Somebody was bound to say it. Why not a Hall of Famer and Celtics champion who respects the franchise’s history as much as anyone?
“I’m going to get in trouble for this,’’ said Nate “Tiny’’ Archibald, who helped a young Larry Bird win his first NBA title in 1981, “but if you look at all the great point guards who have worn the Celtics uniform, Rajon Rondo does more than any of us put together.’’
More than you?
More than Hall of Famers K.C. Jones and Dennis Johnson?
More than seven-time All-Star Jo Jo White?
More than the greatest of them all, Hall of Famer Bob Cousy?
The five of you won a combined 19 championship rings. And Rondo (one lone band of emeralds and diamonds) outranks you all?
“He’s in a different category from the rest of us,’’ Archibald said after witnessing Rondo’s breakout performance last season. “He’s amazing.’’
As the Celtics open the 2012-13 schedule Tuesday night in Miami against the title-defending Heat, the enigmatic Rondo — a fussy fashionista with a basketball assassin’s soul — reigns as their undisputed floor leader, a hoop savant who has come to exert more control over a championship-caliber team than any guard in franchise history since Cousy himself.
For all the swagger and experience of The Big Ticket and The Truth — his colleagues in The New Big Three — Rondo is the steward of their destiny, the keeper of the championship flame. The franchise, for better or worse, has placed its trust in a playmaker who ranks — well, somebody was bound to say it — among the greatest Celtics point guards.
The 84-year-old Cousy has never been in the business of ranking Celtics greats. But Cousy, the former NBA and Boston College coach, has tracked Rondo’s evolution from a rookie curiosity to one of the sport’s most dominant floor generals.
“I think you’re probably seeing him at the top of his game,’’ Cousy said as Rondo guided the Celtics against the Heat in last season’s Eastern Conference finals. “The experience factor has kicked in and his confidence is so high that he has everything under control in terms of running the team and handling himself.’’
The kid from Louisville, Ky., is no Muhammad Ali, who rose from the same city’s streets to capture global acclaim. But Rondo has flashed glints of Ali’s flamboyance, his speed and athleticism, his visceral belief in his own greatness and a hunger to prove it that strikes some as audaciously defiant and others as the stuff that breeds success.
At 26, Rondo has hit his stride.
“No doubt about it, we’re at the point where as Rondo goes, the Celtics go,’’ said Sam Cassell, a former All-Star point guard who won rings with Rondo and the Celtics in 2008 and Hakeem Olajuwon’s Rockets in 1994 and ’95. “Rondo’s the man, and his teammates don’t mind that as long as he respects the game. And he has learned to respect the game.’’
No one is happier about it than Doc Rivers, who last season risked crossing his other stars by granting Rondo command of the Celtics’ floor plans. Rivers declared Rondo the most intelligent player he has ever coached, and has made no secret of how highly he values the skills that distinguish Rondo from many of his Hall of Fame predecessors.
Rebounding? No great Celtics point guard has done it better.
Defense? With his quickness and 6-foot-9-inch wingspan, Rondo can defend nearly as well as Johnson, the best defender of them all.
As a facilitator, Rondo’s court sense, creativity, and peripheral vision rival Cousy’s.
And despite his mysterious weaknesses as a shooter, none more glaring than his 62 percent career free throw mark, Rondo can score as prolifically as White, who averaged more than 20 points a game from 1970-77, and Archibald, who led the NBA in scoring (34 points a game) in 1972-73 when he played for Cousy and the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.
Toughness? Few players in Celtics history have played through physical trauma more gamely than Rondo, as he demonstrated during the conference finals when he slammed to the floor in the third quarter, dislocating his elbow, only to return in the fourth quarter, his injured arm hanging at his side.
Yet Rondo’s greatest blessing might be his mastery of advanced hoopology.
“His basketball IQ is off the charts,’’ said Archibald, who generally is ranked among the top 10 point guards in NBA history.
In an unusual convergence of opinion among rival NBA greats, both Celtics star Paul Pierce and Miami’s Dwyane Wade last season separately described Rondo as “the head of the snake’’ on Causeway Street. They got no argument from several Hall of Famers who closely follow the game.Continued...