Commentary

Rondo has made Rivers a believer

Celtics confident enough in point guard to make him future cornerstone

Updated: November 3, 2009, 12:06 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM -- In preparation for the 2006 NBA draft, Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge went to coach Doc Rivers and his staff with a videotape of a point guard prospect he wanted them to look at. As Rivers recalled, it was a highlight tape without any highlights.

Rivers gave Ainge the benefit of the doubt, given his strong drafting record, and the Celtics ultimately shipped a first-round pick in the 2007 draft to Phoenix for the rights to that player -- Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo -- who the Suns selected with the 21st overall pick. On Monday, Rondo inked a five-year extension believed to be worth at least $55 million that will make the "no highlights" guard the cornerstone of the franchise early next decade.

[+] EnlargeRajon Rondo
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonRajon Rondo has plenty of reasons to celebrate now that his contract situation has been settled and he has a future with the Celtics.

"There was a lot of rebounding and pushing the ball up the floor," Rivers recalled of the tape. "I remember thinking, 'I haven't seen a shot made.' We were almost laughing at it. Danny had been great. He came right away and told us, 'I've watched a ton of guys; people are sleeping on him.' I took him on his track record."

Rivers can laugh now recalling how he didn't feel much better about the selection during the first few days of training camp, watching Rondo struggle with his shot during his first pro practices. It didn't help that he was third on the depth chart -- behind Delonte West and Sebastian Telfair -- of what would be a dismal 24-win team.

But being a former point guard himself, Rivers identified early on that Rondo had both the physical attributes (speed and rebounding ability) and intangibles (vision and confidence) to become a star at his position. Now when Rivers watches Rondo on tape, he sees a player the Celtics will build around in the post-Big Three era.

Rivers said he's not sure when that torch will be passed, but Ray Allen's contract is up after this season and Paul Pierce holds a player option for the final year of his contract in 2010-11.

"I think Paul will play until he's at least 65," Rivers said. "Really, Paul's a professional scorer and he doesn't need to be a great athlete. He's one of those rare players that doesn't need athleticism to score. But Rondo will be [the franchise player] and it'll be great."

Rivers didn't need to say those words. The Celtics said as much by ensuring that a contract extension between the team and Rondo got done before Monday's 6:30 p.m. deadline to extend members of the 2006 rookie class. Even after the two sides reportedly found themselves as much as $10 million apart last week, the Celtics weren't about to let Rondo get to the market, where another team could drive up his price as a restricted free agent.

Now Rondo has the security of a long-term deal and the Celtics have someone who could be next in line to wear the captain's "C." What's more, the seemingly fearless Rondo embraces that potential role as the face of the most storied franchise in basketball.

"Definitely, [CEO] Wyc [Grousbeck], Danny and Doc all have the confidence in me," Rondo said. "That says a lot. They want me here, obviously, for a long time; I'm excited to be here, too."

Rondo, who does most of his talking in whispers -- though Chris Paul might beg to differ after Sunday's game -- has watched his scoring total dip this season, something that, if it continued, would have cost him money on the open market. But showing a selflessness beyond his 23 years, Rondo has bought into the team-first approach, particularly surrounded by an All-Star cast.

"I said to Rondo a couple of years ago, he should lead this league in assists with the weapons that we have out here," Pierce said. "He's doing a great job facilitating the offense and being the quarterback. He understands that he doesn't have to score. Last year, I think he scored a little bit more. I think that was due to a lot of the injuries we had and him just stepping up in that category. But what he's been doing these four games into the season, his maturity has been tremendous to watch."

A lot has been made of Rondo's maturity. Even as reporters grilled him on his new deal, he used words like "thankful" and "humbled" to describe his emotions. His biggest happiness might be that his daughter might never have to work.

"Taking care of my family, that's very exciting," Rondo said. "If my daughter doesn't want to work, she doesn't have to work at all. I've got the right people around me. I don't plan on losing [the money]. It's a very blessed situation."

That feeling is mutual with the Celtics, who see no ceiling with Rondo, particularly at his young age. Rivers is the first one to defend the point guard's maturity.

"I'm fine with his maturity," Rivers said. "It takes time, but he's far more mature for his age. I would love to get a video camera on all of you [reporters] at 23 or 24 years old and see some of the things you've done that we never know about."

His teammates are thrilled for Rondo. They teased him at Monday's practice and he probably endured additional jabs on the flight to Philadelphia for Tuesday's game against the 76ers. But they don't even plan to make him pick up the next big dinner tab.

"That's the misconception," Allen said. "Even if you're, say, [rookie] Lester Hudson, we'll put the dinner bill on him sometimes. You don't have to make a lot of money to pay for dinner. … New contract, old contract. New money, old money. It doesn't matter. It's all green."

Rajon Rondo is all green for the foreseeable future. Even if that was unthinkable back when Rivers first saw him on video.

"I said it last week, I really believed [Rondo would] be a Celtic for life," Rivers said. "Now with this contract, for the most part of it, he will be."

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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