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BOSTON (CBS) – Following the initial surprise that the Celtics had hired Brad Stevens to be the next head coach of the franchise, people turned to their attention to one big hurdle for the new man in charge: Rajon Rondo.
Rondo has been given — or earned, depending on how you look at it — the reputation of being a difficult player, and some goes as far as calling him a “coach killer.” His on-court tantrums are well documented in David Stern’s office, and his behind-the-door discrepancies with the likes of Ray Allen and Doc Rivers have come to light over the last two years.
But at his introductory press conference on Friday, Stevens said he doesn’t anticipate having any issues with Rondo, and is a big fan of the talented point guard.
“There is no bigger fan of Rajon Rondo than me,” Stevens said. “The way he plays, his instincts, his ability to make people better – he is an incredibly, incredibly talented person.”
Stevens talked with Rondo over the phone on Thursday in what he called an “introductory call,” so there is no telling what the new head coach and Boston’s assist king talked about. But Stevens is looking forward to future conversations, so it must have gone fairly well — especially with the praise Stevens had for his new player.
“Everyone I’ve talked to has raved about how intellectual he is… I’m looking forward to sitting down with him and talking ball,” said Stevens. “I’m going to try to spend some time with him in the next couple of weeks. He was great. I told him exactly what I just said; I have so much respect for how he sees the basketball court, how he plays the game – his instinctual feel and his intelligence.”
Ainge said on Friday that Stevens was his first choice when it was clear that Rivers would not be back, and the Stevens-Rondo combination had to be part of that consideration one way or another. Though it’s hard to believe everything — and sometimes anything — Ainge says is true, he has been adamant since agreeing to trade Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets that he has no intentions of trading Rondo this offseason. He touts the seven-year ballhandler as a key piece to the rebuilding puzzle the Celtics find thrown all over a table on Causeway Street, and is sure the coach-player marriage will be a happy one.
“I think Brad and Rondo will get along great. Brad is a great communicator and Rajon is a brilliant basketball player. I think they’ll see eye-to-eye,” he said. “We talk about Rajon as some sort of, you called him the ‘elephant in the room.’ Rajon has been our best player the last few years and is a reason we’ve had so much success, at times, in the playoffs.”
Handling Rondo is a tall task to ask of any coach, let alone a 36-year-old making the jump from a mid-major college program like Butler to the limelight of the NBA. But a happy and productive Rondo is beneficial for the rebuilding Celtics in deciding for sure if they want to rebuild around him with Stevens, as owner Wyc Grousbeck said Friday, or trading him should other team’s come knocking, or it become necessary.
Stevens stressed the importance of forming strong relationships with his new players, something that led to his success at Butler. He is confident his personality will help the transition of coaching players who weren’t highly recruited to the the often-fussy and temperamental professionals.
Read: Who Is Brad Stevens?
“I’m a pretty open guy. I don’t know if I’m a normal coach from the sense of how everyone operates,” he said. “I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to do it, but I love the relational side of making sure everyone has a great experience. Rondo and everybody else, I will be very focused on that.”
With the massive reconstruction in full swing, everyone is hoping this new Stevens piece will fit nicely next to the Rondo piece, giving the Celtics a clearer vision of the what their future looks like. For now, it appears all parties are on board and ready for the challenge.