by Kent Sterling
As the basketball coach at quaint Butler University on historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, there was no doubt who was in charge. Dealing with 20-year-olds who owed their scholarships to coach Brad Stevens, getting players to show up on time was easy.
Getting a player being paid $45K short of $12 million is a little more difficult it would seem, as Boston Celtics team captain Rajon Rondo decided not to accompany the team from Los Angeles to Sacramento for a game that fell on his 28th birthday, an event he decided to celebrate in L.A.
Rondo would not have played in the game against the Kings regardless of whether he was there because as he continues to gain strength in his surgically reconstructed knee, he sits on the back end of back-to-backs.
Rondo missed Stevens being ejected from a game for the first time in his career. Was there frustration because of Rondo’s AWOL status that led to Stevens trying to win over the rest of Celtics with an uncharacteristic choice of words that caused a referee to invite Stevens to relax in the locker room for the rest of the game? Likely.
This episode with Rondo puts Stevens, who is now the coach of the Celtics, in a position that will test his ability to lead. Rondo is finally closer to full health, and any discipline might result in an abdication of effort. A lack of discipline might result in the rest of the team concluding that Stevens’ boyish appearance equates to a weakness.
It was inevitable that Stevens would be tested by Rondo, and how Stevens responds will go a long way toward determining the amount of control he has over the roster moving forward.
The NBA is different from college basketball in many ways, and chief among them is that the players on an NBA roster are far more wealthy and secure in their positions than are the coaches. That means the players can tell a coach to get bent, and there isn’t a whole lot coaches can do about it. The best NBA coaches are partners in the success of the team, not a dominant figure that drives it.
Anyone who knows Stevens at all is certain that he has prepared for this moment as he does for all others, and knows to make team president Danny Ainge a big part of the solution. It’s always smart to consult the boss before bringing a hammer down on a very expensive and talented point guard.
It’s likely that Ainge, Stevens, and Rondo have already discussed this indiscretion, and have moved forward.
We won’t find out what punishment – if any – was meted out because that’s grandstanding, and Stevens will not grandstand. He will be quiet, determined, and transparent. And if Rondo or one of his teammates pulls something like that again, they will see Stevens make very certain that it doesn’t become a habit.
The first one is on the player. Subsequent behavioral issues are on the coach. I can’t imagine Stevens will let it get to that point.