The Rondo honeymoon is over in Dallas but he remains their biggest x-factor

When the Dallas Mavericks traded for Rajon Rondo they believed they had found the missing piece in a puzzle for their starting lineup by addressing their greatest weakness, the point guard position.

Jameer Nelson was simply not the answer for a Mavs team that struggled mightily defending elite point guards such as Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. So the Mavs decided they were all in on giving Dirk Nowitzki the best supporting cast possible during his twilight years and pulled the trigger on the former All-Star point guard. Dallas wasn’t  concerned with his limited jump-shot ability nor his reputation as a ball-stopper and felt that his court vision and reputation as an elite defensive player would be more than worth the price and make them a more balanced team. Now the numbers back up the more balanced part as the Mavericks have gone from posting a 113.6 offensive rating without Rondo to a 105.1 rating with him. On the flip side the Mavs have gone better defensively with Rondo going from an approximate 104 defensive rating without Rondo to a 100 rating with him.

While the numbers suggest a negative net rating after the Rondo trade there’s been evidence of good play from the Mavericks with the 4-time All-Star. In late December the Mavs picked up two impressive wins, one over the Washington Wizards and another against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Rondo helped limit John Wall to 11 points, 6 points below his season average and Russell Westbrook to shoot 6-of-23 from the floor for a total of just 18 points. That’s pretty impressive against two All-Stars and a potential candidate for MVP. Rondo also provided key jump shots down the stretch against the Memphis Grizzlies on MLK day as the Mavs picked up their first win against an elite Western Conference opponent.

Since then there haven’t been too many shining moments for the Mavs point guard as January brought a roller coaster of ups and downs for the entire Mavericks team as they went through a season-high 4 game losing streak and eventually lost Rondo due to injury. The injury was devastating for the mere fact that it further disrupted the Mavs timing and chemistry with Rondo.

Regardless of what some fans may believe chemistry is not something that can be easily established in the middle of the season and it’s the reason why the Mavs pulled the trigger on this trade in December rather than in February. To make matters worse Rondo has been sub-par in his four games coming back from the injury and it’s actually been backup point guard Devin Harris who has been the better of the two. Rondo has a -4.5 +/- while Harris has recorded a 5.8 +/- and has outplayed Rondo on both ends of the floor. Harris’ offensive rating is 15 points higher than Rondo’s (105 to 90) and 6 points better on defense as well (91.5 to 97.8).

Rondo hasn’t forgotten how to play the game of basketball but for whatever the reason Rondo has been at his worst the last few games and no moment was worse than his altercation with head coach Rick Carlisle Tuesday, February 24, night. Not only was it caught on camera but it was reported to have spilled over to the locker room after the game was over.

Now altercations between coaches and players happen all the time and Carlisle is known to butt heads with his point guards in the past. Carlisle is known for being firm when it comes to calling plays and the system that he runs and is a large part why him Jason Kidd had their spats a few years ago. Rondo is no exception, he’s strongly opinionated himself and his resume speaks for himself as one of the great floor generals in the league and an NBA champion in his own right.

What makes this altercation speak so loudly is that Rondo is in a contract year and looking for a long-term deal this summer and being known as a headache for coaches is nothing to gloss over. Rondo is only hurting himself if he’s not buying into Carlisle’s system both on and off the court.

Rondo has been largely inconsistent in his time with Dallas but despite all of his up and downs he remains the X-factor for the Mavericks in their quest for a second championship. The player the Mavs need is the Rajon Rondo who was a lockdown defender and had a nastiness about the way he handled himself on defense. The player that distributed the ball like a magician on the court and attacked the basket like a bulldozer running over a brick wall. Rick Carlisle knows this too as he said before the Mavs game against the Atlanta Hawks that Rondo remains a large part of what they’re trying to accomplish this year.

Now if Rondo can no longer physically be that player that he was once or that the Mavs thought they were getting then that’s a completely different issue. The Mavs won’t try to re-sign him in the offseason and they’ll simply move on. However, if the Mavericks feel he can’t give them the type of play he needs then they’re in serious trouble come playoff time as they go up the likes of Steph Curry, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook. Dallas will be able to win with Devin Harris as their best point guard, maybe one or even two series if things go their way, but they’re not making it to the Finals if Rondo isn’t playing at a high level. The Mavs gave up nearly 60 points against Steph Curry earlier this month when they visited the Warriors and allowed Westbrook to shine like an MVP when they visited the Thunder. That was without Rondo and without a sub-par Rondo that showed a great deal of how much the Mavs need a Rondo playing at a high level.

Carlisle and the Mavs need Rondo, otherwise they wouldn’t have traded for him nor continuously roll him out there with the starting lineup. His teammates and coaches have constantly expressed just how important he is to this Mavericks team success as a unit. At the same time Rondo needs the Mavericks just as much to prove to the basketball world that he is still one of the elite point guards in the NBA. Maybe that’ll be the case come playoff time where Rondo is known to shine the brightest, time will tell.