THE LAST MAN
Rajon Rondo, the only remaining player from the 2008 championship team, is officially the leader of the Celtics. He has learned the responsibilities of that job from spending six years with two of the best role models in the NBA, courtesy of ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg:
After the Boston Celtics were pushed to the brink of playoff elimination in late April, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo held a lengthy huddle in the shower area inside the team’s locker room at TD Garden. After the powwow, there was a sense that the trio might have been pondering the future and the potential that Garnett and Pierce were playing their final games in a Celtics uniform.
Unfortunately for those hoping that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett would finish their respective careers in green, Danny Ainge expedited the rebuilding process by shipping the veterans off to Brooklyn. However, the former Celtic big man will never forget his relationship with his point guard:
“This whole transition, man, we came in as strangers and bonded as brothers,” said Garnett, a person whom Rondo has previously suggested was his closest friend on the team.
In addition, Pierce has some wide advice for Rondo, who will be going through a situation seems to be similar to the one that the Truth encountered in Boston not too long ago:
“Right now, he’s injured and I told him this is probably going to be the toughest year of your whole career, mentally and physically,” said Pierce. “Physically, you’re dealing with an injury. Mentally, you know nothing but winning since you came into the league… You may be put in a situation where you may not win a lot of games. You have to be a leader now, you know me and Kev are not there anymore.
“You have to go through these times. I’ve been through them. I explained to him how I went through it. I feel like, I’m one of the best players in the league and now… [Rondo is] going to be in that situation for maybe one year or two years, who knows? But you have to be mentally prepared for it, and that’s some of the things we talked about.”
Entering his eighth year in the league, the 27-year-old has already shown his passion on court in many instances, but never has had the burden of carrying a team for a long time. Ainge believes his main man could be ready for a full season:
Ainge did admit that the team might have to take it slow with Rondo during training camp starting in late September, but said being ready for opening night in late October was a reasonable goal.
As the longest-tenured Celtic, Rondo has witnessed a seemingly endless number of changes to Boston’s roster over the last few years. If he remains in green, he has the chance to be the cornerstone of the franchise moving forward just as Pierce was before him:
This most certainly will be the toughest season for Rondo. But it’s also one that could define him as a player and a leader. His friends are gone and it’s up to Rondo to fill their shoes.
THE CAPTAIN CONVINCED THE BIG TICKET
Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald delves deep into how Garnett decided to waive his no-trade clause:
[W]hen Jason Kidd, his old adversary and new head coach of the Nets, called to talk about the impending trade between the Celtics and Brooklyn, Pierce took the next step himself. He called Kevin Garnett in an attempt to talk his old friend into waiving his no-trade clause.
The call lasted for approximately two hours, with Pierce outside on his cell phone in the 100-degree Las Vegas heat, and Garnett secluded in his Malibu home. By the end of it Pierce’s shirt was drenched. But he had made a very tough sell work.
Wow, Garnett does not like change; he needed to be persuaded to leave Minnesota and now Boston. While it is bittersweet for fans of the green to wave goodbye to these two players, Pierce knows why he called the defensive stalwart:
Like Rivers, Pierce was a member of that 24-win team during the 2006-07 season. He fully understood and supported Danny Ainge’s decision to shop for assets, especially if it meant moving somewhere with Garnett.
Not only does Pierce understand how it is to be Rondo’s current position, but he also recognizes the fact that the Celtics’ organization must enter a new era. Moreover, Pierce acknowledges the difficulty of playing for a lottery team:
“It would have been tough to go back to an environment that wasn’t trying to win a championship,” he said. “When you get that taste of success, when you get that good meal or the taste of something good, you don’t want to go backward, and that’s how I felt. Doc felt the same way. Kevin felt the same way. That’s why we put ourselves in these situations.”
THE “NEW” RIVALRY
Although Pierce and Garnett are fighting for a title in a different uniform, they remain in the Eastern Conference to try to accomplish that feat. They know a familiar blue and orange foe stands in their way for the divisional crown, as Mark Murphy discusses:
Judging from some of the local reaction to Paul Pierce yesterday, you would have thought the former Celtics forward had never played a game at Madison Square Garden before.
In truth, he has more history against the Knicks than any of his new Nets teammates. But Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry are indeed now a part of a cross-city rivalry that should easily eclipse what exists between the Clippers and Lakers this season.
There is healthy amount of star power in New York, and Pierce, Garnett and Terry will look to exact revenge on the team that ended their season only three months ago:
“This rivalry has been here, it’s gonna be here, but I think the energy we’re going to provide to this rivalry is great,” said Pierce. “There was a rivalry in Boston. They hated me in the Garden, and they’re probably going to hate me even more now. That’s going to be good for everybody. It’s going to be a good story, it’s going to be good for the city. It’s going to be fun walking into a restaurant and people yelling Knicks, and other yelling Brooklyn. I know that goes on a lot. So I’m excited to be a part of that right now.”
CHAMPIONSHIP OR BUST
‘Championship or bust’ is not the Celtics’ mantra for 2013-14, but the one for the Nets. Mikhail Prokhorov is ready, as noted by the New York Post’s Fred Kerber:
He is driven by results, a bottom-line guy. He is somewhat impatient for an NBA title (“I have done what I can. Now I think it is high time for the team to do the rest,” he said, deadpan). He is a man willing to do and spend whatever it takes for that title. On that goal, he is all in, all the time.
But he is one more thing: a bachelor. And he wants to keep it that way a little longer. He once teased if the Nets didn’t win a title within five years, he would marry. It has been three years. But after the Nets’ latest overhaul, he likes his chances of keeping away from the altar.
Just one year ago, this team lost two-thirds of its games in the lockout-shortened NBA season. They are now a contender for the championship, and Prokhorov threw caution to the wind by deciding to spend more than $80 million in luxury taxes:
He wants to rule the NBA, not just New York, but couldn’t avoid a slight tweak directed at the Knicks.
“I want to congratulate James Dolan,” Prokhorov said. “He’s watching us for the time being.”
Well, if all of Prokhorov’s fantasies come true, Celtics fans might be able to take solace in Pierce, Garnett and the Nets taking down the Knicks and Heat.
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