Mavs + Rondo: The Keys To The Car
It's not just Dallas Mavericks fans who view the presence here of Rajon Rondo as a divisive issue. And it's not just coach Rick Carlisle and Rondo who viewed it that same way -- at least for a moment during that ... in-game tug-of-war that resulted in a one-game suspension of the four-time All-Star point guard and much hang-wringing and teeth-gnashing over whether the blockbuster trade was at all wise. (Hint: It'll be especially unwise if Dallas and Rondo don't get together on a summer free-agency agreement to keep him in Dallas.)
No, the Rondo divisiveness extends all the way to his former home in Boston ... with a stabbing ... at a Celtics game ... involving two gentlemen who were both wearing Rondo jerseys.
"He's really developed a good sense for our team -- when to just push it, when to get into something," coach Rick Carlisle said after Friday's 129-99 monster win over the visiting Clippers. "He really understands the guys that he's playing with."
He does? Wait ... when did this happen?
Just one game earlier, Rondo was as responsible as the next Mavs schmoe for a "cheat-the-game'' loss to the Cavs that was monstrous in another way. What changes in the span of five days?
In addition to what Rick is saying publicly, there is what Rick is doing privately. I'm told that in practice sessions over the course of last week, the coach has slowly eased his grips on the tug-of-war rope, freeing Rondo to be more of the play-calling quarterback that he stubbornly believes is the only way for him to succeed.
Rick has acquiesced here, maybe in part because having his point guard ignore his calls and exchange F-you's is so unbecoming. But also: Carlisle is part of the Triangle of Trust that knew what it was getting in the trade. A unique/unorthodox talent and a unique/unorthodox person who believes his BBIQ is largely un-excelled even by the wisest of coaches. It's why Rondo conflicted with Tubby Smith at Kentucky, why he conflicted with Doc Rivers in Boston and why he's banging heads here.
"The trust is becoming more and more better between Coach and I," Rondo said after the 30-point win over the Clips in which his all-around floor game was key. "We were on the same page a lot. We talked before the game, as far as the playcalling that we wanted to stick with. We were very locked in (Friday) morning during the shootaround, and it carried over into the game."
The "we'' is Carlisle and Rondo. This is about one coach and one player ... and it's something we've seen before here, involving Rick and Jason Kidd. Back then, it took a year for the pair to completely mesh in a way that allowed Rick to allow Jason to have his way. This time around? Dallas, facing Rondo's summer free agency, doesn't have that sort of time to jack around here.
You will remember Avery Johnson's power struggle with Kidd when the future Hall-of-Famer was first acquired. It did not end well for the coach. During the first season together for Carlisle and Kidd, there was similar head-butting. But Carlisle is even more smart than he is stubborn, so he relinquished many of the "quarterbacking'' responsibilities to J-Kidd during the 2008-09 season. Two years later, an NBA championship was realized.
This group -- with an aging Dirk and Monta and TY both up in the air contractually along with Rondo -- doesn't have that sort of time. So ...
"It's tough to give a guy the keys to the car when he first gets there,'' said Rondo, essentially suggesting that he has, at least, been awarded his learner's permit.
If they do this right, Rondo can score a few points, grab a few rebounds and steals and flirt with double-figures in assists while orchestrating an offense like the one on display in that critical win over the Clippers. Dallas finally scored 100 points, shot 61 percent and had seven players in double-figures. Rondo was also key is shutting down Chris Paul ... but that's not been the problem here.
The keys to the car have been the problem.
"I think this is the best I've been since I've been here as far as the play calling," said Rondo of the Clips game. "Charlie got hot. CP got hot. I knew the right plays to call to get guys shots and not necessarily the same play-call every time down the floor, because teams obviously load up on the same plays that you run. I was able to give different play-calling signals and give those guys those looks."
Said Carlisle: "The ball moved ... I give a lot of credit to Rondo ... He just kept finding the right people. His play-calls were on-point."
And what if Carlisle has found the right person, too, by being "on-point'' in how to hand those keys to Rondo? What if part of the coach's psychology here was to make damn sure Rondo wanted the leadership role, wanted the quarterback job, wanted the keys to the car ... badly enough to literally fight for them?
At this moment, Rick has made Rondo a copy of the keys and the player gets to feel like he "won.'' And as a result, maybe the Mavs have "won,'' too.
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