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Grande: The Complicated, But Unforgettable, 8 1/2 Years Of Rajon Rondo

BOSTON (CBS) -- From the beginning, everything about Rajon Rondo seemed out of whack.

He was drafted too low for his skill.

His hands were too big for his body.

His IQ seemed way too high for a 20-year-old rookie. His social graces with the media way too low.

He made easy things look difficult, he made the impossible look routine.

He butted heads with the ultimate player's coach, the established and respected NBA vet. Yet, he seemed to meld minds with the unknown wunderkind coach from college.

He couldn't make a free throw or knock down a three…until it mattered most.

He couldn't stop his disinterest in Tuesday night games on basic cable.  He couldn't be stopped in Sunday afternoon games on ABC.

Regular season games were his jam sessions; playoff games were his symphony.  He owned a master's degree, in degree of difficulty.

His name became iconic in the Y2K NBA, and yet there are still people today who mispronounce it.

So it's no wonder, hours after the deal that ended Rajon Rondo's 8 1/2 years in Boston, Celitcs nation is conflicted.

It couldn't have happened any other way.

I've been asked for years if I ever wanted to host a talk show. There are a lot of reasons I haven't. But here's the main one: It's really hard now to be real. Why? Because the demand of the gig is to have a strong opinion, one way or the other.

And that, as a day like today illustrates perfectly, just isn't the sports world we live in. Once in a very long while there's a day of absolutes. But those days almost always end with NFL all-pros standing over their battered spouse, or terminally ill basketball players playing one final game on sheer will.

Rajon Rondo never fit into sports radio arguments. He, and his time here, were way too complex.

I suppose you can be Tommy Heinsohn today. Or you can be Michael Felger. You can say the Celtics made a horrible mistake, or you can say you're thrilled he's finally out of town. But that's show business. And if nothing else, Rondo challenged people around him. Teammates, opponents, coaches, media, fans, all of us. Because he's complicated, and so was the deal that happened Thursday and the long and winding road to get there.

He never fit into a sound bite. He was too many different things, often at the same time.

Rondo drove some on the basketball side so insane after the KG injury in 2009, D.J. Augustin was looked on as a legitimate alternative. Weeks later he'd go toe-to-toe with rookie Derrick Rose (and quite literally Kirk Hinrich and Brad Miller) in one of the greatest playoff series in NBA history.

Was there another time, an ideal time, to make a Rondo deal when his value was higher that would have kick-started the "rebuild"? Yes, there was: The trade deadline two years ago. The only problem with that was he tore his ACL a month earlier.

As the kids say when you ask them their relationship status on Facebook, it's complicated.

And there were times he made you want to un-friend him. The crazy turnovers, the missed free throws, the token defense. The dubious double-digit assist streak two years ago that was the living embodiment of the Rondo paradox; the genius at both his best and his worst at the same time.

But when he was of the mind, and I have little doubt he will be again when the Mavs are playing under the spotlight and this winter of newness becomes another spring of playoff games for him, Rondo played with the dial turned to 11. It was a sight to see.

It was complicated, the 8 1/2 years, the two Rondos.

When Jeremy Lin played an anonymous game for the Knicks in Boston in February of 2012, the night he ended up sleeping on Landry Fields' couch, assuming he was getting cut the next day, Rondo had a pedestrian Rondo night (7 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 turnovers). A month and two SI covers later, when Linsanity came to Boston? With Mike and Jeff and Doris courtside and the league watching on a Sunday afternoon? 18-17-20. Not a triple-double; a triple-seventeen.

When the playoffs began eight weeks later, he slogged through the first two rounds, played even by Jeff Teague and a 21-year old Jrue Holiday in the first two rounds, complete with the infamous ref-bump suspension that left his team without him down 0-1 on the road in Atlanta. But in the Eastern Conference Finals? With the Celtics' course now decidedly uphill, down 0-2 to the Heat, he went to that place some of the greatest to ever play have never been, could never get to. His Game 5 in Miami may have been his Sistine Chapel. Bringing the Celtics (15-17 at the all-star break months earlier) to within one home-court win of the Finals.

The contradiction will always remain. Nine turnovers in an innocuous weeknight game in Charlotte, beyond overshadowed by the plays on the big stage. The drop-off to Tony Allen, stymieing a LeBron chasedown that turned Game 4 in 2010. His dive to the floor and steal from Jason Williams in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against Orlando two weeks later.

He played the game as a Celtic, the way Celtics fans want it played, with a chip on his shoulder that got bigger when the games did. He never said "show me respect" with his words; he said it with his game. He was a savant, but also a student. That's a combination that almost always procures greatness.

He could do things no one else could do, but he prepared the way almost no one else does. We all share many of the lasting Rondo images as a Celtic. But here's one that's just mine. I watched him every day during Summer League in 2007. He was never more than five feet it seemed from Armond Hill, who was coaching the Celtics team. He was in full study mode. He'd been through his rookie year. He knew, by then, how to play in the NBA. But he wanted more. It was in between the trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, but somehow, he knew big days, big things and big games were coming. And he was preparing to lead.

I wish you got to know him better. I wish he had let you. But he was the same to the media that he was to opposing defenses: Exceedingly, and maddeningly, difficult. I've said for years that most of the time he was a foot smarter than the smartest guy in the room. But a simple truth is this, often times, people don't really like the smartest guy in the room.

And it's why so many people today find themselves conflicted as the Rondo era comes to an end.

Which makes sense. Because there were times you just didn't like him. But they'll never come close to matching the times you absolutely loved him.

GRAND-ALYTICS – Rondo Edition

** So here's the thing about Twitter. Like many things, it really depends on the user. What I mean, and I really do get a kick out of this, you can tweet something that's just a simple fact, even a mathematical one. And people will assign intent, or agenda, or purpose to it. In other words, last night when I tweeted this…

…if you liked the trade, you loved it. If you didn't, somehow you wanted to argue with me. Facts are facts and when it comes to numbers, especially those put forth by Rondo, I have my opinions, but the numbers are there to help you form your own. Besides, if you haven't figured it out by now, Twitter is a great place for information, news, satire. But if you're looking for substantive opinion and discussion and thought in 140 characters, I mean, you can pass the class just reading the Cliff's notes, but you've kind of missed the point.

(If you're asking, I was first given the details of the eventual trade on Sunday. It was my opinion then it was the right move and that the price would only go down the longer it dragged on. I knew it wouldn't be popular. But my feeling is the people that were filled with rage about it on Thursday, not sadness or nostalgia, but rage? My feeling is they hadn't let go of the New Big Three Era or realized that it ended on the floor in Miami after Game 7 three years ago. The sooner we let go of 2008 and 2010 and 2012, the sooner 2016 will get here. All of us have the luxury of waxing romantic about that six-year run. Danny Ainge's job isn't to win the 17th title, he did that. His job isn't to hang on to it. His job is to get number 18.)

** A couple of other notes you may have missed…

It's not uncommon for any team to pursue a player that's had unusual success against them.

On the topic of the "rebuild" and when it started, a lot of people took this one and ran with it…

The point here, is that this is nothing new. The Celtics, since the midway point of the 2009-10 season, have been an ordinary regular season team. They caught fire in 2010 (the best six game stretch of the era was the final three games of the Cavs series and the first three of the ECF against Orlando). And the forgotten truth of the 2012 run is that it probably delayed this current phase by a year or two, but it likely doesn't happen without the freak injury to Derrick Rose.

You can often do what you want with statistics. Max and I were both staunch, loud (maybe too loud) critics of the double-digit assist streak that played out in late 2012. It was more contradiction, both the best and worst of Rondo. But statistically, from 2006-14 the body of work is hard to deny.

Sean Grande has been calling Boston Celtics games since 2001. Hear his call of the games alongside Cedric Maxwell on 98.5 The Sports Hub starting 30 minutes prior to tipoff! Click here for a list of affiliates on the Celtics Radio Network.


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