What began as a minuscule judgement error of a precocious youngster has rapidly evolved into a legitimate concern for the Boston Celtics franchise.
The league does not like Rajon Rondo. They do not like him one bit.
Over the past 11 months, Rondo has been suspended four times for a total of six games. There was, of course, the rush to the defense of Kevin Garnett that sent him and Kris Humphries sprawling into the stands, but three of the four suspensions have been the result of trouble with officials.
Rondo has always had a tenuous relationship with basketball authority figures. He famously clashed with Tubby Smith at the University of Kentucky, before entering the NBA under the guide of Doc Rivers. While Rivers will defend Rondo to a fault, their relationship has been anything but easy.
Now he has some ongoing beef with the referees and the league office.
Tons of NBA players complain after calls don't go their way. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find an honest player who believes he commits half the fouls he is called for. Rondo takes it to another level, though.
He played out of control often as a young player. At Kentucky and on the 24-win Celtics of 2006-07, Rondo was a blurry whirlwind of arms, legs, and ball movement. He has since tamed his ball control and offensive recognition. At nearly 27-years-old, this is the expected game maturity of a star basketball player.
Likewise, that is an age when personal maturity should have set in. According to reports of Rondo hanging up on the league office, while they tried to make sense of his incident with official Rodney Mott in Atlanta, maturity has not set in.
Last week, I was doing research for a separate story when something popped up in a Google search. It read that Rajon Rondo had been suspended for contact with an official. I didn't think anything of it, as I assumed it was an old story from last season's incidents. I checked the date settings of my search and they were current. The link was posted mere minutes before my search.
Rondo has made me literally numb to stories like this. It can't be a good thing when your fans don't think twice about seeing your name in a story alongside suspension details.
When Rondo maliciously tossed the ball to an official last February, it was alright. A misstep and a way to learn a lesson. However, that lesson went in one ear and out the other, because a couple short months later, he made the most egregious decision of his career and intimidatingly chest bumped a referee during a playoff game.
All of this has not gone unnoticed by the league, and you better believe they have a watchful eye on Rondo.
All of this plays into the reputation he has within the NBA. What Boston must pay attention to is this reputation, more so than the one earned with its fan base.
Not once have I been for trading Rajon Rondo, and maintain that view today. He is too hard-working and important to the Celtics. He posted yet another triple-double last night, while fully invested in a mid-January throwaway game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
However, why would the league enjoy pumping Rajon Rondo's brand? They have a plethora of marketable young stars who don't come with his baggage. There is the attitude, first and foremost. But that isn't all.
Rondo isn't a scorer, and the league has an easier time building campaigns out of Derrick Rose dropping 30 points a night than Rondo clunking free throws.
He also didn't enter the league as a premier guy, lessening the responsibility they feel they owe him. Rondo went to a major college basketball powerhouse, but didn't star there and was chosen in late-first round obscurity. He doesn't have the marketable "star from the start" profile of Kevin Durant or Blake Griffin. Whatever the NBA might have had to offer his brand, diminishes with every suspension or denigrating story.
As well as he plays and as many games as he wins, there is a cloud over them. At this point, one can never tell when he is going to snap and cost the Celtics a game or two without their best player.
Rondo has spent his career working to improve himself as a basketball talent. He has gotten his passing and dribbling under control and led the league in assists multiple times. Now he has worked himself into a very good mid-range shooter, adding a dimension to his lethal offensive game.
At nearly 27 years of age, though, he hasn’t improved himself as a personality. Whether he, teammates or even fans embrace him doesn’t matter. That personality has and will continue to cost the Celtics games and reputation.
As youths, we often received a three-strike policy when it came to breaking rules. If we are to still believe Rondo's immaturity is a result of his youth, then the third strike came when he touched Mott and refused to discuss the event with the league. One act was alright, the second was egregious and in the postseason. The third incident indicates there is something profoundly unstable about Rondo's character.
Doc Rivers said it best after this most recent incident; "But you know the old saying: You're not given a reputation, you earn one."