Less than a calendar year removed from their bubbled first-round matchup in last season’s playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks are on the cusp of running it back in the 2021 NBA Playoffs, with Game 1 tipping off this Saturday at 4:30 ET.
The Clippers, of course, won last year’s series in six games, and while many of the same faces, certainly the biggest stars, will be back — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for L.A. and Luka Doncic for Dallas (Kristaps Porzingis only half qualifies since he missed more than half the series) — both teams feature some new faces who could be difference-makers.
One of those players is 15-year veteran Rajon Rondo, who was acquired by the Clippers in a late-March trade with Atlanta for Lou Williams and who will be playing in his ninth postseason after winning his second title last season with the Lakers. (Rondo’s first ring came in 2008 with the Celtics.)
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Rondo is well-respected for his playoff expertise and leadership qualities — which is why the Clippers acquired him — but back in 2015, as the starting point guard for the Mavericks, he consistently butted heads with Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle, ultimately leading him to sign with Sacramento a mere eight months after being traded to Dallas.
But Carlisle, who is still the Mavericks head honcho, doesn’t hold a grudge against Rondo for their tumultuous season together. To the contrary, six years later Carlisle has nothing but praise for the four-time All-Star.
‘One of the Great Competitors’
Speaking this week with 105.3 The Fan’s “GBag Nation,” Carlisle named Rondo when asked if he thought there were any differences between the upcoming series and last season.
“They have Rondo,” said Carlisle, “who is really one of the great competitors in the history of the game.”
And Carlisle doubled down on his flattery later in the interview, saying: “You know, sometimes things just don’t work, but look, this guy’s one of the greatest competitors in the history of our game. He’s a Hall of Fame competitor. I don’t think anybody would deny that.”
Carlisle’s remarks about Rondo are, needless to say, surprising. After all, back in 2015, both coach and team were not exactly discreet in their disapproval.
In the third quarter of a February 2015 game against Toronto, Carlisle angrily called timeout after Rondo ignored him while walking the ball up the court. As the players headed back to the bench, Carlisle, according to the announcers, told Rondo to “sit your ass down” and a screaming match ensued. Rondo was benched for the remainder of the game and suspended one game by the team.
Later that season, during the Mavericks’ first-round 4-1 defeat to the Houston Rockets, Rondo was benched following Game 2, allegedly with a back injury, but it was later revealed to be just an excuse to get Rondo out of the lineup. A week later, Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News tweeted that Rondo’s Mavericks teammates voted to not give Rondo a share of the playoff money, citing his poor attitude.
And there was also the time when, according to ESPN’s Tim McMahon, Rondo parked in Carlisle’s parking spot and the coach tried to get it towed.
The Respect is Mutual
But despite the poor way things ended way in 2015, both Rondo and Carlisle have played nice in the years since, essentially saying that their problems were simply the product of a bad fit.
In November of 2015, Carlisle told ESPN that he didn’t “have any regrets” about the way things worked out. “With everything that happened with that whole situation, the bottom line is we fit him worse than he fit us. We were a worse fit for him than he was for us. We had a team of slashers last year. He needs shooters.”
Around the same time, in 2015, Rondo told ESPN’s McMahon that “it just didn’t work. No excuses, no pointing the finger at anybody.” And in a 2016 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Rondo, who signed with the Bulls before the 2016-17 season, said this about Carlisle, the 2002 Coach of the Year and a title winner with Dallas in 2011:
He’s a champion. You can’t take that from me. You can’t take that from him. It just didn’t work out, that two champions couldn’t figure it out. I have a lot of respect for Rick. Just because things don’t go well doesn’t mean you hate a person or that the media perception is right. Rick and I had a good relationship in the beginning. We tried to work it out. I worked with him every day on my shot. We watched film together. Not every marriage works. It was a learning process.
We’ll see how things go in their upcoming series, but for now, the respect Rondo has for Carlisle appears to be mutual.
“I have great respect for him,” Carlisle said to GBag Nation. “He’s been very respectful of both the Mavericks organization and me since he left. I always go out of my way to say hello to him whenever we cross paths. I talked to him a couple of times in the bubble.”