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Ian Thomsen on D&H: Celtics will prevail

05.26.10 at 9:48 pm ET

Sports Illustrated columnist Ian Thomsen appeared on the Dale & Holley show Wednesday afternoon to discuss Rajon Rondo, the Celtics-Magic series, and the future for LeBron James.

When asked about any rift that may have existed between Rondo and his teammates, Thomsen said, “I think they like him now because he’s so darn good. They appreciate now the stubbornness and the pride he has, because he backs it up. I have a feeling a lot of whatever tension was there, it was all about basketball. And look, you don’t get to act like you’re this good until you show us you’re this good, and now he’s shown it and he’s getting paid the way they’re getting paid.”

Below is a transcript. To hear the full interview, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

Do you think you jinxed the Celtics after putting Rajon Rondo on the cover?

When I told Doc last week that they looked like they were going to be on the cover he replied with a grimace, let’s put it that way. And then originally the story was supposed to be Jameer Nelson and [Rajon] Rondo, it was supposed to be about the matchup, but, you know, the Magic were stinking up the joint, so you couldn’t write about them.

It was all about Rondo, and I went up to Joel Glass [the PR guy for the Magic] after the last game in their locker room after they won, and I said, “Sorry, I obviously couldn’t get Jameer into the story.” He said, “That’s OK, just put Rondo on the cover,” and I said, “Well we are putting him on the cover,” and the guy was rejoiced and he was shouting to everybody in the locker room, “Hey they’re putting Rondo on the cover, they killed Shaq [O’Neal] two weeks ago and now we’re going to kill Rondo.” It’s supposed to be one of the great honors in sports, and it’s kind of like a double-edged sword.

Do you think the Orlando Magic can win this series?

Boy that’s a good one. Well, we’ll find out tonight. ‘€¦ I don’t think Vince Carter believes they can. I do think that Jameer Nelson thinks they can, let’s put it that way, let’s break it down that way. I think Jameer Nelson thinks they can, and I sort of think if Jameer thinks so, maybe Dwight [Howard] thinks so, too, and then the rest of them I think sort of go along with the flow. Whichever way those two guys go, if those two guys are playing the way they did the other night, if Jameer can cut out the turnovers and Dwight is in there throwing guys around, like a monster ‘€” which he was the last game ‘€” then maybe they can convince the other guys.

What is missing with Vince Carter?

He’s never been in this position before, and I think its a very difficult thing for a guy to suddenly learn how to make free throws at the end of a game to try to reach the NBA finals, and do all those kinds of things when he has never done it before, and clearly he has spent his whole career wondering if he could do it. And he’s been carrying this mantle around like he’s a great player, and deep down he knows he’s never proved it. And now after all these years he has a chance, and you can just see, its almost like theater with the guy. You can see what his career represents, and what he’s fighting inside of him, he doubts he’s really as good as everybody says he’s been all these years, because he’s never ever proved it.

Your article in Sports Illustrated is about Rondo, and occurred before his struggles in Game 4.

And I’m going to turn it and say it just shows just how valuable he is.

I think it might be physical.

I think so, too. Watching him fight through the screens, or not being able to fight through the screens, as well as he does, Jameer able to get behind him, or get in front of him with Rajon trailing him, that was a big deal to me. And then the fact that he wasn’t getting to the lane as much as he had, I’m sure [the Magic] played better defense, but nobody’s been able to stop Rondo from penetrating. And just seeing him having to stretch and leave the game early, I don’t think he was himself. It happened on short notice.

It just shows how small the margins are, you know they have been thoroughly outplaying the Magic in this series, and yet if Rondo is 60 percent of himself that’s enough to open the door for Orlando to win a game. So its going to be a bid deal to see in the early minutes of this game tonight to see how Rondo is looking, because they have great balance when he’s playing his normal way. Offensively I think they’re better than they were two years ago, defensively not quite as good, but offensively, man, with [Rondo] as a scorer, both with the jump shot which is the biggest surprise of all, along with the drives, it becomes a four-man game now, and you don’t know what any of those four guys is going to do.

Do you agree with Rondo’s quote saying he is the best point guard in the NBA?

I’m going to admit this, I didn’t get him to say it. We were approaching the end of our interview, we spent close to an hour and a half talking, and he brought it up. And after I thought about it, I wondered if he was kind of disappointed I hadn’t asked him. I never do this, I never ask somebody, “Is there anything else you want to add?” But it was almost like one of those things, “Yeah, I think I’m better than everybody else.”

I still think Deron Williams is the best point guard in the NBA right now, and I think Rondo is right up there with him. But when I think about the big shots that Deron Williams hits, and just that he is all things to that team in Utah. I don’t think its any denigration to Rondo to say that he’s behind Deron Williams, but when I look at Steve Nash and Rondo and I think about Rondo defensively. ‘€¦ I call that a dead heat just because Nash has been so great for so long, an MVP.

Could Rondo win a league MVP? I’m not so sure, but he’s right up there and I have no problem with him thinking he’s the best. He would never be where he is if he didn’t have those types of thoughts, if he didn’t have that kind of confidence. For him in his second year to help them win a championship, and to have the kind of stubbornness, the self-belief you need to fight through that kind of a year. He would never be where he is if he didn’t have that kind of confidence, so I give him all the credit in the world for it.

Do you think his teammates like Rondo?

I think they like him now because he’s so darn good. They appreciate now the stubbornness and the pride he has, because he backs it up. I have a feeling a lot of whatever tension was there, it was all about basketball. And look, you don’t get to act like you’re this good until you show us you’re this good, and now he’s shown it and he’s getting paid the way they’re getting paid. That’s a big thing in the NBA, you know, there is respect shown to players who get money.

The rest of us may ‘€¦ a guy that we think is overpaid, whether its Juwan Howard or some of the guys, Jermaine O’Neal, but those guys get a lot of respect from their team for getting the money, even if you can say they aren’t worth it, that still gets you that respect. And when he got that contract at the start of the year, that was one more rung on the ladder for him within the locker room.

Is it normal for other NBA franchises to chart how much they run during a game?

I think this is something, here actually in Orlando, another team talked about doing this last year, and I don’t know how they do it. It’s a top secret thing, I tried to ask [Celtics stat expert Mike Zarren] about it, and he didn’t want to get into it, it has something to do with a lot of different cameras, and tracking players. ‘€¦ I think they do it also in soccer. I think they can tell you in soccer in Europe how many miles a guy has run. He asked Rondo, “How many miles do you think you run during the game?” And Rondo said, “seven.” ‘€¦ He told him it was 3.65 miles he ran in a game, and Rondo ended up being disappointed that he didn’t run like a half-marathon or something.

Do either the Eastern or Western Conference finals make you believe it will be anyone but the Celtics and Lakers?

More so Phoenix, because lets say they go to LA tomorrow and they’re making all their 3’s, that cannot be stopped, the Lakers cannot beat that. And so if it’s one of these NCAA tournament things where they just came in and Channing Frye and Steve Nash and Jason Richardson, they’re all making 3’s, you know it could be one of those things, we don’t see that at this stage of the playoffs.

You saw it a couple of years ago when the Warriors knocked off the Mavericks in the first round, but you don’t see the Lakers coming to that sort of thing. As much as it’s a possibility, I don’t see it happening. And if Orlando comes back, it’s because Boston let them. It’s because all of a sudden it just went bad. They’re not defending like they were, they’re not moving the ball like they were, maybe Rondo’s hurt ‘€” I don’t know, something has to go really badly. I don’t see Orlando winning on their own, they’re going to need some help from Boston. I just don’t think that the Celtics went thought all this trouble, to all of a sudden stop playing hard.

How do you feel about LeBron James going back to Cleveland?

I still think he could. ‘€¦ I thought he would because I thought they were better than they turned out to be, that’s why. Now he has to look and see, “Can I ever win with Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao. I mean, Anderson Varejao, the last two playoffs ‘€” that guy’s great in the regular season ‘€” has been awful. He was terrible against the Celtics. And Mo Williams has been terrible, and LeBron has to be wondering now if he can ever win with those guys, if they will ever be big-timers, and to me that changes the dynamic.

I always thought, they’re winning all these games in the regular season, and playing with LeBron it was all going to translate, and I took it a step too far in thinking that. But here’s why I think he still could: I think he’s looking very hard at signing a short term deal, like a three-year contract with an opt-out after two. And the reason why I think that is, two reasons, first he loves being a free agent, he gets so much buzz and money out of being a free agent, always being in that conversation, its like a cottage industry for the guy, and everywhere he goes people ask him about it. And if he signs a six-year deal now this summer he gives all that up, and I don’t think he wants to give that up.

And so, I wrote this a few weeks ago, his MVP ceremony, that he’s going to be a free agent for the rest of his career. A couple of days later I am walking down the hallway, World Wide Wes [William Wesley], LeBron’s guy, stops me and says, “That was a great article you wrote,” which someone had told me that he kind of liked the idea, that, you know, of doing that.

So, if you’re only going to stay somewhere for two years and give yourself a chance to leave again, there’s a lot of upside to staying in Cleveland. And sort of doing this whole tour of New York and Chicago and Miami and Dallas and all these other places, and you come back home and have a press conference in front of national TV and all around the world, “This is my hometown.” How many sneakers could he sell off that, off the loyalty he would exhibit by doing that? Especially if he gets to go hire the coach.

Is he the reason Mike Brown got fired?

Mike Brown got fired because ‘€¦ I’ll turn it the other way, yes, but it’s the other way around, Mike Brown got fired because he can’t keep LeBron. If LeBron James leaves, the valuation of the franchise loses about $150 million in value instantly, the second he leaves. Everyone would get fired if need be to keep LeBron. But I don’t think LeBron is going to them saying, “You have to fire him.” I think they’re saying, “We need to get a new coach in here to coach LeBron.”

Is their any doubt Tom Thibodeau is leaving?

I think if [the Hornets] offer him the job he’ll go for sure. I think it’s a good move. You know there’s going to be questions about Tom as a head coach: Can he relate to the players, will he know how to yell at them and keep them on his side? All those kinds of things, you worry about the X’s and O’s guys. I remember Rick Carlisle told me when he was trying to get a job, because he’s one of the great strategists in the league, and he told me, “As much as I worry about X’s and O’s, 90 percent of being a head coach is relating to the players.

And so, that’s going to be the issue with Tom, but it’s one of those things, you never know until the guy actually does it. And maybe he won’t get it right the first week, but maybe within a month he figures it out. And you just never know until he’s in that chair; whoever would have thought Gregg Popovich would be so good, for instance, he came out of nowhere. The point is, he’s earned the right to have the opportunity to do it, he’s definitely earned the right, and when you look at how quickly the Celtics have turned their defense around now that they’re healthy, the guy definitely knows what he’s doing. Can he translate it into a good head coach? We won’t know until he’s done.

Will you be covering a game on Friday night?

I’m going to say I won’t be. [The Celtics are] going to win. They’re going to come out, Rondo is going to look good ‘€¦ they’re going to love all the noise. All season long they were a better road team than a home team. They clearly love the tension, they love shutting people up, they love this thing that everyone thought they wouldn’t be any good in the playoffs, and they’re proving us all wrong. Every single one of them loves that. I think this is going to be a lot of fun for them. They’re going to go out and execute and play well.

Read More: Celtics, Ian Thomsen, Magic, Rajon Rondo
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