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Rajon Rondo Wouldn't Change A Thing

The Dallas Mavericks gambled on Rajon Rondo in the hope that he'd change to fit their needs. But Rondo doesn't change, and what made him great is now unmaking him.
Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Stubbornness and willpower are two sides of the same coin. The difference is in the outcome. Stay the course and fail—you're a stubborn jackass. Hold steady and succeed—your steely dedication and force of will are to be celebrated.

This cognitive dissonance defines Rajon Rondo—NBA champion, pathbreaking point guard, and certified anti-authoritarian weirdo—in 2015. He is stubborn and fiercely devoted to his own basketball ideals; he is, non-euphemistically, the smartest guy in the room, and a living miracle of an athlete. For a while, that and circumstance made him a star. Right, now that combination paints him as the NBA's biggest heel.


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At this moment, Rondo is mostly defined by his extended self-immolation as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. His shouting match with Rick Carlisle shortly after joining the team. His meltdown of self-indulgent sloppiness during his few minutes on the floor Game 2 against the Houston Rockets, and the ostensible back injury that took him out of that game, and the rest of the series, and presumably out of a Mavericks uniform forever.

As Rondo weighs inevitable, already-hilarious big money offers from the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks this summer, the fact that the Mavericks made a desperate, losing gamble on him will loom large. A very good team risked the function of their beautiful Rube Goldberg offensive machine by dropping a sleek and expensive hand grenade into the works. The Mavs bet on defensive improvement and trusted in the legend of Playoff Rondo, and as a result will still be picking shrapnel out of their collective navel in late August.

Dallas's bet on Rodno didn't work, but it was not necessarily a bad idea. It's just that every bet on Rajon Rondo doing anything but what he wants to do is a sucker's bet.

It is even easier than you might expect to find photos of Rondo looking unhappy. — Photo by Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Rondo is a tangle of contradictions. He presents as a savant of the intrapersonal, an introvert in a sea of gregarious personalities. And while he plays a that is thoroughly outward and other-directed—what Rondo does best is pass and share, create for others—but somehow does so with no detectable generosity of spirit. He shares at a time and in a style of his own choosing. His teammates have no say in the matter; they will receive scoring opportunities when he alone decides.


Rondo certainly deserves some of the scorn he's received for the way things have come to a close in Dallas. He is the one who sneezed in the soup, who collapsed the Mavericks' spacing and played inconsistent defense and alienated Monta Ellis and butted heads with Carlisle. Rondo is the one who missed all those shots and refused to take so many more. He's the one who killed the chemistry, killed the vibe, took Brandan Wright's place. He's the one who tried to control the offense and held the ball and held the ball and held the ball and held the ball. All that is on Rondo, for sure.

The opportunity to do all that disrupting and wrong-way rubbing was the result of a decision that the Mavericks made, but they somehow have presented as victims, here. Trading for Rondo was a clear risk, even if the rationale for taking it was heavy on logic and reason. The Mavericks were not beating any Western Conference team in the playoffs because they couldn't keep anyone from scoring, and they understood this. Although he would undoubtedly grind on their offense, Rondo could theoretically help on defense and bring the team into a more advantageous balance.

The scenario they were banking on, praying for, required some adaptation on Rondo's part. Sure he had struggled in Boston, never quite recapturing the physical stature he had before his injuries. But the Mavericks weren't just counting on him being better than he'd been. They were counting on him being different.


Rondo just kept dribbling right off the court, out of the arena, and into a Sonic drive-thu. — Photo by Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The team was prepared to help him out, to smooth the way, to accommodate as much as possible and minimize the challenge. But this deal failed for the Mavericks because they missed the fact that Rondo is a stubborn, willful dude. Which is pretty much impossible to miss where Rondo is concerned, but which was not always quite as poisonous as it proved to be in Dallas.

At the peak of his powers, Rondo was a force of will. Every soul in the arena knew what he would and would not do, and none could prevent it from happening; this purity of purpose was what made him so captivating. He would dribble until the passing angle he wanted opened up, transparently without any doubt that it would, and that the wait would be worth it. Rondo bent the game with his will, stared it down until it gave in. When the playoffs rolled around, he'd let a little more assertiveness in, but Rondo's aesthetic was always one of passive insistence.

Rondo still does the same things; everyone in the arena is still in the know. It just doesn't work anymore. Some of that is a slower body. Some of that is a different system. Much of it, though, is just Rondo's disappearance into his own rigidity. The Mavericks gambled that Rondo would be slightly less like himself and more willing to compromise or make himself fit. It ruined them, and it hasn't done much for Rondo, either.

There is no place left for Rajon Rondo, not really. Some brave or desperate team will pay him a lot of money to play basketball next year, and he will do his zen-like impersonation of a jagged boulder. The world will not bend to accommodate him. Fingers will be cut on his rougher edges. Games will be lost. Feelings will get hurt. This is always how it was going to end for Rondo.