially being a point guard — if I didn’t have the confidence to play with those guys, if I didn’t have the confidence to take charge at times — but you can’t be too cocky.
“Kevin’s my closest friend on the team. From Day 1 my second year on the team, he told me he would be disappointed if I wasn’t MVP of the league one day, if I wasn’t the best point guard in the league.”
The Celtics’ commitment to competing for a title was a factor in the arrival of free agents such as Courtney Lee and Jason Terry.
“Every organization I’ve been with, winning’s always been the key,” Lee said. “Here you see it, you believe it, you feel it.
“We hadn’t started training camp and on Sept. 4, first day I got here, Rondo, all he was talking about was getting back to the championship and winning it. Once you hear that from your star players you don’t want to let them down. That motivates you to be on the same page.”
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.