Rondo goes cold Turkey on Team USA


Rondo goes cold Turkey on Team USA

By Rich Levine

It's one day after the announcement, and everybody and their mother's father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate has a theory on why Rajon Rondo suddenly went cold Turkey on Team USA.

He left to take care of a family matter. He left to save face. He left because he never wanted to be there in the first place. He left to be stateside for the birth of Big Baby's baby.

They're all out there (OK, maybe not the Big Baby one), and at some point, we'll find which is the real deal. Maybe it's next week, maybe it's next month, but the details will eventually make their way through NBA grapevine. And then we'll react accordingly. Until then? We just don't know.

But for all the speculation, there's one aspect of the story that appears somewhat clear. Whether or not this played into Rondo's decision is still up for debate, but the fact remains:

On the day he left Greece, Rondo wasn't a lock to make the team.

Of course, it wasn't always like this. Once he officially decided to join Team USA, you would have thought Rondo was a too-intense, scrawny white guy with the way cruised to the top of Coach K's depth chart. By the time the U.S. traveled to Greece for one final test drive, Rondo had already cracked the starting lineup and at that point we just assumed he'd take over the squad, the same way he did the 2010 Celtics. A dominating performance in Turkey seemed like a natural step in his rise to superstardom.

We knew there was that little issue of his jumper, and that if you're coaching on the international level, smooth shooters are second only to a passport on your list of priorities. But you know what else is important?

A first team All-NBA defender who can take over a game without shooting the ball, run longer than a Red SoxYankees game, and, if he's in the mood, drop a 291813 triple double.

Rondo's like a Victoria Secret model with six toes. Yeah, you could nitpick, but is it really worth it? The jumper needed to get better (and the foul shots REALLY needed to get better) but he was already the best player on the league's second-best team. That was good enough for now.

And, anyway, would it really kill Team USA to have one guard who couldn't shoot? How about when that guard doubled as the team's best playmaker and top perimeter defender?

Point is, per usual, we knew the jumper would be a topic of discussion, and per usual, we just assumed Rondo would overcome. Was he ready for international ball? Damned straight. After last year, the guy looked ready for the intergalactic league. Who cared where the game was being played it was still basketball and he was still Rajon Rondo. Case closed.

Which brings us back to Greece, the team's final tuneup before touching down in Turkey.

First came Rondo's poor performance (two points, one assist, four turnovers) against Lithuania, followed by his DNP-CD against Spain. Speaking to ESPN's Chris Sheridan after the game, Rondo said: "I think I'm on the bubble. Just looking at the obvious." And then the obvious" was injected with a vat of collagen and thrown under a spotlight when Coach K said this:

"It's not so much what Rajon has to show, it's what our team needs. We've found a good lineup, and the international game is so different from the NBA game, you can ask any of these guys. Part of it is to make sure that we try not to have two non-shooters out on the court, and there's the physicality, too."

Suddenly, the writing was on the wall, and you didn't need KG's wingspan to reach a conclusion.

Rondo was in trouble.

And then he was gone.

The truth about whether or not Rondo would have ultimately made the cut is still working its way through the grapevine, but his spot on the bubble is and was obvious. Look at Coach K's words again. That's not something you say about a guy who you're confident is about to lead your team in to battle against the rest of the world; that's a list of potential excuses. And as someone who's watched just about every minute of Rondo's career, Coach K's words were pretty shocking.

Again, not that he questioned Rondo's jumper or worried about his ability to handle the physicality of the international game, but that those things mattered enough to override all those intangibles and send the guy packing.

It's the fact that someone was assembling a team of NBA players and didn't have access to Chris Paul, Deron Williams or Steve Nash and still wasn't sure if Rajon Rondo was a good fit.

But then again, at the heart, I guess nothing about Rondo and Team USA ever really felt like a good fit. That's not a challenge to his patriotism, but just a fair observation. It's the vibe we got from the very moment the two parties got together.

That somehow, this wasn't going to work out.

And for now, through all the questions and speculation, the only thing we can be sure of is that it didn't.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

WATCH: Celtics vs. Bucks

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Celtics-Bucks preview: C's preferred starting five making an impact

Celtics-Bucks preview: C's preferred starting five making an impact

BOSTON – It took Brad Stevens about eight minutes to realize his starters worked well together.

That’s how long they were on the floor to start Boston’s first preseason game back in October, opening the season with a 23-9 run against Philadelphia.

Now the rest of the NBA basketball world is starting to take notice with the Celtics (48-26) holding down the best record in the Eastern Conference with a chance to add to that tonight against the hard-charging Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks (38-36), coming off a 118-108 win at Charlotte on Tuesday, have won 12 of their last 15 games.

Boston is well aware that Milwaukee is playing some of its best basketball at the moment, led by all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the Celtics, that doesn’t matter.

Regardless of where they are in the Eastern Conference pecking order or who they play, the number one priority for them at this point is to continue playing good basketball.

“Every team in the NBA should want to be the best team in the NBA,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “We’re showing that we can be if we’re playing the right kind of basketball. That’s an accomplishment, to be first in the east. We understand that. But at the same time, we understand we could lose it (tonight against Milwaukee). We have to worry about (tonight’s) game and everything will take care of itself.”

Especially if Boston’s preferred starting five – Isaiah Thomas; Bradley; Jae Crowder; Al Horford and Amir Johnson – are playing together.

Although they have only played 31 games together this season, they have reeled off an impressive 24-7 record which puts them among the best starting fives in the NBA this season.

“They really have complimented each other well,” Stevens said. “But you could see it. I remember the first exhibition game (against Philadelphia), we could all see it. Before that, the second unit had given them fits a little bit, the first couple of weeks of practice. But that subsided and I thought our guys, that starting unit has been pretty good.”

And it’s not just what they do during games, either.

Setting the tone in all phases of the game, on and off the court, is vital to both the success of the starting unit and the team as a whole.

“That’s part of it; part of us being leaders on the team,” Bradley said. “We have to bring it every single day. Shoot-around, being focused, film sessions. It’s our job to try to help the bench players focus just as much as we are. We’re a team. We all have to hold each other accountable. I feel like we’re doing a great job.”

But ultimately, every team and every unit within that team is judged on how their works contribute to winning.

And when it comes to the Celtics’ starting five, there’s little argument that they get the job done better than most of the NBA’s starting units.

So when asked why they have been so successful this season, Thomas delivered a straight-no-chaser response.

“Because we’re good; like we’re really good,” Thomas said. “That’s why it’s been so successful. When we are healthy, we know how to play with each other and guys are unselfish and know their roles. We have a really good starting lineup and when healthy, we play at a really high level. We have to continue to do that and end this season on a good note.”