There is a sense of realism for Rajon Rondo. While those around him have sugarcoated the Celtics’ struggles — which include a ghastly 11-41 record in their last 52 games — Rondo is not only unsure if this transition period will help the organization down the road, he’s not sure there will be a down the road for most of the players on the roster.
Rondo appreciated it when Celtics CEO Wyc Grousbeck recently said of him, “I love the guy,” but he also heard Grousbeck say there could be “fireworks” this summer, when the Celtics are expected to be active in the trade market as well as hold two first-round draft picks.
The losing has taken a toll on Rondo, whose return from knee surgery did not spark the Celtics as expected. He is improving, getting healthier, and slowly adjusting to a new leadership role. But the future is blurry for Rondo.
He has one year left on his contract, and with the draft littered with quality point guards, the Celtics could easily choose to go in another direction and attempt to trade Rondo. So, whether this difficult stretch will foster the team’s rebuilding plan is unknown.
“You can [see the progress] but then again, who will be here next year?” Rondo said. “You [the reporter] might not even be here. They might trade you this season. It depends. I think there are some things you can take from this team. We have a young team, a lot of guys that are playing well every night, but we’re not sealing the deal as a team collectively, but there are some things you can take individually from each guy and stay positive.”
This will be a dramatically different offseason for Rondo. There will be no playoffs, allowing Rondo to take a couple of weeks to rest his repaired right knee and still have nearly five months before training camp.
He always has fulfilled a series of marketing obligations during the summer, but this time he will only take a trip to China to help promote his shoe brand. The rest of the summer, Rondo will look to improve his game.
“Next year will be fun, it will be a fresh start,” he said. “I’ll be able to go through training camp and my conditioning will be better than ever and I’ll have a full summer to train at full speed, at full strength. [Last] summer I wasn’t able to train. This summer will be a fun summer, probably the best summer of my career. I’m looking forward to it, something to take out of it. Not making the playoffs, I’ll have a lot more time to train and get better.”
Rondo missed the first 2½ months of this season rehabilitating, and when he returned, the new captain was asked to lead a bunch of youngsters, veterans playing out contracts, and no-names from the Development League.
“It’s been a long progress,” Rondo said. “This is my eighth year and each year my role has gotten bigger, has grown each year. I’m not going to say it’s easier but I’ve matured more each year.”
The Celtics’ results have been disappointing, as expected. They are among the worst teams in the NBA and are losing in excruciating fashion, taking fourth-quarter leads only to falter. In Wednesday’s 105-97 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, they led, 89-80, with 5:44 left, before the expected collapse.
“That’s how it is, you know?” Rondo said. “It’s not going to be perfect every year. It’s not going to be 60 wins every year. It’s part of the process. [Paul Pierce] went through a similar process, and I talked to ‘P’ a couple of times. I kind of knew what to expect and this is part of it.”
Kobe Bryant has said repeatedly he would like to be part of the Lakers’ decision-making this summer, as Los Angeles also tries to rebound from an abysmal season. Rondo has not asked management to be informed of any decisions, but he wouldn’t mind knowing the direction the team is taking.
“I want to be aware of what’s going on, especially if I’m part of the future here,” he said. “And being the point guard, I would like to know what the team has in store or wants to do or the moves they want to make. I think I’ll be around in Boston this summer and I’ll look forward to what’s going to happen. I’m very excited.”
The short-term future is not lost on Rondo. He knows that his fate could be determined on draft night. He plans on being a Celtic, but the question is whether the organization plans on him being a Celtic.
“This is a big summer for me,” Rondo said. “This is the first summer in two summers I’ll be able to work out at full strength. I look at this as a positive really, for me and overall my career.”