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.