The chances Rajon Rondo is out indefinitely with a “back injury” are about as likely as his old team rallying from a 2-0 deficit to upset the heavily-favored Cleveland Cavaliers.
Actually, Boston's chances are better.
Forget the media and whether we represent the truth-seekers or the crap-stirrers. The fans aren’t stupid, Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle.
Maybe it’s just easier for now, with Rondo’s Mavericks also down 2-0 in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series to the Rockets, to simply limit the distraction to a phantom injury until the season is over, and then the Dallas owner and head coach can answer questions about where it all went wrong with the former Celtics four-time All-Star.
Carlisle already stated rather decidedly Wednesday he believes Rondo’s worn a Mavs jersey for the final time. Perhaps the reason ultimately doesn’t matter. It could be we already know and don’t need to be told. The guard’s lackadaisical and downright defiant 10-minute effort in a Game 2 loss to Houston is readily viewable and his dismissal is an understandable call to make for a franchise that hoped he’d be the missing piece to championship contention.
The bottom-line is it didn’t work, and the lion’s share of the blame falls on the player, not his new organization, coach or teammates.
Boy, was I wrong.
I was so sure Rondo would fit well in Dallas and form arguably the NBA’s best starting five; I was borderline cocky about it. I believed the assists would be effortless, the camaraderie with grizzled veteran Dirk Nowitzki would be inspired, and the ball-sharing with Monta Ellis would be seamless.
No. No. No.
Rondo went from playing 31.8 minutes a game in 22 contests on a rebuilding Celtics roster to just 28.7 with the motivated Mavericks over 46 games. He averaged exactly one more point for Dallas (9.3 vs. 8.3), but his assists (6.5 vs. 10.8) and rebounds (4.5 vs. 7.5) endured a steep decline. Including the playoffs, the Mavs went 26-22 with Rondo in the lineup.
From virtually the moment he arrived in the Lone Star State, he was a loner; a self-made outcast. Rondo was never on the same page with his new coach after praising him upon his introduction, fodder for those who have questioned his coachability dating back to his time under Tubby Smith at Kentucky. It didn’t work with Doc Rivers, there were gaps in communication with Brad Stevens despite cries to the contrary from both the team and player, and now Carlisle – volatile in his own right and stubborn with regard to play-calling duties – is the latest to wonder what to do with a 29-year-old who’s clearly having trouble coming to terms with the fact he isn’t the player he once was.
Rondo supporters, like me, should have given more credence to Wyc Grousbeck publicly questioning the guard’s coachability, since the C’s co-owner rarely says anything confrontational, even when pressed. In this case, Grousbeck’s curiosity came entirely out of the blue.
“He’s super stubborn,” Grousbeck said back in September. “I don’t know how coachable he really is.”
The question was, “What’s he like? Is there anything you can tell us about him that maybe we don’t know just from watching him on a daily basis and a yearly basis?”
While there are many points throughout Rondo’s early years that could be identified as causes for concern from a personality standpoint, Rondo was usually considered worth the occasional headache by fans and the Celtics organization because the warts didn’t outweigh his talents as one of the top players at his position.
Times have changed. While there have been flashes, Rondo isn’t nearly the player he once was since that season-ending ACL injury in the midst of the 2012-13 season. He’s no longer a top-15 NBA point guard. Love him or hate him, there’s no escaping the eye test, and the numbers support what you’re seeing.
Rondo’s attitude, however, is absolutely inexcusable.
The first hiccup was a one-game suspension for a heated exchange on the court with Carlisle that stretched into the locker room back in February. His behavior in Game 2 on Tuesday was the last straw.
A seemingly deliberate eight-second backcourt violation in a playoff game? Giving up an uncontested three to former teammate Jason Terry? Two personal fouls and a technical in the first 34 seconds of the second-half, with his team down just one point?
He quit on his team, and on himself.
As you’ve heard a million times before, this is the time Rondo was acquired for most. When the national spotlight is on him, Rondo historically shines brightest. In 92 career playoff games with Boston, the guard averaged 14.5 points, 9.2 assists, and six rebounds over 38.5 minutes. As the focal point of the offense for the Celtics’ last banner-chasing squad in 2012, he dazzled with 17.3 points, a league-best 11.9 assists, and 6.7 rebounds in 19 contests.
His Dallas playoff career appears over after giving the Mavs 19 points, six assists and two rebounds in 37 total minutes spread over two games, leaving Carlisle to direct reporters to Rondo if they wanted to learn whether he was even interested in being on the court.
There’s no denying his team felt better when he wasn’t. With Rondo on the floor this postseason, the Mavericks’ offensive rating is 92 and their defensive rating is 126.3. Those numbers drastically improve to 105.5 and 94.9, respectively, with their adopted star riding the pine. If you prefer a simpler metric, like scoring-differential, the Mavs have outscored the Rockets by 14 points without Rondo, but were outscored by 36 points with him on the court.
In the regular season, Dallas was the top-ranked offense in the league when Rondo arrived. By season’s end, it was fifth. The team’s defense only marginally improved. In all, it’s fair to say he made the Mavs worse in both the short and long-term.
Cuban parted with Jae Crowder, Brandon Wright, Jameer Nelson, a conditional 2015 first-round pick, a second-rounder in 2016 and a $12.9 million trade exception for the pleasure. For Rondo to consider staying, he reportedly wants Carlisle gone, which will never happen.
Remember when we questioned whether Danny Ainge got enough in return for his once-great captain? Or when Cuban said he was done with rent-a-players? Or how about when the Rockets were also pushing to trade for Rondo before he landed in Dallas? How hard is Daryl Morey laughing right about now?
It’s a shame. I like Rondo, and was one of his supporters in Boston. From an ability standpoint, there are few like him in the NBA, or at least there were. Unfortunately, his enigmatic, all-for-one personality now defines him. The C’s have a more electric, and without question more engaging, point guard coming off their bench. Isaiah Thomas is under contract for three more years.
Rondo is entering free agency on the heels of his worst moments as a professional, both on the court and off, after being given a gift of an opportunity to showcase himself for the rest of the league. Now his chances at a max contract are gone, no matter how much franchise cornerstones like Kobe Bryant or Carmelo Anthony push for his services in Los Angeles or New York. Sure, he’ll get paid and start somewhere, but his melodrama cost him millions.
If the sometimes moody Rondo is truly one of the smartest guys in the room, as the reputation suggests, he shouldn’t have much trouble deciphering how he blew it, unless he internally thrusts responsibility for his actions onto others. I hope he owns it. A severe attitude adjustment is the former champ’s best hope of one day doing great things again.
Regardless, Rondo’s NBA future is very much in flux while he, we’re laughably told, seeks additional medical opinions on his bad back.
One clear conclusion, though; we can all agree it’s a good thing this is no longer Ainge’s problem to discuss and the Celtics’ distraction to debate.
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