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Last october, point guard Rajon Rondo entered his first training camp as an unheralded rookie scratching for minutes on a team panned as one of the worst in the conference. One year later Rondo is being handed the keys to a championship contender. "It's definitely a different feeling," says Rondo, with considerable understatement.
While the attention this off-season has deservedly focused on the acquisitions of All-Stars Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, and on how they will coexist with Boston mainstay Paul Pierce, Rondo's ability to effectively run the offense will be a crucial element if the Celtics are to make a title run. "He's going to have to play 40�minutes a night," says an Eastern Conference scout. "They don't have anyone behind him."
Of course, Rondo still has to prove he deserves all those minutes. Last season he was an offensive liability, shooting 41.8% from the field and an anemic 20.7% from three-point range. Teams would regularly abandon him on the perimeter and dare him to beat them. In hopes of remedying that deficiency, over the summer Rondo committed himself to making at least 250 jumpers a day, and in scrimmages he would pass up penetration opportunities in favor of jump shots. He also worked with Pistons center Nazr Mohammed, a fellow Kentucky product, on the pick-and-pop, a play he figures to run frequently with Garnett. "I have to be able to keep my man honest," says Rondo.
But he believes his main duty is to ensure that the ball is distributed evenly to Boston's new Big Three--and in the right spots. During the preseason Rondo developed a feel for where Garnett ("left block," says Rondo), Pierce ("high post") and Allen ("anywhere off a screen") like to catch the ball. "I can handle it," says Rondo. "I've been a point guard for a long time now. I know how to run a team."
ENEMY LINES An opposing team's scout sizes up the Celtics
As much as everyone wants to award everything to the Celtics after their big summer, I have some doubts. Is Ray Allen healthy enough to play 82 games? You could ask the same thing about Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. The point guard situation raises more questions. Then there are the big men: They'll have to put Garnett at center sometimes because Scot Pollard can't back up Kendrick Perkins there. . . . The trade for Garnett changed the whole outlook of the franchise. He's a player who can carry a team, and he'll be more the glue than Pierce ever was and Allen ever will be. If something happens to Garnett, then they'll be the same as they were last year, because Pierce and Allen can't get it done alone. . . . James Posey has close to a 7-footer's wingspan, and that length is bothersome. They'll be counting on him a lot as a defender. . . . It's obvious that Doc Rivers watches a lot of games. You might see somebody run something one night, and then Rivers will be running it a few nights later.