It's Rondo's world
And right now, Sam Cassell is saying all the right things. He's displaying the proper attitude, like a Massachusetts politician that's running for President, traveling to New York, and being extra careful not to mention how big a Red Sox fan he is. And in the process, may even let it be known that he's a "closet" Yankees fan.
That politician would be lying. And while it remains to be seen whether Cassell is doing the same with his politically correct tone during his first few days in Boston, one thing is clear: It's Rondo's team, not Cassell's.
Cassell cleared waivers on March 3 after being bought out by the Los Angeles Clippers, and wasted no time delaying the inevitable and signed with the Celtics. It was rumored to happen for months, and once Damon Stoudamire was bought out by the Memphis Grizzlies and chose San Antonio over Boston, it seemed like a guarantee, even after Cassell was ejected from a game against the Celtics earlier in the season for clotheslining Rondo from behind on Feb. 6 at the Garden.
Even then, it seemed like the perfect fit. A veteran point guard to run the offense when Rondo's on the bench. Cassell is a significant upgrade at the point from Eddie House and Tony Allen. House can shoot the three, and Allen is a ferocious defender, but neither is a true, reliable point guard capable of running a championship offense.
Cassell is proven in this league to be just that. He's won two NBA championships, both with the Houston Rockets in 1993-94 and 1994-95, his first two seasons in the NBA. Cassell was the backup point guard on both of those teams, and hasn't been back to the NBA Finals since his second title.
So while his arrival fills a necessary hole in the Celtics' roster, it doesn't mean Rondo is on the verge of losing his starting job. But you'll hear those throwback lifers call for Cassell to be on the floor over Rondo late in a close playoff game. You'll hear from those that remember Cassell's 31 points in 30 minutes in Game 2 of the 1995 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic. They'll want to see more of Cassell down the stretch. They'll think that's why he's in Boston.
It's those people that haven't done their homework as of late. Rondo has to be one of the most criticized point guards in the NBA, mainly because scouts have always been skeptical of his poor jump shooting. While that has greatly improved this season, it seems that everyone but those who cover the team realize just how special and important Rondo is to the Boston Celtics.
His numbers aren't staggering by any means: 10.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. Chances are, you're not going to see him with his own sneaker company, or in a Gatorade commercial showing of his moves. But you will see him making life a lot easier for the new Big Three on a nightly basis.
Rondo doesn't put up Chris Paul-like scoring numbers. He doesn't have to. But Rondo has proven that if needed, he can.
Kevin Garnett missed nine games with an abdominal strain from Jan. 27 to Feb. 13. During those nine games, Rondo averaged 16 points and 7 rebounds per game, including two double-double games in arguably the biggest wins all season. He had 14 points and 12 rebounds in a 96-90 win over Dallas on Jan. 31, and had 12 assists and 11 rebounds (5 points) in a 98-90 win over San Antonio just 10 days later. Both game-changing performances were without the likes of Garnett.
In three of the first five games Garnett missed, Rondo scored 23, 20, and 24 points. Somebody had to pick up the slack, and Rondo showed his versatility in Garnett's absence. But nobody's asking Rondo to do that when the starting five is healthy. And when he doesn't put up those numbers, the critics speak.
Nobody's denying the impact Cassell will ave on this Celtics team. Even the biggest Rondo supporters know Cassell's service is needed to win a championship. It may even be the final piece to the puzzle. Nobody's denying he'll be great at his role, of backup point guard. And right now, Cassell seems to be at piece with that role. But he is an emotional player (see Rondo clothesline), and he knows he can still play.
So will there be a conflict? There shouldn't be. Rondo is the better player, and you stick to what got you here, whether Cassell likes it or not.
But the critics will speak again. They'll want Cassell to finish big games down the stretch. They'll want to see more of the 38-year-old veteran point guard who just had his best season in 2005-06 with 17.2 points and 6.3 assists per game. They'll want him for his rings. They'll want him for his experience.
But trust me, they'll change their minds by June.