With the dark days of August upon us, NBA players and scribes go into hibernation until training camps kick off in September. The Olympics are over and most of the player movement already happened, so it’s a mellow month for most NBA heads. Instead of resting on our laurels, we’d like to preface the 2012-2013 season with a list of players who will experience the highest levels of pressure heading into the new NBA year.
They’ll experience pressure to succeed with a new team; pressure to play well enough for a big contract; pressure to not just win, but to win it all – or go bust trying. Pressure is a part of any professional athlete’s season. But for these 10 (actually 11) players, the pressure will be amped up even more as they wait for the last month of the offseason to conclude. Then, they can get back onto the hardwood where their future destinies will be revealed.
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10. RAJON RONDO
The Boston Celtics point guard extraordinaire’s postseason should leave Boston Celtics fans convinced they have one of the top five point guards in the league. His 44-point, 10-assist, 8-rebound and 3-steal explosion in the Game 2 Eastern Conference Finals loss to the eventual NBA champions was one of those rare times when you can get away with using “epic” as an adjective to describe an athletic performance without wincing at the hyperbole. His magical Game 2 withstanding, he was incredible throughout the Eastern Conference Finals and a big part of why an aging Celtics team was able to withstand a 6-game series against Atlanta and a surprising 7-game series against Philadelphia to even reach the Eastern Finals.
Months earlier, all the rumors about Rondo’s availability (even after Chris Paul was dealt to L.A. last fall) were ridiculous; except, Danny Ainge has shown a cold, calculated obliviousness to fans’ emotions when making personnel decisions (he probably would have dealt Bird when he was struggling dinged up in ’92). If Rondo falters out of the gate this season, and the 3-year deal KG signed this offseason seems to have been for naught, you can be sure Ainge will put Rondo on GMs’ radar and give him to the first team that offers something in the ballpark of his actual value.
But how do you value a player like Rondo? He’s a once-in-a-generation guard with skills unseen anywhere else across the NBA landscape. He’s so untraditional, you can’t calculate what he brings to the court because it changes so drastically from game to game. Yes, he passes up too many jumpers and he’s been known to disregard an open lane to the basket in favor of a dish to a teammate open on the wing (something Jason Terry is going to love). But he’s an alien, in the best sense of the word: he possesses outlandishly large hands, plus speed and vision that can only be taught and harnessed at Professor Xavier’s Westchester mansion. He’s successfully hid (he didn’t dunk the ball once last year) his jumping ability with Machiavellian cunning. He’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle, so trading or even appreciating him requires as much nuance as a post modern art critic.
This is the first year where the Celtics are securely Rajon Rondo’s team. KG and Paul Pierce are important pieces for the Celtics to be successful, but they’ll live or die by Rondo’s ability to control the flow of the game and get easy points in transition. If he’s engaged, they’re very hard to beat. But if he’s sulking – and the emotional EKG-esque spikes and valleys in Rondo’s psyche are a common complaint against him – the team could be in trouble. And no one will get more of the blame than Rondo. He started off his tenure in Boston as the Big Three’s little brother. Now it’s the little brother’s time to carry the (remaining) Big Two.