Tuesday night’s Game 2 loss to the Houston Rockets wasn’t a good sign for Rajon Rondo’s future with the Dallas Mavericks. Rondo only played 10 minutes of the game, getting benched early in the third quarter and not returning for the rest of the game. Part of the reason Rondo found the bench was that he was in foul trouble, being only two away from fouling out at the time of his benching. However, this wasn’t the main reason Rick Carlisle put Rondo on the pine; if Carlisle were afraid of Rondo fouling out, sitting him for the rest of the game has the same effect.
This seemed to be a straight benching for poor play, but in an interesting turn of events, the Mavericks have now ruled Rondo out indefinitely with a back injury suffered in Game 2. This is rather odd considering Carlisle didn’t mention a back injury after the game and said it was his call to sit the petulant point guard after he was pulled at the start of the second half.
Back injury or not, Rondo has been far from great this year and has been a detriment to Dallas. Two years removed from his ACL injury, this is the time one expects a player to show signs of recovery to his former self. Rondo, however, hasn’t looked anywhere near as good as he did before the injury. It doesn’t look like Rondo is worth the max-level contract he has been seeking (not even close), and his feuding with Carlisle mixed with his inability to effectively mesh with Dallas’ system all but assures he won’t be getting it from the Mavericks. And according to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Rondo has little interest being back in Dallas anyway if Carlisle is still around, which he assuredly will be.
Rondo is a very particular and unique player, with advantages and flaws unique to his skill set. He has an ability to step up in big games and put up incredible performances. But he also has days where he doesn’t seem to care and just coasts through games, which is something we saw in Game 2, with lazy fouls, an inexplicable eight-second violation and a technical foul highlighting his rough performance.
It’s this lack of consistency that frustrates coaches and fans alike. His greatest skill as a basketball player is also his greatest weakness. Rondo is an extremely ball-dominant guard. He can run an offense and make plays happen for players who can’t generate their own shot to save their lives (see Bass, Brandon) or who don’t always need the ball to be successful.
The problem with Rondo on the Mavericks is that they have Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki, two guys very capable of creating their own shots. When they have the ball and are creating, Rondo is effectively useless. Unless Rondo has the ball and is creating for other players, his lack of long-range shooting makes him an offensive liability off the ball and kills spacing. If a team wants to succeed with Rondo as their centerpiece, they need to build a very particular team around him, and we still don’t know if that team would succeed in this pace and space era of the NBA.
Any team looking to sign Rondo would be taking a risk that either he’s struggling because of a poor fit in the Mavs’ system, still struggling with the lingering effects of his injury, or both. They’d be hoping that he can return to his old self when he looked like an elite point guard. There are rumors about the Lakers being interested, and I’ve already said why I think that’s a bad idea. Rondo needs to land on a team without another ball-dominant perimeter player; it’s the same reason I don’t think he’d be a good fit for the Knicks with Carmelo Anthony.
Rondo would do best on a team that has good defensive players and/or shooters struggling to produce offense on their own, a solid big man who can create from the post without clogging the paint and one perimeter player who can close out games but doesn’t need the ball at all times to be effective. One team that comes to mind is the Sacramento Kings, who have previously been linked in rumors to Rondo. The Kings could pair Rondo with DeMarcus Cousins and try and add as much shooting around them as possible in order to play the uptempo style ownership wants.
However, I think the Lakers are going to sign Rondo (although almost certainly not for a max) because it’s the splashy play, and he’s going to like the idea of living in star-studded Los Angeles rather than a place like Sacramento. I just don’t think Rondo and Kobe will be good at sharing the spotlight, and it would be a questionable move for a team in rebuilding mode.