clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A Rondo Reckoning

New, comments

The Rondo trade has brought the Mavericks to a huge, franchise altering crossroads that very well might affect how you think about basketball for years. My message: lets keep talking about the Rondo trade.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

First things first: I haven't written anything here for a while, in part because I'm busy doing things that I actually get paid for, but also because I have aggressively not wanted to write anything about the Mavericks. As of the last three and a half weeks, I've found the Mavericks wildly unpleasant, I've found thinking about them to be distasteful, and I've found writing about them to be too difficult.

My distaste is all about Rajon Rondo. This article is about Rajon Rondo. Hell, this team is about Rajon Rondo at this point. When I've talked about the games online I get constant responses telling me that "the trade is over, stop talking about it." We've had people comment on the site to that extent. Hell, other Mavs writers have said we need to stop talking about Rondo.

I can't stop talking about Rondo, though, and I don't think you can either. For one, the Rondo move was a franchise-altering trade. It's going to have implications and trickle down effects that will change the team's direction for years, and it's probably going to be remembered as the first major move to affect the post-Dirk years.

That's not to mention that the way in which the trade has improved or not improved the team is a nuanced, difficult question to answer that takes a lot of discussion. It will be, and should be, discussed for years. That's how this goes. Sorry if you're tired of it, but we'll be learning more about this team and the team's decision making pretty constantly as time goes on, and that's worth recapping.

But trade implications aside we've come to a crossroads. If you're a Mavs fan, how you come to feel about Rajon Rondo will probably define how you feel about the game of basketball, and whether you want to talk about it or not.

Look, I don't really like this team very much anymore. There. I've said it. Not to say I'm not a fan -- god knows I can't help that anymore -- but I find the idea of watching them pretty repulsive. The only games they've played with Rondo that were fun to me were the first game against San Antonio and the Memphis win. They've won far more than that, but those were the only pleasant games to watch.

And that's the thing, when I say that I "don't really like this team," everyone assumes that what I mean is "I don't think this team is good anymore" and that's not true. I think they're very good. More specifically, I think that immediately before Rondo's injury the team was marginally worse for the trade but long term they'll be distinctly better. My argument for that is complicated, long, and nuanced, as it probably should be because the team dynamics are complicated. But my argument doesn't matter. What matters is that even if this team is a title contender, I don't care. I don't like it one bit. The team could go to the Finals but if they're playing like this still, I would still unhappy.

My dislike doesn't even have to do with, "well the offense is worse." It is objectively worse, but the offense is still very good, and anyone who watches non-Mavericks teams as often as I do can see that clearly. It's not that the offense is bad, or that the defense makes games into "grind it out" affairs because it doesn't and they aren't.

It's just the team is kind of gross. They do stupid things as often as they do things well. The offense is built on players like Monta, Dirk, and Parsons whose best skill is doing creative, smart things when one-on-one to create a shot.

The play calls are the same as they were pre-trade, but defenses can stop them more often and the offense frequently resorts to Monta, Dirk, or CP scoring on a broken play or tertiary play. That's fine for building a solid-to-very-good offense, because the plays are still successful a fine amount of the time, and these players are exceptionally good at creating shots. But...it's not pleasant.

The plays are sluggish now, too, and they require way too much precision to work in minimal spacing. The team is slower, and plays are shorter as a result. Rondo is electrifying for one out of every 10 plays and for the others he's unbearable to watch otherwise, even when he's effective. Dirk's struggles aren't helping, but you'd have to wonder how much better he'd be doing if Rondo's man wasn't so happy to leave him in the corner that he's running to the elbow to double the German.

The bench is an utter disaster, and it's full of players who struggle with decision making, making bench units unpredictable and unbearably chaotic and insane. The only consistently smart bench player (Powell) is riding the pine behind Charlier Villanueva right now. Aminu would qualify, but his shooting is so unreliable it's just as chaotic and frustrating as everyone else, and it's certainly ugly.

I want to be very clear: this team is good. They might be title contenders, very seriously. The offense is great. Dirk is not struggling because of Rondo; that would be the hottest of hot takes. The trade (probably) was a good basketball decision. I just also find it personally, abjectly, aesthetically awful, and I know that I'm not the only one. It's not about the team being "good." It's about the team being fun, for me.

Here's the thing: what you make of this team and this trade is referendum on what you value about basketball. I don't hold it against anyone who loves the trade, and I would hope that people who are pro-trade won't hold my position against me, because it just turns out we value different parts of the sport. I think the conversation has been so difficult and so distasteful in part because people haven't been able to figure out that everyone has a different value system here.

I think Rondo's so interesting because thinking about him forces us to think about what basketball is at its heart, and there aren't many players who bring with them such a reckoning, but Rondo does.

Some of us value the competitiveness, for some winning and losing is secondary. All of us are made to choose, now. Basketball is fundamentally people trying to put a round thing in another round thing under a set of super arbitrary rules thrown together so that people can test their relative athletic skills. We make a lot out of it, but what we make out of it is up each of us individually. It's certainly not inherent to the game.

Some of us value the competitiveness, the "winner take all" spirit of it, and the proof of superiority. There's more to it than that, but generally that's what people like to take out of it, and that crowd is going to generally be pro-Rondo trade, I think. If it makes the Mavs better, if it makes them more likely to win, it's better.

I am starting to realize that I don't think I'm one of those people. I watch for the feats of athleticism, for the insanely expressive displays of exaggerated humanity, and for the geometric, borderline mathematical art of a well executed offense. I watch for the power struggles, the gorgeous leveraging of small advantages until they compound into large advantages, and the complicated interweaving of objectives and expectations that makes the offense-defense struggle so fascinating. Winning and losing is secondary.

Rarely is a potential championship team also boring to me, because it's rare for a team to play that well and also not be able to execute in a manner akin to art. Rondo's Celtics were kind of like that, though, Doc's out of timeout plays and Garnett's defense excepted. Rondo, it seems, is the building block upon which an unpleasant contender is built. He makes us reconsider our values.

Most of you will probably end up arguing about how good this team is, and whether my sense that Dallas "might be a title contender" is accurate, and that's fine. For someone who doesn't share my feelings about the aesthetics, this whole article isn't going to make a lot of sense. If they can even potentially make it to the Finals, what's there to complain about?

But that's just it. I've learned that there's still a really big something to complain about if they're good, but boring. Some of you have learned that the emotions are all in the results. But how we all feel about sports are complicated, and sometimes those emotions are separate from analytic reasoning and sometimes they aren't, and navigating that minefield is surprisingly complicated.

Still, all of us are made to choose, now. That's what Rondo has done. What he does.

So I'll end with a request: for those who are overwhelmingly in favor of the trade, please leave those of us who are not alone. Let us be sad. It's not a matter of the team being worse; it's a matter of us enjoying it less, and that's worth being sad about, I think.

For those who are sad about the trade, try not to turn it into an argument about whether or not the trade should have happened. There are questions about whether or not the trade was ultimately good idea, but being sad and angry about the aesthetic state of team is not a great way to start those conversations, and will only make people irritated. Try and remember that some people are just hopeful, and that's a wonderful thing.

But last of all, let's not stop talking about it. There's a lot to talk about, after all.