When the Dallas Mavericks traded for enigmatic point guard Rajon Rondo in December, they must have known that they were getting a fairly difficult player to coach. Rondo is hard to figure out, performs his best when he has freedom to improvise, and can get ornery. The Mavs knew they were making a gamble in adding a stylistically unique player to the NBA's best offense (at the time), but they believed that the potential gains were worth it.
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The final results of that decision won't be known until the postseason and when Rondo becomes when free agent this summer, but they experienced some of the bad that comes with his good in the third quarter of Tuesday night's home game against the Toronto Raptors. As the Mavericks headed back to the bench just a few minutes into the third quarter, head coach Rick Carlisle and Rondo began to engage in a shouting match. Take a look at the video:
Rondo was benched for the duration of the game, and Monta Ellis and Devin Harris performed ably in his stead to lead the Mavericks to a 99-92 victory. The verbal altercation resulted in the Mavericks suspending Rondo for Wednesday's game against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Mavericks have suspended guard Rajon Rondo one game for “conduct detrimental to the team."
— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) February 25, 2015
Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com reported that Rondo and Carlisle also had an "emotionally charged dispute" in the locker room after the game. MacMahon has more details on what went down during the game:
The incident occurred with 8:10 remaining in the third quarter, when Carlisle stormed out on the American Airlines Center court to call a timeout and shouted at Rondo, who appeared to be ignoring a play call from the bench as he brought the ball up the floor.
Rondo responded by shouting back at Carlisle. They exchanged heated words for much of the timeout, with assistant coach Jamahl Mosley stepping in front of Rondo at one point to prevent the point guard and coach from getting in each other's faces.
"Well, it's an emotional game, and we had a difference of opinion," Carlisle said. "There was an exchange, and then in my mind it was over." [...]
"Discuss with Rick," said Rondo, a four-time All-Star whom the Mavs acquired in a blockbuster trade from the Boston Celtics on Dec. 18.
Team sources told ESPNDallas.com that friction had been building up between Carlisle and Rondo over play-calling responsibilities, the majority of which the coach has handled. Former Mavs point guard Jason Kidd had similar frustrations during his first season playing with Carlisle, although it never resulted in a public outburst.
It's an understandable argument given the personalities involved. Carlisle likes a certain amount of control over how his team runs offense, and his track record suggests that he has the team's best interests at heart. Yet it's also understandable why Rondo would take issue with that structure, especially when he's had considerable success working in other ways. It's hard to believe the Mavericks front office didn't anticipate this issue when they traded for Rondo, to the point where they must have assumed such matters would be resolved by the playoffs. There's obviously still plenty of time for that to become the case, and maybe Rondo will see re-signing with Dallas as the only logical move in July.
Carlisle told reporters prior to Wednesday's game in Atlanta that Rondo will start the Mavericks' next game on Saturday against the Brooklyn Nets.
"He'll practice Friday and he'll be back in the starting lineup on Saturday," Carlisle said. "The events of [Tuesday] night are now in the past and we've got to move forward. I need to say this clearly: He is an extremely important part of our team. Our efforts to get to the highest possible level largely hinge on him playing and playing well with him. He needs to play well with us, and we need to play well with him. It's a two-way street.
"The incident last night was born of poor communication between him and I. That's on both of us. We had a long talk about the situation [Wednesday], and we both agreed that we need to communicate more frequently. We need to work on a solution for making his stint as a Dallas Maverick the most successful one possible. We're looking at 23 games here. Right now, this is a critical time for us."
While it's good to hear that the team has a plan for dealing with the dust-up, it's somewhat concerning that Carlisle and Rondo aren't seeing eye to eye more than two months into their partnership. For one thing, it's not the first time Rondo has been benched — he sat the final five minutes of a loss to the Chicago Bulls back on Jan. 23. That incident barely registered, in part because neither Rondo nor Carlisle made too big a deal out of it. You could say the same about Tuesday's interaction, too, except that we're now only one such event away from a third, at which point journalism students are allowed to refer to Carlisle benching Rondo as "a trend."
Again, it's best to be wary of overreacting to all this when such an incident was well within the realm of possibility back when the Mavs dealt for Rondo. But this is an issue to watch, because minor spats between coaches and players could end up having bigger effects in a conference as competitive as the West. Sometimes things only don't matter until they do.
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