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Bob Ryan

Rondo inscrutable - and indispensable

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / November 3, 2009

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Rajon Rondo already had his ring and now he has his money. Would it be asking too much for him to just settle down now and play some basketball?

He should forget about Chris Paul. He should forget about Deron Williams. He should forget about Tony Parker. He should forget about Derrick Rose. He’s never going to be them and they’re never going to be him. One-upmanship is not the issue. Winning games is all that matters.

Barring some wild, unforeseen turn of events on Causeway Street, Rajon Rondo will be here for at least the next five years, which will encompass much of his athletic prime. He’ll be 28 when the contract expires. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rasheed Wallace all will be gone. Paul Pierce? Maybe, maybe not. By that time Rondo will be the face of the franchise, the marquee player, the (presumably) perennial All-Star. He will, we must assume, no longer be getting caught up in extracurricular foolishness like he did Sunday night against the Hornets.

The Celtics had to sign Rondo long-term, didn’t they? He’s far too good to be allowed to slip away, and what was their alternative? They have nice backup guards, but no true backup point guard. If one of their veteran big men went down for a while, they could do some clever rotating and get by, at least during the regular season. But if Rondo were incapacitated, they would be in very serious trouble. He may not be their best player, but he’s their most indispensable, which is simply a function of the way Danny Ainge has constructed his team.

When I say Rondo’s not going to be Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tony Parker, or Derrick Rose, and they’re not going to be him, I’m talking style and package of skills, not overall effectiveness. There are different job requirements and different ways of getting the job done. Rondo may never shoot like Paul, but Paul will never rebound like Rondo, and that capability is part of what makes Rondo such a special player. Sure, nobody asks Rajon Rondo to rebound like a power forward, but some nights he does just that and it is a major reason why the Celtics will win a particular game. Unless he one day no longer wishes to do it, he will be the best rebounding point guard in the post-Jason Kidd era, and, if we’re talking inch-for-inch, the best ever.

You simply cannot exaggerate how incredible it is how he does what he does on the glass. The only point guard I’ve ever seen rebound like him with that body type was Fat Lever, and now I’m seeing Fat Lever listed at 6-foot-3, when I always had him in my head at 6-1. Of course you seldom can go by the program heights, and in Rondo’s case that makes him even more remarkable since, while he’s generally listed at 6-1, I’m here to tell you that I am 6-1 and change, and I am taller than Rajon Rondo. So when you see him throw one down over a 7-footer or grab a rebound in a cluster of 6-8ers and up, consider the sobering fact that he is 6 feet tall and no more.

How good Rondo is over the life of this contract will be determined by Rajon Rondo, and no one else. He has the ultimate in job security. The Celtics will not be drafting or trading for anything other than his backup. If he wishes to be acclaimed as a top-of-the-line point guard then he has work to do. As much as he is loved around here, there are naysayers out there who harp on the shooting thing. Shooting gets attention. Devin Harris was an All-Star last year. Rajon Rondo was not.

That’s another thing. In terms of All-Star recognition, he may be on the wrong team. Any or all of the Big Three could wind up on the 2010 squad, and it’s hard to imagine Rondo becoming a fourth member of the team. That could change if Rondo is still racking up the assists the way he is now as the season goes on. He has come out of the chute with assist outings of 10, 11, 16, and 10. He was selected as the best player on the floor by acclamation in that 16-assist effort last Friday against Chicago, a game in which he attempted just two shots. Through the first four games he has attempted just 23 shots. What’s absolutely bizarre is that in 130 minutes of playing time he has yet to find his way to the free throw line. That could mean nothing, but doesn’t our collective basketball experience tell us it must mean something?

It might be easier to assess if we thought we knew anything about what’s going on inside Rondo’s head. But he has proven to be, to fall back on that murky word, inscrutable during his time in Boston. There is an eerie coolness about him, but every once in a while he flares up, as he did Sunday, when he and Paul had their ongoing confrontation. It’s quite clear he wanted to be regarded as being on the same plane as Paul, who will be the starting point guard on all Team USAs until he gets bored with international play. Chris Paul has his name mentioned in the same breath as NBA deities named LeBron, Kobe, and D-Wade. Does Rondo really think he belongs in that discussion?

It would be fine if Rondo uses that desire as a motivation to keep improving, to keep working on that jumper, and to keep trying to become the lockdown defensive point guard he can be, all of which will enhance the Celtics’ chances of winning title No. 18 (and beyond). But it will not be fine if he uses that as a motivation to become a star just to become a star. Jason Kidd and Steve Nash are major stars. Gilbert Arenas, Jameer Nelson, Mo Williams, and Baron Davis have all been in All-Star Games. None of them have any rings. Would Rondo like to trade?

Rajon Rondo’s measuring stick shouldn’t be Chris Paul. It should be Derek Fisher, who has maximized his own individual potential in the pursuit of championship rings, four at last count.

Rajon Rondo is the first and only Rajon Rondo. He is unlike any other point guard the world ever has seen. That should be enough to keep anyone happy.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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