CATO: Oh boy, Jason. Last night, I heard the words 'coach's decision' more times than the rest of my life put together. Let's set the scene: Rajon Rondo didn't play the final 5:11 while the rest of the starters tried (and failed) to come back against the Bulls. Despite a barrage of questions, Carlisle wouldn't give us anything. Like, if you don't believe, here's a quoteboard.
But press conference fireworks aside, what the hell are we suppose to think of this? I'm so conflicted.
GALLAGHER: Hurray for controversy! Let's talk pure basketball and get into the press conference stuff later. First, we need to get something out of the way before we dive into this thing.
None of this is exaggerated at all: Rick Carlisle is a coaching deity who's brain should be preserved for the safety of future generations to come. He is a wizard that I would trust to make all the important decisions in my own life and my son's life. RC is a master tinkerer who should be allowed to make 10,000 mistakes before anyone ever questions his brilliance.
All that being said, tinkering usually involves trial and error and I firmly believe that sitting Rondo during crunch time is one of those rare Rick Carlisle 'errors'. For me, this is solely based on #basketballreasons. They traded for Rondo to get defense. Last night they needed defense.
I don't think Rondo is a player you 'tinker' with and that's NOT because of what it could potentially lead to during free agency. I'm saying that strictly based on how he plays during crunch time. This isn't O.J. Mayo, who hasn't proved himself enough. Rondo has shown throughout his career that he is waaaay too good to be sitting out at the ends of games. The Mavs spent the closing minutes of last night's game playing from behind. You could argue that they needed offense, but let's be real... the key to every great comeback is defensive stops. During that championship run, the Mavs kept producing some amazing comebacks due to some feisty defense (and a pretty German man with shots like heaven).
Devin Harris is a fine defender but he's no crunch-time Rondo. There are a lot of reasons for this but the biggest reason is ... well ... it's kind of the elephant in the room.
Rondo has the kind of respect from refs that allow him to body guys up -- the same way Jason Kidd did during crunch time. That's something that doesn't get touched on enough because it's immensely awkward (especially if you're a die-hard NBA apologist). The truth is, part of what makes Rondo so damn effective is that he can hound these guards and get away with it and Devin can't. It's the kind of defense that makes fans of the opposing teams scream 'FOUL!' or 'HE'S ALL OVER HIM!' Guess what? Rondo IS all over him -- the same way he was all over Russ Westbrook or John Wall during crunch time a few weeks back. He's allowed to play that way and no other guard on the Mavs can.
The Mavs traded for Rondo to get that kind of tenacious defense. They knew the whole time that he shot like dog poo but thought the defense would be worth it. And the results are paying off, because Dallas now has the no. 6 defense (from no. 20) since Rondo's arrival.
All that to say, I don't know why you make that trade if he's not closing games.
This hot take was brought to you by 'HEADBANDS'. "HEADBANDS: For the love of god, don't play without them."
CATO: I'm not entrenched or hunkered down on my stance here, because there's just too many variables at play here. I also think it's incredibly, incredibly hard to view this just in terms of 'pure basketball,' simply because of how many other things we know in the back of our minds might be influencing this.
I think it was a mistake for Rick Carlisle to not go with Rondo, but I'm also going to defend Carlisle's right to make that mistake. If his gut told him to sit Rondo, as he said after the game, then I think that's what he should do, yapping media folks like us be damned. I think it's important to acknowledge that we can disagree with Carlisle's decision while appreciating that he did it, because goddamn, the way he haphazardly constructs 5-man lineups that somehow win games is just pure brilliance.
But yes, as a defender in late game situations, Rondo is the teacher's pet. He's Playoff Rondo. When he's on the floor, he's doing something to help his team win. The man probably even drinks his Gatorade on the sideline during a timeout in a way that helps his team. He's this team's 2011 Jason Kidd.
In fact, we saw Kidd get benched in a similar situation, shortly after the trade, when Avery Johnson was the head coach. The outrage against that was completely one-sided and when Carlisle signed, we thought we were past that. He isn't Avery, thank the heavens and the stars and everything in between, and he should keep sticking with his gut, because that's why we love him so. But why his gut would tell him this was the decision to make, I haven't the slightest clue.
This team's highest ceiling comes with Rondo closing games. It has to come with him closing games, because they lost a crucial cog in Brandan Wright that worsened the offense in the trade that brought Rondo here to close games. Maybe the chances of winning this game was a little higher with Harris (and note, of course, that it didn't work), but the best chances for this season is finding a way to make Rondo work.
GALLAGHER: So we're in agreement. Neither of us loved the call but we acknowledge that RC has the right to make the calls we don't like because gods can do whatever they damn-well please. Moving on.
Let's talk these "bigger implications" that seem to be the biggest cause for disagreement. Some have argued against the benching because it could push Rondo away from Dallas come summertime, while others say RC shouldn't worry about that noise and if Rondo IS mad about it, maybe that's not the kinda dude who should be wearing a Mavs uni and good riddance.
CATO: I'm going to trust Rick Carlisle knows the relationship with his players better than I do, and more importantly, that he can smooth over any hard feelings. A single game shouldn't change Rajon Rondo's mind one way or another. That's foolishness and Rondo isn't a foolish man.
Now, my question is what happens if this happens again? Technically, Rondo didn't close out a game against the Kings in a win a couple weeks back, but that was explained as Rondo's Achilles acting up and was only like 50 seconds. Do you think the decision against Chicago will have a lasting impact and do you think a second benching is something we even need to remotely consider as a possibility?
GALLAGHER: Oh, I totally think a second benching is possible. RC is crazy, man. He started Mike James for several months and got away with it.
I'm with you in thinking Rondo is probably fine with it. His response after last night was perfect, deferring to Carlisle's wisdom while making it clear that he wants to be out there on the floor.
If it happens again then take cover because conspiracies will start raining down from the heavens. For now, it's just people questioning an in-game coach's decision. Happens every day, right? If Rondo is benched again, we'll have to wonder if there's something bigger at play like trust/chemistry issues between Rondo and RC and so on. Those are things that'll drive a free agent away in a heartbeat -- not emotional coach's decisions.
For the record, there's no reason to believe any of that based on last night. I believe Carlisle tried it because he genuinely thought it was best for the team. I also believe Rondo knows it wasn't personal because he's a smart man and his name isn't Chris Kaman.
What do you think? Does RC try it again? Are the consequences too great for him to try it again? Do you think I can squeeze in any more digs at Chris Kaman? SO MANY QUESTIONS.
CATO: After he answered the final question, Rondo said/joked, "Man, you guys didn't want to talk about anything from the first 43 minutes of that game?" And while there's no doubt the big story was the benching, I get where he was coming from.
But for the previous three and a half minutes, Rondo just stood up there and just said everything right. Go pick your favorite bungled press conference of the last six months (there's at least a dozen), and it was the exact opposite. Rondo was cool and collected, deferred to Carlisle when he needed to and still gave some honest answers about how, after all he's been through in his career, this isn't nearly as big of a deal as it would have been when he was younger.
As far as his play goes, though, these are some of the concerns myself and others had when the trade went down. On offense, he almost has to have the ball in his hands to be effective, but if he dominates it, it's going against the very heartbeat of this motion and movement offense Carlisle preaches.
The Mavericks and Carlisle, of course, believe the other things he can do -- things he does very, very well! -- make up for those issues. That's why the trade was made. Does a second Rondo benching mean they were wrong to some extent? It doesn't look good for those in the organization responsible for bringing him here if it happens several more times and, if the fit is an issue, it might indicate an offseason shake up.
But now I'm getting sadder than a Chris Kaman fast break and we should reset -- we're talking worst case scenario here. More than likely, we're going to look back at this little spat (if you can even call it that) in March and chuckle at it.
Rondo and Carlisle are our Socrates and Plato of the modern basketball age and I wouldn't bet any amount of money against them being able to figure this out. This benching just kind of shows they're not quite there yet.
GALLAGHER: I think you're right about what future Rondo benchings might say about the trade itself. The first thing that comes to my mind is that it could give some credence to the rumor floating around that Carlisle wasn't for it. (Both Zach Lowe and Bill Simmons said they heard whispers that Carlisle didn't want the trade. Could've been rubbish -- who knows.)
We're both looking at worst case scenarios and that's OK because it's NBA basketball in freggin' January. What else are we going to talk about, Chris Kaman's killer nine-foot jump shot?
Truth is, the benching itself is barely a story. It's interesting to speculate and give opinions on, but that's about it. Chances are, I won't remember talking about it in a month. As long as it's not a pattern that continues, we can just chalk it up to a minor failed experiment (insert Kaman joke) -- just one of the many ups and downs of the the regular season.
You're also right about the Mavs not having it figured out yet BUT they do deserve a hell of a lot of credit for how they've adjusted on the fly. When you look around the league at other teams going through similar changes, the Mavs look pretty damn solid. Although the other teams aren't fortunate to have a champion named DWIGHT POWELL or a head coach named Rick Carlisle.
Which brings me to my final thought: The realest thing to come from this story is that Rick Carlisle has the brass balls of a tiger and that's exactly what you want in a head coach -- someone who isn't afraid to make adjustments, play Dirk at center or have a 4-foot Puerto Rican at small forward. That's what makes him great. I disagreed with a move he made on Friday, just like I've done before and will probably do again. That changes nothing about his brilliance or the level of faith I have in him.
Goodnight, Tim Cato. I cant wait to laugh at this in June when these Mavs bring home a CHAMPIONSHIP!