Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo was named the 15th captain in franchise history when he returned to the court after missing nearly a year with an ACL injury on Jan. 17.
Since returning over a month ago, the Celtics have gone 2-11 with Rondo in the lineup. The team hasn’t played him on the second night of most back-to-backs, when maybe not-so-coincidently they have taken on other
tanking rebuilding clubs that they are battling for draft lottery position (the Celtics currently have the fourth-worst record in the league after a winless west coast trip).
After a loss to the Lakers Friday night, in which the Celtics blew an 11-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter, Rondo didn’t make the trip to Sacramento with his teammates for a game against the Kings on Saturday. He stayed and celebrated his 28th birthday in Los Angeles, according to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:
While some were displeased by the move, for which Rondo did not receive official permission, others pointed out he was not scheduled to play in the game anyway (on the second night of a back-to-back), and that he may have simply been making some assumptions based on precedent. Multiple sources say he remained in LA for a birthday celebration. He turned 28 on Saturday.
The captain didn’t want to get into the matter before last night’s 110-98 loss to the Jazz.
“We already talked about it,” Rondo said. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
Celtics president of basketball operations, Danny Ainge, told the Herald he “plans on talking to Rondo when he gets back to town.”
Rondo’s future with the team is in question, as he’ll be a free agent at the conclusion of next season. The point guard expressed his desire to test the open market in January.
It makes sense that Rondo wants to reach free agency. Under the new CBA, he can only sign a two-year, $28.8 million extension this season. Clubs have the option to extend veteran contracts a total of four years, increasing in salary by 7.5 percent each season.
The maximum contract for players with nine years experience, which is how long Rondo will be in the league after the 2014-15 season concludes, is an estimated five-year, $108 million deal.
Though Rondo would stand to make much more than $28.8 million if he becomes a free agent, it’s unlikely he’d command a maximum contract. Ainge said roughly “20 teams in the league are satisfied with their point guard” in an interview with 98.5 “The Sports Hub’s” afternoon drive show, “Felger and Mazz,” Friday.
That could be an attempt on Ainge’s part to drive Rondo’s value down, and let him know that he’s not as highly regarded around the league as he may think.
This is a lost season for the Celtics in terms of contention, but could give a glimpse into how the organization views Rondo as a leader.
The team’s decision to name Rondo captain upon his return seemed to indicate that they want to build around him for years to come. All of the glowing stories about his relationship with new head coach Brad Stevens throughout the first half of the season also appeared to signify that the Celtics had a vested interest in portraying their talented, but mercurial point guard in a more appealing light.
But the pro-Rondo public relations campaign has cooled as of late. The Celtics have struggled with him on the court, and Rondo expressed his frustration about “annoying trade rumors” after the trade deadline.
Either team sources, or players in the locker room leaked the story about Rondo skipping out on the club’s trip to Sacramento to club hop in glitzy Los Angeles. Regardless, it doesn’t speak well on his leadership. It’s difficult to imagine Larry Bird, or a matured Paul Pierce ditching his teammates for a birthday party.
Rondo hasn’t shown himself to be a true leader yet, but he might not have to. Naming Rondo captain could’ve been negotiating ploy by the Celtics to make him feel wanted, and inclined to stay in Boston once his contract expires.
If Rondo is as sharp as advertised, he probably sees right through it.
Photos via Getty Images, Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports and Boston.com