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The last time Rajon Rondo appeared in a playoff series, he averaged 20.9 points, 11.3 assists and 6.9 boards in a seven-game conference finals loss to the Miami Heat during which he submitted a 44-10-8 performance and was inarguably the best player on the court for stretches opposite LeBron James.
It was another chapter in the chronicles of Playoff Rondo, a wonderfully unique basketball player who evolved from an unknown second-year point guard overshadowed by future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the 2008 NBA champion Boston Celtics to the most important member of a team that featured the same three aging stars and nearly won another title in 2010.
So, when Rondo watched from the sidelines as Dallas Mavericks teammate J.J. Barea ran the offense for the final three games of an early first-round exit at the hands of the Houston Rockets, it was a remarkable juxtaposition, illustrating just how far the former All-Star had fallen since tearing his ACL on Jan. 25, 2013.
The Mavs masked his absence as a back injury, but this was a player who once beat the Heat with literally one arm behind his back in 2011 and played the final 13 minutes of a double-overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks on that torn right ACL two years later. There was talk he might even play on a bum knee when those Celtics made their final stand in 2013, and folks believed it. That's where the legend of Playoff Rondo stood then, but there's no sign of him now, as this "back injury" was a synonym for "benching."
For two years as he nursed his knee back to health, the basketball world awaited the return of Playoff Rondo, and at least monetarily, we'll have to wait at least one more. According to Dallas Morning News beat reporter Eddie Sefko, the Mavericks voted not to grant Rondo his roughly $15,000 playoff share.
There's no other way to interpret this decision than as blatant disgust for Rondo's disregard of Rick Carlisle's coaching during the stretch run and the 29-year-old's ensuing disappearance in the playoffs. The revelation coincided with an ESPNDallas.com report confirming what Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski reported after Game 2 — the short-lived partnership between the Mavs and Rondo is all but over.
While Mavs superstar Dirk Nowitzki defended Dallas owner Mark Cuban's acquisition of Rondo this past December as a gamble worth taking, even after the first-round flounder, veteran center Tyson Chandler took a slightly different approach, telling Sefko, "We traded a lot of pieces for a point guard that's not with us right now." Combine that sentiment with the playoff wage decision, and you get their point.
For the record, the Mavericks also voted to keep Lamar Odom's playoff wages in 2012, signaling the beginning of the end for a career of another once valuable member of a championship team in Los Angeles. While Odom's demise had as much to do with off-court issues as on-court production, Rondo has been a good citizen outside of basketball, and for that he warrants another NBA chance, even if he clashes with almost every coach he comes across and allows his stubbornness to dictate his actions.
So, what next for Rondo? Perhaps no other player's performance has translated into as many lost wages entering free agency this summer, and not just because of a withheld check. Once a bargain for $12 million annually, he will command nowhere near the max contract he sought at season's start in Boston.
The Kings, Knicks and Lakers have all been intrigued by Rondo in the past, but pairing him with either DeMarcus Cousins or the triangle could prove disastrous, leaving Kobe Bryant as possibly his most likely partner in 2015-16. The two share a mutual respect for one another's self-described "a—hole" mentality.
But at what cost would the Lakers add Rondo? In a league that values point guards who make 3-pointers and get to the free throw line while penetrating and creating, Rondo ranked among the league's worst shooters from long range and the charity stripe — to the point he seemingly feared contact in the lane. There's a reason the Celtics succeeded with Isaiah Thomas running the show instead of Rondo this season, and the former is scheduled to make less than $7 million next year. Is Rondo's price tag lower?
If Rondo believes in his ability, perhaps a one-year deal next season is best. In resurrecting the Lakers alongside Bryant, he could recoup some lost wages as a free agent when the salary cap is expected to skyrocket in 2016. Then again, he just submitted one of the worst contract seasons in recent memory.
For those doubting Rondo ever belonged on a list of the NBA's elite point guards — the folks who claim he's nothing without KG, Pierce and Allen — how soon we forget his 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and six steals as a 22-year-old in a dominant Game 6 effort during the 2008 NBA Finals.
There have been post-surgery signs he could be that player again, including four triple-doubles since returning against the Lakers in January 2014 and the 29-6-5 in his first game back in Boston a year later, and it would be fascinating to see him rediscover those bright-lights performances on a regular basis as Kobe's teammate in L.A. If he doesn't, though, it's harder to envision Rondo ultimately accepting a low-cost bench role than it is to think he'll leave the NBA conciousness just as weirdly as he entered it.
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