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

NBA Notes: League seems to be on upward surge in interest and ratings


NBA Notes: League seems to be on upward surge in interest and ratings

For so many years the NFL has had an almost impenetrable veneer in the way it has successfully pivoted away from a myriad of scandals that would have at the very least delivered a significant, noticeable blow to most professional leagues.

But that Teflon-tough image has taken a whacking of late with the league dealing with what has been for the most part an across-the-board ratings dip in its programming.

The NFL’s slide comes at a time when the NBA seems to be on a upward surge in terms of interest and ratings.

Kevin Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City and play for Golden State is a needle-mover across the NBA landscape. LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking to defend their NBA title – a phrase no one thought they would ever hear even when James signed on for a second tour of duty – will certainly generate tons of interest.

The Boston Celtics added Al Horford to a team that many believe will be among Cleveland’s stiffest challengers, in addition to being a team that has played Golden State as well as anyone the last couple of years.

There are many hands responsible for the NBA having such a strong position on the professional sports landscape, chief among them being former commissioner David Stern.

He was in town last week as part of the Shamrock Foundation’s annual Gala.

Stern gave a rundown of what he’s been up to since passing the commissioner’s torch to Adam Silver.

He said he has been a senior advisor to a venture capital firm, counsels several start-up companies and of course a senior advisor to the NBA.

But it’s what he’s not doing – negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the player’s union – that seemed to bring him the most joy.

“That’s when I got the least amount of sleep,” quipped Stern.

But those sleep-deprived marathon sessions with owners and union leaders, have helped bring the league to where it is today – thriving with its players and the profits both seem to be reaping.

That’s why the reports of the NBA and the player’s union being close to coming to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, make a lot of sense. The NBA or the player’s union can opt-out of the current CBA prior to Dec. 15, although that’s looking less likely to happen because of what should be a new deal that better reflects the economic changes that currently exist in the NBA.

This past summer saw the salary cap in the NBA balloon to $94.14 million after having been $70 million for the 2015-2016 season.

With both NBA players and owners profiting significantly from the new TV deal, most of the changes to come about (paying players on the rookie scale more money; increasing the dollar amounts for veteran’s minimum and team exception contracts) are just common sense rule changes that have both sides closer to getting something done sooner rather than later.

And while he’s not directly involved in any of the current dealings, what he accomplished prior to retiring as commissioner certainly laid the groundwork for what appears to be a relatively smooth negotiation period.

“I didn’t project anything other than I was leaving it in the most spectacular of hands with an All-Star executive cast and they would just do what’s right for the league and they have,” Stern said.

And as far as the current talks that have reportedly been ongoing for months, Stern understands all too well that the last CBA talks which led to a shortened, 66-game season led to changes that has both players and owners feeling better about current negotiations.

“I’m proud to say the league has gotten to a very good place in terms of the player’s share, the owner’s share and where they can all see this is something that pays to keep going,” Stern said. “It’s fun to watch from a distance and not be involved.”



So much for that logjam in the frontcourt for the Philadelphia 76ers. The latest big man to go down with an injury is Nerlens Noel who recently had “minor” surgery on his left knee that will sideline him for reportedly three-to-five weeks. Keep in mind that the Everett, Mass. native missed his entire rookie season following left knee surgery, although the Sixers indicate this was an arthroscopic procedure and is considered minor. He joins No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons who suffered a foot injury that’s expected to keep him out until at least January. That means a lot of the trade rumors involving Noel (and Jahlil Okafor to a certain extent too) should cool off for a little bit.



Signing with Toronto during the offseason was supposed to be Jared Sullinger's chance at a fresh start. Unfortunately for him, things are looking a lot like they did in his early days in Boston. Concerns about his back dropped his draft-day stock from a likely lottery (top-14) pick, to falling in the Celtics' lap at No. 21. During his rookie season, he played well but had to have season-ending back surgery. With the Raptors, it appears he will miss some time early on due to a foot injury that occurred in the team's first preseason game which has kept him out of action ever since.  

“May be a little while before he comes back,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told reporters recently. “He may get checked out just to see what else is going on.”

Sullinger’s weight was an issue during his time with the Celtics. It’s unclear what impact if any, it had on his current injury or whether it’s a factor in the injury keeping him out indefinitely. 



We have seen Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) in lots of different basketball roles from hitting big shots to just hitting people.

But as a coach? That is reportedly being discussed by the Los Angeles Lakers brass as they try to trim their training camp roster down to 15 players.

MWP is likely on the outside of the 15-man roster now, but the Lakers still want him to be part of the organization. While it may seem a bit of a stretch at first, he does bring a wealth of basketball experience to the table, a player how has seen the highs and lows of the game in a way few players can fully understand or speak about with a great amount of credibility.



The LaMarcus Aldridge trade talk will be one of the storylines this NBA season. The Boston Celtics will continue to be discussed as a possibility, but the team to watch is the Phoenix Suns. They came close to convincing him when he left Portland for San Antonio. Phoenix provides him a team that can be built around him (which he wants), lots of shots (which he wants) and a team with no pressure on his back to lead them to major success (yup, he wants that too). … Michael Carter Williams’ stock seems to continue to tumble after winning the league’s rookie of the Year award. He’s going into his fourth season and he’s already on to his third team. … Multiple league executives believe Devin Booker is the best 20-and-under player in the NBA right now. He's good, but I'd probably take Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns.

Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision


Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision

WALTHAM, Mass. – Just like Avery Bradley comes back each season with a new element in his basketball tool box, defenses have adapted to some degree to try and counter whatever Bradley is doing a better job at.

Before it was take away the mid-range shot and make him a 3-point shooter. Now it’s run him off the 3-point line by closing out hard and fast against him.

Well, running him off the 3-point line is actually playing into the hands of two areas of Bradley’s game that have seen significant growth during the offseason: ball-handling and court vision.

Bradley’s improvement in those areas has been evident in the preseason, something the seventh-year guard hopes to continue in the regular season opener on Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets.

“I worked on my ball-handling a lot,” Bradley said. “Instead of doing all the Kyrie (Irving) stuff that trainers have people do, I tried to focus on just one or two moves, just perfecting a few moves that I can put into my game.”

What we’ve seen from Bradley is better sense of when to attack players with his ball-handling and when to use it as a set-up to get his teammates good shots.

He attributes both to the work he has put in and just becoming an older, more wiser player on the floor.

“I’m able to make plays for my teammates because I’m a lot more confident in my ball-handling, in my play-making and my decision-making," said the 25-year-old Bradley. "I feel a lot more comfortable out there.”

While it may not seem like that big a deal that Bradley’s putting the ball on the floor more and attacking off the dribble, it’s actually really important for this Celtics team.

With Bradley now looking to attack off the dribble more, that means that the Celtics now have a starting five – Isaiah Thomas, Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford – with each player comfortable and confident in their ability to take most defenders and their respective positions, off the dribble.

That makes Boston a significantly better team offensively in terms of being highly unpredictable and to a larger degree, tougher to contain.

“He’s a great defender, one of the best in the NBA,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told “But people sleep on his offensive game. He can hit the corner 3s, wing 3s, pull-up jumpers … he can pretty much do it all out there. Now that he’s looking to get to the rim more, that just makes him and our team really, much better.”

Indeed, Bradley sounds as though he plans to continue probing different ways to generate points for the Celtics.

One approach he’ll surely take is to do a better job of taking advantage of the mistakes defenses make against him, like players who try and chase him off the 3-point line.

“Me being  a better 3-point shooter should challenge me to think the game a little more,” he said. “If it’s drawing fouls … I know I should be drawing more fouls from the 3-point line. There are times when people are just running out of control at me at the 3-point line. I have to be smarter.”

Bradley added, “I worked on that this summer. It’s translated in practice, so now it needs to translate in games.”