Despite his league-leading assists average, former Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo wasn’t the player over the past season we came to know during three trips to the Eastern Conference finals from 2008-12. That much is certain.
Rondo’s true shooting dipped to an alarmingly low level in 2014-15 (career-worst 42.2 percent), and his performance on the other end was no longer All-Defensive worthy. As a result, the Celtics proved better both offensively and defensively without him on the court, per Basketball Reference.
While Rondo’s decline at the age of 28 appeared a result of a player once reliant on slicing and scrapping his way into the restricted area still struggling to recover both physical and mentally from a serious knee injury, there have been rumblings in the fortnight since his trade that the regression might have been the result of another factor entirely: Effort.
“He’s always up to stuff when he’s locked in, and I think that’s the guy that Dallas is getting,” Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons told writer Zach Lowe during their podcast last week. “In Boston, he would just give up the ball and just stand there, and I do think they had to trade him. It was too bad that was the way it worked out, not just from what we were seeing from the games, but from what I was hearing. In practice, when you have your guy who’s the unquestioned best guy on the team and the quote unquote ‘leader’ of the team, and he’s just not going hard in practice at all, that puts a coach who is trying to get through to young players in a really bad spot. And I think they knew they had to trade him.”
That’s new information, and while some hearsay can be discarded as the customary smear campaigning from Boston teams in the wake of major trades, Simmons’ sources aren’t the only ones dropping hints.
“He wanted out,” Rondo’s former Celtics teammate and current Thunder center Kendrick Perkins told Yahoo Sports in the immediate aftermath of his trade to the Mavericks in exchange for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson and a protected first-round pick, “but he would never say that though.”
While Rondo publicly maintained his desire to remain in Boston, where he won a title alongside Perkins as an NBA sophomore in 2008, there are those who question whether the erstwhile Celtics captain was as committed to the team behind the scenes. Count Mavericks owner Mark Cuban among them.
As brought to our attention by @MrTrpleDouble10, Cuban conceded to The Dallas Morning News, “If you’ve ever been in a company that’s failing … you know, the effort isn’t the same. It’s no different.”
In his first five games on the Mavericks, at least, the numbers reflect Cuban’s assertion. Albeit a limited sample size in Dallas, but Rondo is attempting two more field goals within five feet of the basket than he shot per game in Boston, and he’s increased his scoring by 5.3 points per contest — nearly matching his pre-injury average of 13.7 points. Likewise, the Mavs have allowed 10.1 fewer points with Rondo on the court, according to Basketball Reference. As Simmons suggested, he’s “up to stuff” more often.
Rondo is gone. Had he remained for the rest of the season, in all likelihood the soon-to-be free agent would’ve left for nothing over the summer. There’s little use in debating his performance any longer, but these rumblings leave us wondering whether Danny Ainge could’ve received a better return had his captain stayed fully committed. Just one more question Rondo leaves unanswered in Boston.