The Boston Celtics spent last week in enemy territory, daring to venture into Los Angeles to spend some time together. They scrimmaged at UCLA, ate lunch at Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles and hung out at the homes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. They even played flag football.
The event planner for the week of bonding was point guard Rajon Rondo. After an offseason in which his maturity was questioned and his relationship with former teammate Ray Allen was scrutinized, Rondo wants to show he can lead the Celtics. One of the first steps was welcoming a couple of new teammates – Jason Terry and Courtney Lee – to Boston's L.A. retreat.
"I wanted J.T. to play with Kevin. I wanted Courtney to see how Paul likes to play. I wanted Paul and Jeff Green to go at each other," Rondo told Yahoo! Sports. "I wanted to play with those guys. It was getting guys away from our actual training facility to get a new view.
"I wanted the guys to have fun. When you're with me I want you to say, 'Man, I had a good time with Rondo.' And I think that's what they did."
Allen might not share the same warm feelings for the time he spent with Rondo. After five seasons in Boston, Allen signed with the Miami Heat in July, and his strained relationship with Rondo was dissected. Rondo admitted the two didn't always get along, but he also said he respected Allen as a player.
"People act like because me and Ray didn't get along or they think me and Ray didn't get along that I'm a bad person or he's a bad person," Rondo said. "No. It's just life. If you look at your job, everyone doesn't always get along with every co-worker they work with. It's just part of life. People are blowing the Ray thing out of proportion. We had some words, but other than that it was no big deal.
"There were so many rumors like I was looking Ray off. Why would I look Ray off? That doesn't make sense. He's the best shooter, so why would I look him off? People can see it how they want to. They can talk to Ray. But from my standpoint, he made his decision. I don't know why he made the decision, but he made the decision. I don't think it had anything to do with me."
The Celtics are expected to enter training camp with nine newcomers, including five rookies and Green, who missed all of last season after having heart surgery. With all the new players, Rondo thought it would help the jelling process on and off the court to have a players-only minicamp outside of Boston for five days. After considering Las Vegas, Rondo settled on Los Angeles where Pierce and Garnett live in the offseason. The only Celtic that didn't attend was center Darko Milicic, who signed with Boston just last week.
The Celtics leave later this week for Europe, where they will have training camp and play preseason games in Turkey and Italy.
"It's too early to say what we gained [while in Los Angeles]," Rondo said. "It was about building relationships before we get to Turkey."
The UCLA workouts were especially valuable for Rondo to help him get to know Lee and Terry. In addition to Allen, guards Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels are gone from last season. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has previously said guard Avery Bradley could be back from shoulder surgery in late December.
Rondo said he has already grown to like Lee's athleticism and Terry's high basketball IQ.
"The game is about tempo," Rondo said. "We don't want to make it more complicated. It's just basketball. I am just trying to get the timing with J.T. and Courtney. That is why I wanted to get to work early, so I can know where I want them to be when I drive baseline or drive to the middle and where they like the ball."
To add some fun, Rondo also put together a flag football game at UCLA that included referees. Rondo said the only Celtics that didn't play were Pierce and 7-foot, 255-pound rookie Fab Melo "because he might hurt somebody." Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, a close friend of Rondo's, also played.
"My team won," Rondo said. "We dominated. I had seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. I had a nice kickoff return back. We had fun. K.G. was the quarterback of the other team, but they had to sub him out because he wasn't getting any touchdowns."
Rondo has developed into one of the NBA's top point guards and helped the Celtics win the 2008 championship. His only goal now is to deliver another title. While he calls the defending champion Heat "the team to beat," he thinks the remodeled Celtics have enough talent to dethrone them.
"We won a championship and that's great, but I don't want to settle," Rondo said. "I have a lot of NBA time left on my clock and I got the talent around me. Everyone can't say they can compete for a championship each year. With the talent around me now with the Celtics, it's time to obtain that goal.
"There are only five teams right now that can say they can compete for a title realistically. And we're one of them."
Rondo, 26, now has six seasons of experience, enough to give him confidence he can lead the Celtics – even with a couple of strong-willed veterans (Pierce and Garnett) on the roster.
"I've kind of have taken that leadership and veteran role because I am a point guard and I have been in Doc's system," Rondo said. "Other than [Pierce], I have been here the longest. I know exactly what Doc wants, especially for me and this team. I'm trying to lead the team the best that I can."
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