Commentary

Rondo's defiance compounds issue

Celtics point guard fuels critics' fire by not accepting blame for his absence

Updated: February 27, 2014, 9:32 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo could have blown out Birthdaygate faster than a set of candles with a quick gust of contrition.

Not scheduled to play on the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday, Rondo elected to stay behind in Los Angeles and reportedly celebrated his 28th birthday with friends and family rather than accompany his teammates to Sacramento.

[+] EnlargeRondo
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaRajon Rondo's 22-point, 11-assist effort against the Hawks took a back seat to talk about his absence from the team during its recent road trip.

It's unclear what vetting process took place before Rondo stayed behind. Coach Brad Stevens said Wednesday that he talked to Rondo before the team departed, but when asked if Rondo made the right decision by staying in Los Angeles, the coach's response (or lack thereof) was telling.

"It's something that I've certainly spent a lot of time thinking about," Stevens said before echoing an early sentiment that he's moving forward.

Rondo declined to chat with reporters before Wednesday's game against the Atlanta Hawks, but after putting up 22 points and 11 assists while helping the Celtics snap a five-game losing streak, all Rondo seemingly had to do was express a bit of repentance and this story probably would have faded away.

But when asked what he makes of all the commotion stemming from his absence in Sacramento, Rondo remained familiarly defiant.

"I haven't really read much about it," he said. "I heard a lot of comments. Nobody knows the story, so [the media can] keep making up every story you guys possibly can."

So, then, what is the story?

"It's my business," Rondo said. "It's my choice."

Part of what makes Rondo great is his stubbornness. But it's also his worst flaw. As any married man knows, there are simply times you must admit fault, even when you're absolutely certain than none exists.

So even if Rondo had all the necessary signatures for his L.A. spree day, he should have realized, at least amid the fallout, that it simply looked bad.

Even if it didn't ruffle his teammates' feathers (veteran Gerald Wallace said he had no problem with Rondo's decision) and even if there was precedent for such a move (Rondo did not travel to Milwaukee for a back-to-back earlier this month), and even if Rondo made countless other road trips while rehabbing at the start of the season, it would have been very easy to put this in the rearview mirror with a simple, "I made a poor decision."

Instead, Birthdaygate festers.

So Rondo's very vocal group of critics will continue to wonder out loud if he had ulterior motives for his Los Angeles staycation. They'll rant about how a player who was irked by trade rumors might have been thumbing his nose at the organization for letting him twist in the trade winds. They'll say he doesn't understand or respect his role as captain of this decorated franchise.

They'll say he's another year older but no more mature.

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Which is too bad because the focus after Wednesday's game should have been on Rondo's play. Every couple of games, we see increased glimpses of the Rondo of old.

On this night, Rondo cranked the tempo and fearlessly attacked the basket, half of his shots coming at the rim, while also generating a team-high six free throw attempts. Rondo finished with a season-high 22 points to go along with 11 assists and three steals over 35:36.

He was, of course, defiant after the game. Asked about his scoring input, Rondo said, "I'm just glad I'm getting some calls now," just a short time after noting how he's trying to "fix my reputation with these refs."

The conversation swung to his role as a leader. Rondo was quick to point out that, while that role has grown this season, he felt he's long been a leader as point guard and an extension of the coach on the floor.

Rondo was asked if he thinks he'll be accepted as the next great Celtic, the next leader of this team.

"That's everyone else's opinion," Rondo said. "Everyone has their own opinion. But I'm going to go out there every night and play as hard as I can while I'm a Celtic. That's all I can do. That's the only thing I can control, is how hard I play every night for my team and for myself."

Well, there are other things he can control. Such as decisions about which games he will and will not attend. Or how to best navigate a prickly subject.

Rondo and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will sit down next week and likely bury the issue behind closed doors. Eventually, the story will fade from the headlines and airwaves. As Rondo contends, the whole thing might truly be overblown.

But by not addressing the topic now, it lingers. And you can't help but wonder if that's just another bad decision.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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