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On basketball

Rondo has firm grip on reins

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 10, 2011
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WALTHAM - Last night may have been Rajon Rondo’s coronation as leader of the Celtics.

Instead of avoiding the media horde that waited eagerly for his reaction to the weeklong trade rumors for Chris Paul, Rondo voluntarily approached the group after a long shooting session with Marquis Daniels and was prepared for all questions, from all angles.

He gave thoughtful, concise answers, showing real emotion and an obvious desire to remain in Boston. And more encouraging for Celtics fans was that Rondo appears to understand that these rumors are not to be taken personally.

Not everything is a challenge to Rondo’s manhood. His title as on-court leader remains intact. The Celtics are putting together a different - but equally talented - squad and Rondo’s contribution will be essential to challenging the Heat in the Eastern Conference. And the first step toward that ascension occurred last night when Rondo showed emotion over the unsettling feeling of nearly being traded.

“I talked to both of those guys [team president Danny Ainge and coach Doc Rivers] a week ago and they were straight up with me, they were honest,’’ he said. “Teams were calling. I don’t think they were intentionally trying to ship me, obviously, but you have to entertain the calls so [Ainge] told me he wanted me here and I’m here so far.’’

When asked if the Paul rumors will serve as motivation, he said: “No fuel. The fuel is to win a championship. I’m already fueled up.’’

Usually, Rondo slyly plays with the media, challenging every question, using one- or two-word answers to express his disregard. Last night, he was engaging and comfortable, and talked like a person who is finally understanding the NBA business and hardening his once-fragile ego.

He can still become the Celtics’ cornerstone, still become the player who leads the club beyond the Big Three era. But the key is focus.

“I’m still in the same frame of mind, I’ve had a great summer, the best summer of my life,’’ he said. “Throughout this last week, it wasn’t much tough time. Nothing happened. I’ve been here every day. I’ve actually talked to Danny two or three times and been in his office. They might have been shopping me, but I felt comfortable.

“I may be sensitive. I’m human. But I don’t think [the rumors] have hurt my game.’’

It appeared those conversations with Ainge helped Rondo deal with the scrutinizing of his game as compared with Paul’s.

“[Ainge] is the guy that’s getting everybody in and out so he’s a pretty straightforward guy and he’s been honest with me since Day 1,’’ Rondo said.

Yesterday was a strange one for all NBA teams as players without contracts weren’t allowed to practice. The Celtics were missing new additions Brandon Bass and Keyon Dooling, who is expected to be Rondo’s primary backup and mentor.

Gone was Glen “Big Baby’’ Davis, traded to Orlando for Bass. Davis was a free agent and desired to return to the Celtics, but he was suddenly gone. When asked if he had spoken with Davis about his departure, Rondo joked about his own drama.

“What, same boat?’’ he said when asked whether the two had discussed being the focus of rumors. “I didn’t hear his name at all, I just heard my name. I just found out a couple of hours ago that Baby was no longer with us.’’

These rumors have forced Rondo to examine his weaknesses. Paul is a better scorer with a more natural jumper and a better free throw shooter. He is a clutch player who single-handedly carried the Hornets to push the Lakers to six games in the Western Conference playoffs last season.

Rondo has established himself as an All-Star, but there are those who believe he has reached that elite level because of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett. He acknowledged those sentiments, but said the reason he has reached this status is supreme confidence. That isn’t going to change.

“Besides myself?’’ he said when asked who was the NBA’s best point guard. “I have to feel that way honestly to be in my position. I have to feel like I’m one of the best. There’s a lot of great guys to go out and challenge every night, but it’s not an easy position to play. I think it’s the hardest position to play.

“You just take your pick, if you want a scoring point guard, right now I’m not the scoring point guard but a guy that’s going to run the show, get everyone involved and keep everyone happy. I think I like myself.’’

Sounds like a man motivated to improve.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashburn14

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