Star turn for Rondo tonight?
The selling of Rajon Rondo isn’t easy, though a selection to the Eastern Conference All-Star team would increase the visibility and perhaps marketability of one of the NBA’s top young point guards.
The Eastern and Western reserves will be announced this evening, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he has gotten calls from a number of coaches who said they voted for Rondo. It would be his first All-Star appearance and the most significant indication that Rondo is garnering respect around the league.
Going into last night, Rondo was fifth among Eastern point guards in scoring (14.2), first in field goal percentage (53.4), first in assists (9.7), first in steals (2.54), and first in double-doubles (19).
His production is unquestioned, as is Rondo’s confidence. But being the fourth option on a team with three presumed Hall of Famers has left the former Kentucky guard somewhat of a mystery. He is cooperative with the media but hardly talkative. He is reserved to the point where Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge suggested he become more of a leader before signing him to a five-year, $55 million extension.
But Rondo is marketable. He is a smooth, well-spoken player who has picked up Ray Allen’s dapper dressing style. Given that NBA commissioner David Stern just suspended two players for the remainder of the season for bringing guns on NBA premises, the league may be seeking new representatives. Rondo could be a prime candidate.
The biggest obstacle faced by Rondo’s agent, Bill Duffy, in selling his client is Rondo’s reluctance to pursue marketing opportunities. Rondo has endorsement deals with Red Bull and Dunkin’ Donuts but has resisted delving into other deals.
Rondo may have brought himself to an All-Star level as a player, and that may allow him more chances to build his public image.
“He’s not interested in that, though,’’ Duffy said. “He is basketball first. And a lot of stuff we present to him, he’s not interested in.
“He’s very, very selective about what he does and what he wants to involve himself with, but that’s completely secondary to him.’’
Duffy’s job, if Rondo is cooperative, is to turn the 23-year-old budding star into a household name. Rondo gained acclaim with his playoff performance last season and has continued his sparkling play into this season, sometimes carrying the battered Celtics as they have compiled the second-best record in the conference.
Rivers, who will coach the Eastern team if the Celtics can hold off Atlanta and Orlando for the best record by Sunday, has said Rondo deserves All-Star accolades but is not ready to anoint him one of the elite.
Rondo struggled with his free throw shooting in the early going - though he has improved to 65 percent over the past two months - and has been overwhelmed at times guarding bigger and more physical guards. Rivers said he wants Rondo not to take so many chances on steals and rather play straight-up defense and wait for help.
The guard is a work in progress.
“Rondo’s been good defensively,’’ said Rivers. “He’s had some games where guys played good against him. He still reaches and we’re still trying to correct that. He still likes to play on the side of guys and we’re trying to correct that. The more he can keep the ball square, the better for him.’’
The fact that the Celtics signed Rondo to a long-term extension was an indication that he is a cornerstone for the future. His All-Star-caliber season has hardly surprised his teammates.
“He’s grown up right before our eyes,’’ Paul Pierce said. “And pretty soon he’s going to be here, the face of the franchise when we’re gone in our rocking chairs.
“He’s going a great job, just maturing this year, doing everything Doc and Danny are asking him to do. It’s fun watching him grow and become a complete player.’’
Rondo fell to 21st in the 2006 NBA draft and Rivers said his game tapes were not eye-popping. But he has turned an unorthodox style into a blueprint for success.
“He believes he’s the best point guard, and I wouldn’t want it any other way,’’ Duffy said. “I wish all my clients had that mentality.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.