<
>

Rondo must adapt to thrive with Mavs

DALLAS -- The Dallas Mavericks' starting five is packed with as much star power as any in the NBA after the Mavs pulled off a blockbuster trade for Rajon Rondo with the Boston Celtics.

How will those pieces fit together? The Mavs are counting on coach Rick Carlisle to figure it out and their new four-time All-Star point guard to be willing to adjust on the fly.

The Mavs no longer must accept that they'll have to deal with a massive mismatch at point guard against any potential playoff foe. Rondo is a major upgrade at a position that was their most glaring weakness.

But Rondo is not a perfect fit on paper, at least not on the offense. And his role will be drastically different than it was with the Celtics, where Rondo constantly probed the defense and hunted for assists. His poor shooting -- 25 percent from 3-point range -- presents some significant spacing challenges for Carlisle, as creative an offensive mind as there is in the league.

The Mavs, who have the best offense in basketball with Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler forming the core, do not need a point guard who dominates the ball. They need Rondo, whose pride has occasionally manifested itself in pain-in-the-butt fashion, to be willing to adapt and sacrifice in his new surroundings.

That's the culture in Dallas, where the face of the franchise took a huge hometown discount to make it possible for the Mavs to add talent like Rondo, Parsons and Chandler since the end of last season.

It certainly worked with Ellis, who arrived in Dallas in the summer of 2013 with the reputation of an analytics anti-hero, a volume scorer who hadn't proved to be a winning piece. Under Carlisle's watch and playing next to Nowitzki, Ellis has proved a lot of people wrong, immediately establishing himself as a terrific pick-and-pop partner for Dirk, efficiently leading the Mavs in scoring this season and consistently dominating during crunch time.

Nothing is set in stone with Rondo's role in the offense, but it's a safe bet that his league-high assists totals will dip in Dallas despite the fact that he's in his prime at 28. That's because the Mavs have two terrific pick-and-roll operators in Ellis and Parsons, both of whom are in a groove and don't need their touches to decrease.

Rondo will be a complementary offensive piece, not a focal point, a facilitator whose job is to get the ball in the hands of the Mavs' many weapons and let them keep doing what they've been doing.

"Rajon Rondo is a stud," Parsons said on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM, particularly raving about Rondo's impact as a pressure defender. "When you get a chance to acquire a player like him on our team, you have to take advantage of that. I see him fitting very well in our offense. With me, Monta, Dirk and Tyson, we'll all really flourish playing with him."

The best way for Rondo to help the Mavs' offense? Get back to being the All-Defensive player he was for four straight seasons before regressing on that end of the floor the past few years, and keep rebounding as well as any guard in the game.

Those are the areas where Dallas desperately needs help, especially against all the elite point guards in the West. Rondo arrives in Dallas as by far the Mavs' best perimeter defender and the team's second-best rebounder behind 7-foot-1 center Chandler.

If the Mavs can get stops, get in transition and attack before opposing defenses get set, good luck stopping Carlisle's flow offense.

Can Rondo put his ego aside and thrive as an offensive role player? Can he be a more athletic version of the late-career model of Jason Kidd who helped deliver a title to Dallas? That's what the Mavs need from him.

Kidd, the last point guard the Mavs acquired in a headline-grabbing midseason trade, happens to be the player Rondo most reminds the Mavs of. You might recall Kidd had somewhat of a rocky start to his second stint in Dallas, with those Mavs coached by Avery Johnson getting quickly dismissed in the first round of the playoffs by young Chris Paul's New Orleans Hornets.

It took another three years for that Kidd deal to pay dividends. With Nowitzki at 36 years old, the Mavs don't have the luxury of patience at this point.

That's why they made the trade for Rondo now, counting on their coach and their championship-proven new point guard to figure out how to make all the pieces mesh as soon as possible, or at least in time for a playoff run.