The Boston Celtics’ confident young point guard doesn’t see any reason why the Heat should be favored to reach the NBA Finals ahead of his own team.

“They should be good, but they ain’t done nothing yet,” Rondo said after a recent practice during Team USA’s minicamp. “They ain’t done nothing.”

Rondo has already won one championship with the Celtics and came within a game last season of beating the Los Angeles Lakers for another. With Boston’s core returning next season, Rondo expects the Celtics to return to the Finals if they can stay healthy. Whatever challenge the remade Heat pose, Rondo isn’t fretting it.

“What is there to be nervous for?” he said. “I’m worried about L.A. That’s the team we need to beat. Miami looks really good on paper, and I’m sure they’re going to be really good. But they still have to come together as a team. I’m not saying they won’t, but who knows if those guys can jell?

“Our biggest opponent each night is ourselves – that’s how I look at it. Not to be cocky or anything, but that’s how we honestly feel. We are the defending [Eastern] champs. Once the first game of the regular season starts, that’s irrelevant. But we are going to go into training camp looking to get back to the Finals and win it.”

Rondo was just 21 and in his second season in the league when the Celtics traded for Ray Allen(notes) and Kevin Garnett(notes) to form their Big Three lineup with Paul Pierce(notes). Allen has said it took nearly the entire season for the Celtics to truly come together. They won 66 games that season before winning the championship.

The Heat now hope to unite just as quickly as the Celtics did.

“It depends on those three guys [James, Wade and Bosh] in particular, how they accept their roles,” Rondo said. “Things aren’t going to go each guy’s particular way. It’s going to be about how they handle it as gentlemen.”

Rondo thinks the Celtics will benefit because the Heat now have the East’s largest target on them after all the offseason moves they made. Last season, all the pressure was on James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the East. The Celtics knocked them off in the second round en route to reaching the Finals.

“We didn’t have pressure on us last year,” Rondo said. “Everyone wrote us off last year. It’s going to be the same thing again. We only won, what, [50] games last year and we made it to the Finals.

“You have to be truthful with your team. Every team in the NBA can’t go in saying they’re going to win an NBA championship, but we honestly feel that way.”

The sting of losing last season’s championship after leading the Finals 3-2 – and leading Game 7 by 13 points in the second half – still hasn’t worn off for Rondo.

“It’s always going to be something that is going to stick in my memory,” Rondo said. “You can’t forget it unless you erase it with another ring.”

Rondo played nearly 4,000 minutes last season, including the playoffs, and he waited to see how his body felt before deciding whether to play for Team USA this summer. After USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo called two weeks ago, Rondo accepted the invite.

One reason Rondo decided to participate was that the U.S. had plenty of talented guards, which wouldn’t force him to play heavy minutes. In addition to Rondo, USA Basketball brought Chauncey Billups(notes), Derrick Rose(notes), Russell Westbrook(notes), Tyreke Evans(notes) and Stephen Curry(notes). While Billups is expected to start because of his experience, Rondo likely will be on the final roster and play a major role. Rondo’s previous international experience came when he played in the 2005 under-21 world championships.

“He’s a champion and really an ultimate competitor,” Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I love him. He’s just a guy who wants to win and he’ll do anything you want him to do to win.”

After the world championships end in September, Rondo won’t have much time to rest before the Celtics open training camp. With James and Bosh joining Wade in Miami, Las Vegas has already declared the Heat as the team to beat.

Rondo is looking forward to trying to prove otherwise.


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