Rajon Rondo is Team USA's final cut, but why?


Thumbnail image for rondo_team_usa.jpgTeam USA officially announced its 12-man roster this afternoon, and Rajon Rondo is not on it. That much we know for sure, but from there, everything starts to get a bit fuzzy.

Rondo saw the writing on the wall with regard to his benching in Sunday’s exhibition game against Spain, but Jerry Colangelo’s explanation for Rondo’s exclusion has little to do with basketball or on-court fit:

“Rajon came to us and said
he was going to withdraw from the team, that he had some family matters
to attend to and some things to take care of before the NBA season. He
did an outstanding job during our training, we appreciate the effort
and commitment he made to our program and he completely has our

That could very well be true. Or it could be Colangelo covering for his decision, which as ESPN’s Henry Abbott pointed out on Twitter, wouldn’t be anything new. The best way to determine the truth is to wait and gauge Rondo’s reaction to the situation. If Rondo really does need to attend to family matters, wash his hair, and return some video tapes, then there shouldn’t be any hard feelings between him and the Team USA brass. But if Mike Krzyzewski, Jerry Colangelo, and the Team USA staff opted to actually cut Rondo rather than finalize their roster by his withdrawal, it’s safe to say that Rondo may respond differently.

Taking Rondo’s earlier comments into account, my money says Rondo was actually cut from the roster. If he really planned to withdraw from roster contention, why would he claim to be on the bubble for making the roster in the first place?

Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports also cites a source claiming that the players of Team USA were shocked by Rondo’s cut. Teammates that, as Spears’ source notes, Rondo had a good relationship with. Why would they be shocked if Rondo’s departure was planned? We’re entering A Few Good Men territory here: Rondo was leaving for the rest of his life, and he hadn’t called a soul and he hadn’t packed a thing. Can you explain that?

Rondo was cut because Colangelo and Coach K want shooters, and now they’ll have them. Eric Gordon, Stephen Curry, and Danny Granger will all head to Turkey because Rondo will not. That said, even if you subscribe to K and Colangelo’s “shooters above all” mantra, is Rondo really the logical cut over, say, Russell Westbrook? Is it really so easy to overlook the most dominant point guard of the NBA playoffs, and one of Team USA’s most skilled perimeter defenders?

Apparently. One of the guards had to go, and Rondo’s lack of a consistent shooting stroke came to be his end. Still, it’s remarkable just how far Rondo has fallen in the last two weeks — not in terms of play, but in his standing with the Team USA brass — as the one-time leader and starter on this team now finds himself the odd man out.

James Harden: “I am the best player in the league. I believe that.”

James Harden, Stephen Curry
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James Harden was the MVP last season — if you ask his fellow NBA players.

The traditional award (based on a media vote) went to Stephen Curry (in the closest vote in four years), and that was the right call (in my mind). But from the time it happened Harden did not buy it. And he still doesn’t buy it. In the least — and he’s using that as fuel for this season. That’s what he told Fran Blinebury over at NBA.com.

“I am the best player in the league. I believe that,” he said. “I thought I was last year, too.”

Well, it’s a more realistic claim than Paul George’s.

“But that award means most valuable to your team. We finished second in the West, which nobody thought we were going to do at the beginning of the year even when everybody was healthy. We were near the top in having the most injuries. We won our division in a division where every single team made the playoffs.

“There’s so many factors. I led the league in total points scored, minutes played. Like I said, I’m not taking anything away from Steph, but I felt I deserved the Most Valuable Player. That stays with me.”

That’s very Kobe Bryant of you to turn that into fuel. Defining the MVP Award is an annual discussion that nobody agrees on.

I could get into how Harden was the old-school, traditional stats MVP, how that ignores how Steve Kerr used Curry, and how that opened up the Warriors’ offense to championship levels. Curry put up numbers, but he was also the distraction, the bright star that Kerr used to open up looks for Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and others. Curry’s strength was not just what he did with the ball in his hands, but his gravity to draw defenders even when he didn’t. Did the Warriors stay healthier than the Rockets? No doubt. Should Curry be penalized for that?

It’s simple for Harden — if he can put up those numbers again, if he can be the fulcrum of a top offense, he will be in the discussion for MVP again. And, if he can lead the Rockets beyond the conference finals, nobody will talk about that MVP snub anyway.