It’s impossible to find anyone who knows Rajon Rondo and thinks he’s stupid. The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn describes him as “by the far the most intelligent player this reporter has ever covered. He’s brilliant.” When first meeting his point guard, Brad Stevens called Rondo “really, really intelligent, really, really insightful.” Kobe Bryant says, “He knows all the plays, knows all the actions and can think two, three moves ahead. He’s freakishly smart.”
So why does Rondo look so dumb right now? On the verge of free-agency, he has turned his reputation into pond water by openly warring with Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. He’s submarined his next contract, a problem child no GM would lavish max-money on. And now the point guard will have a big fat “DNP-CD” slapped on his back for the rest of the postseason. But that “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision” is also a Rondo decision. Rajon didn’t get along with his coach, so he acted out until it was impossible to play him anymore.
Stubborn is a word that continually comes up when describing Rondo. So does “fiery” and “contrarian.” And apparently that volatile cocktail of all three has led Rondo here. His teammates will be attempting to fight back from a 2-0 series deficit without their starting point guard, a player who has done some of his most extraordinary work in the playoffs, in desperate situations just like this.
We get it. Rondo doesn’t like Carlisle. He always bristled that the coach didn’t give him more freedom to call plays. Rondo challenges everyone in power around him, testing to find out who knows as much as he does. But news flash to Rajon: Carlisle isn’t some basketball bozo. He’s widely regraded as one of the smartest hoops minds in the league, and happens to have as many rings as you do. (Actually one more, if you count his limited role on the ’86 Celtics.)
Some may think Rondo’s petulant, antagonistic behavior started the moment he landed in Texas. Not true. He was always a boiling soup pot, with the potential to violently lash out or silently freeze out. But the Celtics learned how to insulate the public from any inner turmoil. When I hosted on 98.5 The Sports Hub for nearly four years in Boston, it was obvious the local teams had all copied Belichick’s notes. Very few leaks, very little raw meat for us ravenous media and fans.
But every so often you’d get a skirt steak on the back pages (often when the teams wanted to control the narrative). And the story of Rondo gunning a water bottle across the meeting room, smashing a 50-inch TV during film study, always stuck with the enigmatic guard. This was a team built on Ubuntu, and a guy playing with three future Hall of Famers and one of the most respected coaches in the league was going to act out like Shia LaBeouf at Wet Republic? He could be sensational (a triple-double machine in his prime). He could be engaging (an impish smile that seemed genuine). He could be a miserable, brooding loner (bucking against even the highly respected Doc Rivers).
The fact is, Rondo’s ACL injury sapped him of much of his basketball brilliance. His explosion waned, his shooting was never great, his free throw percentage has bottomed out. And Rondo is no longer surrounded by teammates he respected and had won with like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. So this is where Rondo lashes out and only hurts himself.
Because his act gets real old real fast if he’s not a dynamic play-making point guard. No one wants to be around a mediocre player who needs to punch the air, and openly feud with his employer. Danny Ainge once said, “The question always was, ‘Is he a good enough player to behave the way he does?’ “ Today, the answer is very clearly no. The Mavs would rather get swept without him, than win with him. Rondo doesn’t seem to grasp that, which makes him look pretty damn stupid.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.