RondoWorld and the limitlessness of what we don’t know

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Lost in the nonsense about officiating in a game in which a team that has averaged 97.1 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs scored 118 yet the calls were what was out of place in Game2, there’s Rajon Rondo.

Rondo is, and always has been, a complete mystery, to everyone. It’s taken years for Doc Rivers to unwrap the riddle that is motivating Rondo, years for teammates to understand how he operates. The media? Clueless. They admit it, they accept it, and the most common refrain from guys that cover the team day in and day out is “that’s Rondo, that’s just what he does.” He’ll seem polite one moment and searing the next, he’ll blow off questions, he’ll do charity events, he’s all over the place, and you’re never going to get to understand him because he has decided not to let anyone outside of his inner circle. And that’s completely his right. It’s honestly a little refreshing in the age of stars worried about their brand.

But his game brings questions, too. How can he seem so dominant the next, then so disengaged the next? Is he really the assist machine the stats say he is or is it a product of the Hall-of-Famers around him?How many of his assists are simply routine passes that result in scores as a result of a simple, but brutally effective system utilizing veterans who know how to replicate their success at an 80 percent effectiveness rate?

Is Rajon Rondo the best point guard in the league? Is Rajon Rondo the worst great point guard in the league?

Wednesday night answered none of these questions. But it did provide a glimpse at a world beyond the Big 3, beyond the grind-it-out fight club this Celtics team has to make every game in order to hang. It showed a Rondo that sports fans can dream about, untethered from having to find shots for players that can’t get up and down the floor, no longer having to defer to other players. A Rondo who is free to do what he wants. And a Rondo that can hit a jumper.

Rondo will always look back fondly on this run with the Big 3. What he learned from Kevin Garnett, about how to shut out the media and siphon his energy into his play. What Pierce taught him about leadership and taking charge of a game. What Ray Allen taught him about work ethic and execution. But there’s also a future ahead of Rondo. His career is just getting started.

Some believe that Rondo will crumple once this safety net is gone. Once Kevin Garnett is reflecting in California and Doc Rivers is enjoying life in his home in Florida. When Rondo is on his own, surrounded by players that can’t dominate, that can’t punish. There’s an idea that he’ll turn back into a pumpkin, that he’ll be just another temperamental guard who once was great when surrounded by greatness.

To that I ask, “Are you nuts?”

Rondo’s game Wednesday night is not the perfect game to measure him by. To be honest, he hit the jumpshot better than he may ever hit it again. (Note: Rondo has improved considerably in the past two years at the mid-range jumpshot. He’s just not that good.) But his control of the game is. He knew when to jet past the defender and slip to the rim. He knew when to freeze on the drive, post, pump-fake, and kick out. He knew how to find easy buckets, how to find open looks, how to get past what is honestly one of the best defenses in the league. That is not some “product of the system” crew he got past with speed. It’s a smart, tough, hyper-athletic, hulking monster crew of defenders that attack relentlessly.

And Rondo shredded them.

44 points on 24 shots, 10 of 12 from the line, eight rebounds, ten assists, three steals, three turnovers.

31.7% Usage rate. .751 TS%, 41.7% Assist rate.

Mastery of basketball. Total and complete mastery.

Boston lost, despite this performance, and that’s a whole other conversation (or screaming rant if you choose to break it down to one missed foul on Dwyane Wade). But the fact it was in a loss almost makes it more epic. It shows you what was needed from him. That there was no way Rondo could have done less and Boston could have survived. He showed what could be for his future, what a future in Rondoworld looks like. It’s like some sort of mixture of “Cool World” and a post-apocalyptic arena like “Mad Max” or the video from “California Love.” It’s a world where Rondo’s singular hatred of everything in his way is translated into accuracy and brutality, where a cerebral player that can’t control his emotions uses that energy to outwork, out-execute, and out-perform whatever is in his way.

It makes you wonder what it would be like if he had athletes around him, if he could run, if he wasn’t trying to drag the game into the mud so his teammates could get a stranglehold on the opponent. And this way? It’s going to win more often. We’ve seen that. That’s proven.

But the future of Rondoworld? It’s still enough for you to marvel at. The future is now, and it’s amazing.

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?

Kendall Marshall, Marshall Plumlee headline Team USA’s AmeriCup roster

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AmeriCup, previously called the FIBA Americas Championship, lost its luster when FIBA decided the continental tournament wouldn’t double as World Cup qualifying.

But the U.S. is still sending a team, coached by Jeff Van Gundy. The roster (team last season):

  • Billy Baron (UCAM Murcia, Spain)
  • Alec Brown (Windy City Bulls)
  • Larry Drew II (Sioux Falls Skyforce)
  • Reggie Hearn (Reno Bighorns)
  • Darrun Hilliard (Detroit Pistons)
  • Jonathan Holmes (Canton Charge);
  • Kendall Marshall (Reno Bighorns)
  • Xavier Munford (Greensboro Swarm)
  • Marshall Plumlee (New York Knicks)
  • Jameel Warney (Texas Legends)
  • C.J. Williams (Texas Legends)
  • Reggie Williams (Oklahoma City Blue)

The Americans should still be favored, though obviously not as overwhelming as they’d be with NBA players, in a field also comprised of Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Uruguay, Panama and U.S. Virgin Islands.

This will be a good benchmark, as the U.S. might take a similar roster into World Cup qualifying.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.