Is Rondo Doc's Real Legacy?
When I look at the Celtics, I see mostly Rajon Rondo. I'm not even sure that's such a hotly subjective error to make anymore. That team rests in Rondo's over-sized hands at this point. The system is simple: Given Rondo the ball, a bunch of weapons and trust his judgment.
That stands as a total reversal of the 2008 team, when the question was how to meld Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen into a cohesive strike force. This postseason, the task has been simpler: let Rondo judge the flow of the game and mete out touches accordingly. Granted, Rondo's not always perfect at this -- ask Pierce all about that -- but so far, it's hard to argue with the results, or what it's done for any player individually.
It's amazing that, two seasons ago, this was a enigmatic guard mostly asked to stay out of the way and not screw things up. As inspiring, or mystifying, a transformation as that is, there's one key ingredient missing from it: Doc Rivers, point guard.
Rivers has never been credited as an ideas guy, or one adept at player development. And yet in three seasons, Rajon Rondo has gone from role player to the most important piece on a Finals team. Some very smart folks now have him in the conversation with Chris Paul and Deron Wiliams.
You can attribute this to the influence of Kevin Garnett, whose game is echoed in Rondo's approach to the game. Or maybe it was the trial-by-fire experience of the 2008 ring, the veterans All-Stars breathing down his neck and fighting for their legacies. Yet none of that explains how you make a point guard. Especially not how Rondo, who as a rookie was raw, chaotic, full of promise and impossible to get a handle on.
His lack of a jumper meant no one would mistake him for a combo guard, so basically, if he couldn't pull his jumble of skills together into something coherent, he was headed for the NBA scrap heap. Dude wasn't even a viable back-up. He made that little sense -- on top of that, he couldn't even provide scoring off the bench like Anthony Johnson. Beyond boom and bust, there was Rondo. Even if no one quite recognized that yet.
Rivers was a players coach in Orlando. There's a reason this term has become pejorative. With the 2008 team, he proved himself capable of juggling egos like Phil Jackson, leading grown men into battle, and putting a team over the top (albeit with a master technician by his side -- like Phil). Since then, he and Rondo have gone back and forth -- acrimoniously at times -- in what's now recognizable as Jedi training for the point guard set.
Rondo had always had potential for days, and nearly as many personal quirks to go with it. That's where you got all the rumors about Rondo on the block, or Rivers unable to deal with his young PG. But it was all part of a process. In 2009, he stole the show from the Big Three and suggested a future without them. This time around, it's no insurrection. First, the Celtics made Rondo. Now, he's made them a team in his image.
It's a stretch to say that anyone could have coached 2008. That's the same tired critique of Phil. But in a way, it was a far more limited feat than the creation of Rondo and the reshaping of the team to suit his strengths. It's also something that only Doc Rivers, point guard, could have pulled off.
With PGs on the rise, don't be surprised if you see more and more examples of this symbiotic relationship in years to come.
It's not just the grooming of a young player that matters, though. Plenty of coaches have reputations as teachers. It's about understanding that a point guard can be the focal point of a team, and that by imparting wisdom to him, you not only help his career -- you allow the team to become more of a perfect combination of coach, star, and the rest. That's how building around a PG, and coaching one up as the roster's primary piece, is different than rearing a franchise big man.
Avery Johnson already once helped mold Devin Harris, even if he denied us the former Maverick's scoring prowess. Their reunion in New Jersey should be an interesting one, which will hopefully combine the best of these two phases of Harris's career.
Many folks, myself included, were baffled when Scott Skiles signed off on drafting Brandon Jennings. As the saying goes, though, guard recognize guard. Skiles can see that Jennings has the potential to be an outstanding floor general, in addition to everything else he brings to the table. Jennings, for all his weirdness, knows his basketball, and understands what he can learn from Skiles. Also, as with Rivers, the Bucks offer a chance for Skiles to overhaul his reputation, even his style of coaching. Tutoring a young PG is miles away from screaming obliviously at Jamaal Crawford for not being one.
Doc Rivers may or may not win a title in 2010. He already got one in 2008. His partnership with Rondo, though, might be his most lasting legacy. It's certainly reason to believe that, long after the Big Three are gone, Rivers will stay in Boston as long as his man Rondo is bringing the ball up the court.