Rondo, Carlisle must make it work for now

ATLANTA -- Rajon Rondo is a renowned pain in the butt to coach. Plenty of players have cussed Rick Carlisle, either to his face or behind his back.

So it can't be considered too much of a stunner that this pair combined for the most explosive coach-player fireworks of the NBA season to this point.

Now what?

Rondo and Carlisle can either make the best of the rest of their brief time together or make a complete mess of the Dallas Mavericks' season. They can swallow their pride and try to squeeze all the potential out of a team that is still smack dab in the middle of the Western Conference playoff pack. Or they can keep squeezing each others' throats and guarantee they'll get out of each others' hair before the calendar flips to May.

The one sure thing: The passive-aggressive dynamic is done. All the cards are on the table after an expletive-laced shouting match for the basketball world to see and another behind closed doors that sources say was even more explosive.

"If anything, it should make the team stronger," Mavs locker room leader Tyson Chandler said after Rondo served his one-game suspension in Wednesday's 104-87 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. "For one, it should make those two have better communication. They're not familiar with each other, so I think for the first couple of whatever all parties are tip-toeing.

"Not against each other, but two guys who are competitors, who want to win, sometimes it's better that you have a little blowout. It lets you know that you're on the same page, that you want to win."

Well, that's a pretty good positive spin, and there are at least some kernels of truth to it. This is a case of two men who think they're always the smartest guy on the court. The root of the Rondo-Carlisle crisis is a simmering disagreement about whether the Mavs were best off with the genius former Coach of the Year or brilliant four-time All-Star point guard calling the majority of the plays.

Rondo, a nine-year veteran with one of the highest basketball IQs in the league, believes that's a big part of his job as a point guard. Carlisle, one of the NBA's best offensive minds, doesn't want to hand the keys of his sports car over to a guy he just met.

It's similar to the friction between Carlisle and future Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd during their first season together, except they never had "SportsCenter"-leading shouting matches. Carlisle ceded control to Kidd in midseason, and that duo played prominent roles in the Mavs' title run a few years later.

Could history repeat itself? Don't hold your breath. The reality is Rondo's run with the Mavs is extremely unlikely to extend past this season.

The question is whether Carlisle and Rondo can find the common ground necessary to work together the rest of the season and provide the Mavs any hope of making a playoff run.

"We'll just wait and see how it is moving forward," said face of the franchise Dirk Nowitzki, who doesn't quite share Chandler's gift for finding the silver lining in tough situations. "Obviously, both sides have got to come together. That's the only way.

"We have high goals this season, obviously making the playoffs and making a long playoff run. You can't do that if guys pull in different directions. They're both smart enough to know that. We've got to be on the same page moving forward."

Carlisle, a coach determined to win a playoff series for the first time since the Mavs' 2011 title run, has accepted his share of responsibility and is on record with his commitment to working with Rondo. For the rest of the season, at least.

"I need to say this very clearly: He is an extremely important part of our team," Carlisle said. "Our efforts to get to the highest possible level largely hinge on him playing and playing well with him. He needs to play well with us, and we need to play well with him. It's a two-way street.

"The incident last night was born in large part out of poor communication between him and I. That's on both of us. We had a long talk about the situation today, and we both agreed that we need to communicate more frequently.

"We need to work on the solution for making his stint as a Dallas Maverick the most successful one possible. We're looking at 23 games here. Right now, this is a critical time for us."

We haven't heard from Rondo other than muttering what amounted to a no comment on his way out of the locker room Tuesday night.

However, Rondo would be a fool to let his feelings get in the way of putting his best foot forward. And he has proven in the past that butting heads with his head coach isn't necessarily a road block to a playoff run.

"Yeah, it happens," said Doc Rivers, who had a plenty of shouting matches and playoff wins with Rondo during their time together in Boston. "Hopefully it happens in the locker room. But it happens.

"They're both winners and they'll figure it out, I really believe that. Rick Carlisle has proven he's a championship coach, Rondo has proven he's a championship point guard. You have two champions and you figure at some point they will figure that out."

Of course, maybe the heated confrontations were a key part of the process of figuring it out.

The Mavs need more than what they've been getting from Rondo. Never mind the mediocre or worse offensive production. They need the dominant defender and relentless competitor from his best days in Boston.

This isn't the kind of spotlight that an athlete seeks, but Rondo has a history of being at his best when the most eyeballs are on him.

"I honestly expect this to light a little fire up under him," Chandler said. "Because he's a competitor. When you hear all this stuff, crap thrown around about your name, it makes you want to come back and prove everybody wrong. He's that type of guy."

Rondo proved a lot of people right by clashing with another coach. But that doesn't have to be the most memorable moment of what will probably be a brief Mavs tenure for the point guard.