Culture of Hoops

Like a Bird Right on a Wire: Rajon Rondo’s First Days in Dallas

Image courtesy of TJ Macias/Baller Mind Frame.

Image courtesy of TJ Macias/Baller Mind Frame.

It’s inestimable, this current news that has shaken up the NBA world, inestimable in that most are stepping back to review these claret colored happenings with utter glee mixed with a slight sense of denial. Rajon Rondo, the Boston Celtics’ once thriving point guard and franchise star, was traded to the Dallas Mavericks Thursday afternoon for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, and two draft picks. While some Boston fans threw barely eligible hissy fits complete with broad A’s, the word “wicked”, and ended the fit by acting out a couple scenes from “The Departed” (this is what I picture in my head. I know. Sigh) at the loss of Rondo, it should be mentioned that they aren’t alone in their sorrow. Boston fans who accuse Celtics’ Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge of trading Rondo away for a song and a pack of pre-chewed gum, I have only one thing to say:


The Controversy

The Twitter world was abuzz the night following the trade almost an hour after the Mavericks breezed directly through the Detroit Pistons without cordially asking them which position they favored while I stood in place gaping at my phone for a beat. The ESPN SportsCenter notification I had just airily glanced at during an unexcitable debate with a friend about the whispers filtering around the NBA in regards to trading Rondo – a rumor that has been circulating since dinosaurs and the San Antonio Spurs roamed the earth – managed to make me do a cliché water spit-take even though I wasn’t drinking anything at the time. The notification informed me that the Mavs were the front-runners in bringing Rondo’s talents to Dallas at the cost of draft picks, and one Brandan Wright.

The 27-year old, 6’10”, center/power forward player with a 7’4” wingspan, had been a primary backup for big man on campus Tyson Chandler, and sometimes depending how physically a opposing team was rendered, both would be on the floor at the same time, which was a pleasing sight to behold, especially in the paint. Versatility is key with any decent player, and boy was he ever on both ends of the court. On the offensive side, Wright is known for being able to read his defender so that teammates can successfully pass the ball to the man. Given, he’s not much of a post player, but his agile movements help him finish over the top in any given situation while he excels in his pick-and-roll defense and has become an encumbrance in the eyes of his opponents. Truth be told – the man can fly, and fly gracefully much to the feverish delight of onlookers and naysayers. For such a quiet and gently modest man, his movements and talent are stentorian and viciously scream whenever he takes the court, and that’s where he leaves it. He doesn’t get his rocks off bragging to the press nor in attention seeking body gestures, which is why he was a fan favorite. He let his talent do the talking for him, and left an impenetrable mark on the sky.

Now, will this work out in Boston? This didn’t cross my mind much since the line “for baby Jesus’ sake, NOT WRIGHT” kept playing on a constant loop inside my brain. Boston analysts keep mentioning that Wright needs to evolve more as a player, something only minutes can do, and might re-package him at the deadline (mistake!), along with Jameer Nelson and Jae Crowder for the proper price, because they’re too concerned with rebuilding with that elephant’s ass load of draft picks they have.

After the initial shock wore off and I was faced with the inevitability of losing Wright, “the beast” Crowder, and Nelson, it was time to join twitter and the Mavs nation in rejoicing in the acquisition of an All-Star pla… oh. We shouldn’t use that anymore when shopping Rondo because he’s past his prime? At his age? Okay, scratch that. We’re getting such a likeable gu… really? An excellent shoote… oh, c’mon! Truth be told, Rondo is a man with a genius basketball IQ, is an NBA’s assists leader as well as an apparently “okay” defender, which, if you’ve ever caught a Mavs game, you’re familiar that the team’s likeness on that end of the court is akin to dying baby birds. So a man who ranks in the 31st percentile (Synergy) this season on D is the man we want? Uh. Also, shouldn’t a desperately good point guard also shoot well since their reason for living isn’t to distribute the ball for the rest of their days? He shoots the ball like that blind daughter from “Little House on the Prairie”.

Other things to take note via @jordanbrenner, an ESPN insider:

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Mavericks Practice the Morning Following the Trade

Come the morning following the trade, I sulked into the American Airlines Center knowing I wouldn’t see Wright soar, Nelson shoot, or Crowder drive on the practice court as I had done so many times before, so my mood was already dully shaded with a hazy grey fog. It managed to darken the second I noticed the maelstrom of new reporters, camera men, and sports writers clogging up the arteries in the corridor of the event level in front of the doors of the practice court. Word had already begun to spread that Rondo, along with newbie Dwight Powell, had yet to grace Dallas with their anxious faces and would be arriving via Mark Cuban’s private jet that late afternoon in time for their physicals and an introductory press conference.

As the sound of basketballs hitting the hardwood, deep laughter, that familiar toll of a bell set up in the corner near the steps the led up to the locker room, and my own heels on the paint echoed in my ears, I crossed over to the group that surrounded head coach Rick Carlisle and wormed my 5’3” frame through a sea of giants with cameras nestled on their shoulders in order to capture the canorous words Coach would say about their new players and of the ones traded. “They’ll make some significant contributions,” Carlisle said about Wright, Crowder, and Nelson playing for the Celtics. “Brandan Wright’s progress over the past three and a half years, he’s developed into a guy that everyone wants on their team. Boston wasn’t going to do this deal if he wasn’t in it, so that’s a loss for us. When you get really good players, you’ve got to give up really good players in return.”

Tyson was next to wander off the floor and into the press’ spider web. “He’s going to bring a different dynamic to this team,” the center said of Rondo. “He’s one of the top point guards in his game and understand what it takes to win.”

And Dirk Nowitzki’s take on the newcomer? “We’re going to tell him to do what he does,” Nowitzki shrugged. “And that’s compete at the highest level on both ends of the floor, make his teammates better, find me a lot on the offensive end…”

The Press Conference

Following a quick delay (Dallas traffic, Rondo physical IN Dallas, Texas rain, Texas drivers) the five men, Carlisle, Powell, general manager Donnie Nelson, owner Mark Cuban, and the man of the hour himself, lined into the interview room a few hours following practice. The mood was light and mirthful, thanks to Carlisle and a smiling Cuban, who traded sarcastic jokes and smirks as Rondo and Powell sat wide-eyed and seemingly pensive.

Rondo vs. The San Antonio Spurs

The true test isn’t just with statistics, whispers, and outright shouts, the test is in motion, something that Rondo was faced with mere hours after arriving in Dallas with this new set of faces and perform in front of a new set of fans. But since they say that Dallas fans are in a league of their own, the roof was blown off by the approval of those wearing blue at the AAC Saturday evening during the updated line-up.

No one knew exactly want to expect with Rondo in terms of chemistry and the rest of the starting five, including Chandler Parsons  and Monta Ellis, a player whom most were concerned would have his shooting muddled up with the addition of Rondo. Would the questions of non believers echo off the reflection of the court and into Rondo’s ears? Or would he shut us all up? Within the first eight minutes of action, Dallas’ newest point guard had put up zero points, two rebounds, two assists, two turnovers, and one charge drawn. Southwest rivals, the San Antonio Spurs, were playing without their major characters including Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili and yet were pulling ahead of the Mavs during the first by challenging Dallas’ shooting, and led 25-21.

Fans who were busy shifting in their seats as they Rondo on the court had no time to prepare for the weirdness that occurred in the second 12 ticks when Carlisle, without warning, tossed in Ricky Ledo within the first seconds of opening up the quarter. This was the first time this season that Ledo touched the court during a game, and he managed to look just about confused as the rest of the crowd, so Carlisle pulled him almost immediately. The Spurs, who were shooting 50 percent as opposed to the Mavs’ 33 percent, pulled ahead quickly and led 33-23 with 8:45 remaining in the half. During this time, it occurred to the eyes of analysts that Rondo, much like Devin Harris, lacked in paying attention to the perimeter on defense, which led to easy scoring on San Antonio’s part. The Spurs would head into the locker room leading 47-43, 43 points being a first half season-low for the Mavs.

Rondo would make his first basket at the 7:59 mark during the third – a bitter sweet accomplishment that would have caused fans to riot had it been anyone other than Rajon Rondo. During the start of the third, it appeared as if lack of chemistry was to blame for the flow on the court, as some of the players had a difficult time trusting Rondo on defense. Not only that, but the absence of Wright was felt when Carlisle attempted to use Greg Smith as their back-up big guy, a task that Smith couldn’t really measure up to. And then, without warning, things started clicking.

Dallas would only trail by two points going into the final quarter, and Rondo managed to perform an insane bounce pass for a Tyson Chandler slam that put fans on their feet and tied the game at 77-77. Carlisle then pulled a move that was used back in the Jason Kidd era, which was using three guards on the court at the same time: Harris, Ellis, and Rondo, which helped the ball movement significantly. The Spurs managed to stay in the game with pseudo falls and tactless cries, something that just heated up the already angry team. It turned into the Monta show in the final three minutes as he scored 11 of his total 38 points within the last 3:31 of the game. Dallas would go on to beat San Antonio 99-93.

What scared the beejezus out of me: That this new Mavs teams struggled this hard against a team that has been playing with just their bench and a few moth balls. Underestimation aside, it should NOT have been this difficult (hey, I said aside). Also, I witnessed Devin Harris sing “Let it Go” on the jumbotron during a segment, and now the dude owes me a new set of ear drums and years of therapy.

What impressed me despite my sarcasm and huffs: The absolute stunning way Rondo would pass the ball to open teammates and the brilliance of his basketball IQ. I was literally stunned into silence off that bounce pass from Rondo to Tyson in the fourth, along with a cross-court, two-hand bounce to Ellis during the second.

Not all my questions and observations will be answered in a week, or even a month, but it’s safe to say that with Rondo here, things will certainly be interesting and beneficial for Dallas during the course rest of the season.

One thing it won’t be? Boring.

Welcome to Dallas, Rajon Rondo.

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