Rondo's turn to create a legacy

BOSTON -- One day, an indeterminate amount of time down the road, the Boston Celtics will make No. 9 the ninth and final video tribute from the Big Three era.

Over the past four seasons, the Celtics have run eight tributes celebrating members of Boston's last championship team, culminating with the return of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to a very dusty TD Garden on Sunday.

Eventually, it will be Rajon Rondo's turn, whether it's a year from now or 15. Rondo, who took the prestigious captain's torch during his return to game action earlier this month, said he doesn't really think about his legacy in Boston or how the Celtics fan will eventually remember him.

"Why should I? I'm 27. I have a long career ahead of me," Rondo said. "I don't think about it. I try to go out every night and play as hard as I can. Whatever happens, happens."

There are a lot of impossible-to-ignore similarities between Rondo's career progression and that of Pierce, who truly deserved Sunday night's tribute given the scope of his tenure here. As the Celtics pledge to make Rondo a cornerstone of the franchise while navigating this latest rebuild, you can't help but wonder if Rondo can endure the same transition that Pierce did, and not only mature like Pierce did but also bring championship basketball back again.

For their part, the old guard is doing their best to guide the new guard. The Nets arrived in Boston on Saturday night, and Garnett and Pierce used their largest chunk of free time to dine with Rondo.

What does the former captain think of the new one?

"I think he's ready now," Pierce said. "Rondo is mature, he understood what was coming. Before he had me and Kevin to lean on and now he's the guy. He's the captain, he is who everybody looks to for leadership and I think he's ready. He's grown, he's matured; he's seen the bottom, he's seen the top. He's got to understand that this is his team to lead through good and through bad. I think he understands that and he is ready for that role. And he's ready to deal with it."

On and off the court, Rondo makes everything looks so easy, so nonchalant, and much of what he does behind the scenes goes largely unnoticed. But Garnett reaffirmed what he's said in the past: Rondo cares deeply about being a leader and even more so now without the security net of the Big Three beneath him.

"I think he took notes last time we were talking to him," Garnett said. "More importantly, we stressed that you need to lead by example, even when he doesn't want to. I also talk to him about being professional and being a pro, you don't get to pick and choose when you get to do that."

Garnett said he told Rondo: "Just understand the pedigree of a champion. You don't let losing become something usual. Keep the mentality tough, and not all are going to follow, but most will. Lead by example and just having a voice, do it by example."

He added: "Rondo is ready. I think he is very comfortable in his role here. I think he understood the transition when it was happening, and he has the type of mentality and he's the type of person with the personality to do just that."

Apprised of the comments by Pierce and Garnett, Rondo wouldn't divulge much from that dinner conversation.

"Nothing in particular, it's just what I've been learning from those guys over the past five or six years that they've been here," Rondo said. "Just continue to grow as a person and lead by example."

We've gotten small glimpses of Rondo's leadership in recent seasons. He organized the team's offseason trip to Los Angeles for team bonding activities last summer. Rondo often helps rookies and newly acquired players get settled into their new environment. After the Maine Red Claws trekked down to help put Rondo through his final-hurdle workout two days before his return to game action earlier this month, Rondo took the entire team out to dinner to thank them.

The Celtics and Rondo discussed a contract extension recently, but those chats were largely perfunctory. Talks about keeping Rondo in a Boston uniform beyond his current deal (which expires after next season) should intensify this summer.

Just a few years back, Pierce opted out of a bloated final-year salary while inking a much more team-friendly extension to stay with the Celtics after the 2009-10 season. Rondo isn't quite at the same stage of his career and has already signed a below-market-value extension with Boston. He could set off a bidding war if he reached unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2015.

Which is why the Celtics will work hard to lock Rondo up this offseason, offering him the security of what would be three additional seasons at a modest salary increase, while also leaving the team some freedom to add premium pieces around him in order to start building another contender.

These next few years will tell us a lot about how Rondo will be remembered in Boston. If the sides part ways after this deal, he'll be viewed as a core member of a title team, but won't be the type whose number will be considered for the rafters.

But if Rondo stays -- and he said recently that he's open to spending the next 10 years in Boston -- and eventually steers the team back toward title contention, then he might just be as revered as someone like Pierce (OK, that's a tough one to live up to, but not impossible).

One thing is for certain: The longer it takes for No. 9's tribute to run, the more likely it is to be as emotional as what we experienced on Sunday.

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