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Mavs, Like Celtics, Finding Rajon Rondo May Not Be Worth Dollars He'll Demand

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterMarch 9, 2015

Noah Graham/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — The tone carries with it an actual note of pride.

Rajon Rondo is, in fact, pleased with just how many coaches he has challenged over the years, declaring, "There's not one coach I played with that I didn't get into it."

He clearly likes being a contrarian, resolutely confident about his own ideas and skills.

There is real value in a willingness to have open, even confrontational, dialogue if the goal is to get on the same page.

The danger is that individual pride can get in the way of the best results for a group—particularly when that pride is erroneously inflated.

That's where the Dallas Mavericks are with Rondo, their bold experiment that continues to go bad.

Rick Carlisle and Mark Cuban are very smart guys who are wholly unafraid of challenges. When will the smart part eclipse the determination of the Mavericks coach and owner to keep accepting this Rondo challenge?

Carlisle is a master strategist who lately is running around trying to integrate the legitimately positive energy of Amar'e Stoudemire while also assuming responsibility for getting a tiring Dirk Nowitzki easier shots. But his toughest task is to do those things, and others for the Mavericks' greater good, while still finding a sweet spot where Rondo gets to play his ball-dominating way often enough to keep him happy...and actually effective.

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And there's no good reason to believe Rondo is actually effective anymore.

The Mavericks, who prefer to play a free-flowing, zip-passing style, have won all seven times this season when they have 30 or more assists as a team.

Rick Carlisle and Rajon Rondo recently have shown signs of strain in their coach-player relationship.
Rick Carlisle and Rajon Rondo recently have shown signs of strain in their coach-player relationship.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

On Sunday night at Staples Center, the Mavericks barely avoided a seventh consecutive loss when Rondo has six or more assists as an individual.

When the inexperienced Los Angeles Lakers wilted down the stretch, the Mavericks survived, 100-93. Rondo had nine assists, but it was Monta Ellis getting and staying hot that saved the Mavericks offense.

Dallas was coming off blowout losses at Portland and Golden State, and the Mavericks will hope to get well back home against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder this week.

They were 19-8 before trading a first-round pick and other minor assets to Boston to rent Rondo, a free agent at season's end. The Mavericks are 18-13 with Rondo, discounting the six games he missed with facial fractures and the game in which he was suspended.

Other injuries and ailments contributed to Dallas' slippage, but the bottom line is that this is a flawed team that Cuban has tried to prop up into a contender before Nowitzki is done. The house of cards is tenuous, built on the league's worst rebounding percentage, per NBA.com. The idea was that Rondo would give the offense an alternate way to create shots while perking up the defense.

But just as Boston realized in embracing Brad Stevens' preferred ball-sharing style when Rondo would sit out, Dallas feels more like a team with its old tempo. Carlisle is asking for more easy baskets to come from having Rondo, as he is a master at improv, but the Mavs had all of three fast-break points against a Lakers team that regularly sends two bigs to crash the offensive glass.

Carlisle has put in sets that Rondo is more used to running for himself, and it would seem the coach is trying to get him to believe he'll get his chances in late-game pick-and-roll alignments with Nowitzki. Yet the more the Mavericks keep trying to help Rondo, the more you start to wonder if it's even worth it.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 8: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Dallas Mavericks shoots against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, us
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Rondo is a tough cookie who is undeniably sharp with passing angles, but this isn't some college scouting report about a prospect with a shaky jumper. This is a guy in his ninth NBA season shooting 31.7 percent on free throws—and besides the wonky jumper producing 33.2 percent on mid-range shots, via NBA.com, he's also shooting 34.1 percent on shots just outside the restricted area of the paint as he rushes to flip the ball up before anyone can foul him.

Rondo did hit two late-game shots Sunday night when the Lakers left him alone—first a 17-footer with four minutes, 13 seconds to play for a 92-90 Dallas lead, the kind of shot Kobe Bryant watched from the opposing bench and had to make him ponder whether Rondo is a winner who rises up when it matters most.

Except the second jumper Rondo hit was a 19-footer with 2:41 left for a 95-90 Dallas lead...and it accidentally banked in because that's just what happens with how weirdly, and heavily, the ball can come out from Rondo's palm at any time.

When Rondo was at his best in Boston, it was with veteran shot-makers around him that opponents didn't want to leave. During those days, he got to handle the ball to such an extent that a lot of guys in his shoes could have led the league in assists. His long arms and huge hands helped him to those triple-doubles that got him noticed, but let's be honest: It was a truly rare opportunity.

It's hard to envision any team could offer him such a perfect storm again, which is why it's easy to believe Rondo is simply overrated now.

With the Mavericks, Rondo has yet to find a rhythm in directing their offense or for his own game.
With the Mavericks, Rondo has yet to find a rhythm in directing their offense or for his own game.Danny Bollinger/Getty Images

All those tough-minded and daring characteristics that Rondo has that his friend Bryant admires, they do matter. However, superstars start with the basketball skills. Cuban and others, such as Lakers vice president Jim Buss, believed to be fond of Rondo, can't get so caught up in the past as they determine just what Rondo is worth to them in the future.

Rondo is 29 and just 6'1" in the first place. He doesn't have the same athleticism (or desire to defend) that he did before his Jan. 2013 ACL tear. He is a mind-bogglingly bad shooter.

In a league where good point guards are everywhere, it's far better business to invest your precious dollars elsewhere.

The problem with targeting that money for Rondo isn't that a team would have to pay for his brazenness. It's that he doesn't have the game to back it up.

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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