Regardless of whether this is a case of Rajon Rondo finally learning the dark side of being a diva or whether he had a legitimate beef with Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, this is a sad ending to his tenure in Dallas, and perhaps his status as a valuable NBA player.
Rondo will never again play for the Dallas Mavericks. That's what Carlisle announced Wednesday after Rondo's lack of effort in Game 2 of a Western Conference first-round series against the Houston Rockets. On Tuesday, Rondo was Ali vs. Holmes, Sinatra reading from teleprompters, Willie Mays aimlessly chasing flyballs in 1973.
Rondo imploded. An eight-second violation. Turning his back on Jason Terry as the veteran drained an uncontested 3-pointer. Four fouls, a technical foul, and 4 points in 10 minutes.
Carlisle pulled Rondo from the game after his fourth foul, and technical for shoving James Harden early in the third quarter, and Rondo never returned. His Mavericks tenure was done, a far cry from visions of a rejuvenated Rondo leading the cavalry of aging Dallas veterans to an NBA title with owner Mark Cuban, in one of those Mavericks long sleeve T-shirts, hugging his point guard after the clinching game.
That was a fantasy, a million-to-one shot that the Mavericks pursued when they pushed Celtics president Danny Ainge for a deal in December. Rondo showed flashes of vintage form in his 22 games with the Celtics this season, averaging 10.8 assists per game. All he needed to do in Dallas was run Carlisle's offense, feed the ball to Dirk Nowitzki, and find Tyson Chandler on alley-oops.
That also was a fantasy.
According to NBA sources, Rondo soured on Carlisle quickly, frustrated by the coach's insistence on calling plays. Rondo viewed that as a lack of trust. If anything, Rondo felt he deserved more control of the offense and on-court decision-making.
His frustration reached a peak Feb. 24, when Rondo attempted to ignore Carlisle during a home game against Toronto. Carlisle called a timeout, got into a shouting match with Rondo, and benched the guard for the remainder of the second half.
It was apparent then that Rondo wouldn't be re-signing with the Mavericks this summer. Visions of a career-defining maximum contract, one that would legitimize his value in comparison to contemporaries such as Chris Paul and Deron Williams, have dissipated.
Rondo is by far the most intelligent player this reporter has ever covered. He's brilliant. There were times in Boston when you knew he intentionally conjured up ways to irritate the media. Maybe he would answer every question with three words, or take an extra long time to get dressed and walk past media members on deadline to hit the bathroom to put the final touches on his look.
It was acceptable when Rondo was a star, when he was one of the five best point guards in the league, regardless of his lack of shooting ability. But it seems that Carlisle, a close friend of Ainge's, knew full well the Rondo he was receiving and decided to take a hard stance.
It seems Rondo, who maintained his desire to stay in Boston, was uncomfortable with his new surroundings and also embarrassed by a swift decline in his free throw shooting, which affected his aggressiveness.
Rondo's offensive issues, his poor fit in the Mavericks' offense, and onerous relationship with Carlisle made his time in Dallas an abject failure. Rondo posted double-digit assists in 13 of 22 appearances with the Celtics this season. He did so just seven times in 46 regular-season games with the Mavericks.
It seems Rondo's problems in Dallas were just as much mental as physical. He lost a step after tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament in January 2013, but his time with the Celtics this season was considered successful. Dallas scouts researched him before the trade, asking Celtics insiders about his moodiness and impact in the locker room.
Honestly, there was a drastic change in Rondo following knee surgery. He bonded with new Celtics coach Brad Stevens. He was more open in the locker room. He admittedly doubted himself after his first major injury and fully noticed a slew of new, wildly athletic, and fearless point guards who were younger and viewed Rondo as old school.
That was a wake-up call. Father Time was letting Rondo know that the downside of his career was in his GPS. Perhaps his behavior in Dallas was a refusal to accept that fact or an indication that Rondo is unsure whether he can regain his prowess and orchestrate an offense on an elite team.
He will soon be a free agent, with this horrible episode defacing his on-court résumé. Did he quit on his team? Was he simply an easy target to blame on a team that never became formidable?
Rondo will have to shed his propensity for silence and explain himself to potentially interested teams. The chances of a max contract are gone. Now Rondo's goal should be to resurrect his career and his dignity. His reputation is soiled, a spoiled brat whose skills have diminished.
Rondo has game left. He is capable of being a starting point guard, but those days of racking up triple-doubles with free rein from a trusting coach are gone. It was a sad ending for Rondo. And even his growing horde of detractors can't deny that when he was invested and content, he was dazzling.
Hard to believe that Rondo has disappeared so quickly and so abruptly.