By Darreck Kirby
PSDC Dallas Mavericks Beat Writer
In an early December trade, the Dallas Mavericks sent three players, two draft picks and a trade exception to the Boston Celtics in return for the point guard they believed would fortify and legitimize the position in their backcourt for years to come. Flash forward just three months and the once promising blockbuster trade appears to have soured considerably. The Celtic beat writers warned Dallas media the honeymoon wouldn’t last long, and it appears they may have been right.
The Mavs have had inconsistent results throughout the Rondo experiment to date. Yes, their defense has certainly improved, rising to become the best in the league in the month of February, but what they’ve improved in defense, they’ve lost in offense – and then some. Prior to the trade, Dallas’ offense was on a historic pace; since the trade they’ve been good, though far from the greatness they’d initially projected.
With Rondo’s utter lack of a jump shot, or free throw stroke for that matter, the once elite floor spacing has become exceedingly crowded. People questioned whether or not Rondo, a ball-dominant point guard, could mesh well with Monta Ellis, a ball-dominant shooting guard. The problem goes beyond that, however. Not only does Ellis dominant the ball and create on offense, he’s also at his best when he’s driving to the hoop and finding the kick-out man. Rondo’s lack of a three-point shot creates issues there. Not only can Ellis not trust the Kentucky product to hit a deep shot but the defense doesn’t even care to contest him. Rondo’s man simply sags off and clogs the lane for Ellis, forcing the Ellis, Mavs’ leading scorer, to kick it out and let someone else create. Add in the strange lack of chemistry between Rondo and his teammates and you have a lot of sloppy turnovers you wouldn’t expect from a once elite point guard in his prime.
No one doubts Rondo’s vision or basketball IQ; they’re the reason Dallas felt it could safely pull the trigger on the blockbuster trade in the first place. On paper, the move addressed more issues than a trade for someone like Goran Dragic could have, and it also added a solid playmaker that Mark Cuban’s squad had been searching for at the point since Jason Kidd retired (or perhaps a couple years before that in all honesty).
The problems between coach Rick Carlisle and Rondo steem from a matter of control; Rondo wants it and Rick isn’t willing to give it. To give some insight, Rick didn’t give Kidd the keys to the car, so to speak, until the midst of Dallas’ lone championship run. That’s called having skins on the wall. Kidd already had them, Rondo doesn’t (or at least not enough of them). So how did we find ourselves at the explicative-laced shouting match that led to Rondo’s benching with 8:10 left in the third quarter earlier this week? Quite simply, control. Rondo wants to run the show more but Rick is reluctant to hand it over, especially when the offense has statistically been at its best when Rondo is OFF the floor.
On the play in question, Rondo made little defensive effort and allowed an easy put back before showing terrible body language and casually taking the ball from the hoop before walking it up the floor. Rick wanted a timeout but his point guard refused, electing instead to call his won play. It’s at this point Carlisle stormed out to near half court and screamed for a timeout, which the nearest official granted. He then shouted something at Rondo, who appeared to answer with an F-bomb of sorts before Rick told him to “sit his ass down.” The spat continued on the bench and the two had to be separated by assistants. Rondo never returned to the game, which Dallas won behind Devin Harris and JJ Barea, and after the game Rick insisted that it was merely “a difference of opinion.”
Less than 24 hours after the game, Rondo was suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team, and it was reported that Rick and Rajon had an even more heated shouting match in the locker room after the game the night before. The end result was a substantial divide between Dallas and its expected max contract resigning this summer. The word now from ESPN Dallas’ Tim McMahon is that Rondo is, as the title put it, “extremely unlikely” to re-sign with the Mavs this summer, meaning Dallas likely gave up Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson and Jae Crowder, plus a pair of picks for the four-month rental of a stubborn and distracting Rajon Rondo.
Now, it’s worth noting that things could always change. Dallas could go on a deep playoff run and Rondo, as he tends to do, could play his best ball on the biggest stage, thus putting behind them the issues that presently appear so significant. Let’s not forget, Chandler Parsons and Rick didn’t exactly get along swimmingly when they first began working together either. Rick demands a lot of his players, and he wants things done his way, unless he’s given reason enough to trust, as is the case with Dirk and Monta, and formerly Kidd. It’s a clash of egos here, and it’s important that Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson play peacemaker to smooth things over before they get even more out of hand. If not, Dallas will surely have a glaring weakness at the point guard going into the season for the fourth straight year.