OKLAHOMA CITY -- Rajon Rondo has a history of rising to the occasion in the playoffs, the Dallas Mavericks brass repeatedly noted the day after making a blockbuster deal with the Boston Celtics to acquire the four-time All-Star point guard.
The Mavs have to hope that history repeats itself with Rondo once the playoffs get rolling.
The Rondo the Mavs have received so far hasn’t been nearly good enough to bump Dallas from the middle to the top of the West playoff pack. In fact, the Mavs have gone the other direction, likely stuck in the seventh seed with eight games to go in the regular season.
Dallas is 22-17 in games that Rondo has played. Perhaps more concerning, the starting five has a net rating of minus-2.8 points per 100 possessions with Rondo on the floor, compared to plus-16.9 with J.J. Barea, plus-12.9 with Jameer Nelson and plus-7.3 with Devin Harris.
Rondo’s production in a Mavs uniform (9.2 points, 6.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game) has been pedestrian. It certainly pales in comparison to his career playoff averages (14.5 points, 9.2 assists and 6.0 rebounds).
Is playoff Rondo a different animal?
“I don’t know,” Rondo told ESPNDallas.com. “I haven’t been there in a long time.”
Indeed, it’s been three years since Rondo has played in the postseason. He exited that stage with a 22-point, 10-rebound, 14-assist performance in a Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat, his 10th triple-double in 92 playoff games.
Rondo averaged 20.9 points, 11.3 assists and 6.9 rebounds in that series while defending LeBron James as well as any Celtic despite giving up seven inches and about 75 pounds in the matchup. In that seven-game snapshot, he was worth every dime of the maximum contract that he hoped to get this summer.
"I mean, I don’t shy away from it," Rondo said. "I don’t back down from challenges."
But that was three years and a torn ACL ago. Rondo hasn’t been as explosive since returning from his knee injury. However, the element he considers most important to his playoff success remains intact.
“Obviously, the focus is a lot more intense and you have time to prepare for the opponents and learn their tendencies,” said Rondo, who won a championship and played in another Finals during his tenure in Boston. “I think that’s why I do well. I study the game.
“But I don’t know. It’s a different team, different personnel, different time of the year for me.”
Rondo indicated that the different personnel, in particular, has been a problem. It’s not that he doesn’t like the pieces around him in Dallas. It’s just that he doesn’t feel like he’s had enough time to truly jell with his new teammates, arriving in Dallas in December and missing a few weeks due to facial fractures.
Despite his efforts to expedite the process, such as staying after Tuesday’s practice to work with center Tyson Chandler on pick-and-roll situations, Rondo feels like his role with the Mavs is still evolving.
“There’s no way I can come and fit in in three months or four months,” Rondo said. “I think what you’re seeing with a team like Golden State is their chemistry. I think it’s undervalued in this league. You keep guys together for years to come, that’s when the chemistry starts to be contagious or that’s when the chemistry is second to none.
“Three, four months, even a year when you play with a guy, you learn tendencies and you learn guys’ habits and where they’re weak and their mistakes, but it’s still not the same when you keep a team or you keep a core together for so long. San Antonio’s a great example. They’re going to ride those guys until the wheels fall off. That’s just undervalued in this league.
“It takes time. It takes a lot of reps, a lot of repetition in practice, a lot of game experience, a lot of two minutes left in the fourth quarter when you have to get a stop, knowing that that guy’s going to be there for you. It just takes a lot of time.”
But Rondo doesn’t have much time to prove his worth to the Mavs. A business decision is due this summer, when Rondo will become a free agent along with the majority of the Mavs’ rotation players.
At this point, the Mavs would be willing to welcome back Rondo, but only at a price they feel is right. That wouldn’t be anywhere near Rondo’s expected asking price.
The Mavs wouldn’t be willing to get into a bidding war if a team such as the Los Angeles Lakers or New York Knicks -- two franchises with plenty of cap space, a history of chasing big names and stars who are Rondo fans -- make a big offer to him.
Of course, a vintage Rondo playoff performance might change the Mavs’ minds.
As Rondo sees it, there’s a simple way to put himself in the best position possible from a business standpoint this summer.
“Win games,” Rondo said. “Win some games.”
Would the Mavs need to be the high bidder to keep Rondo?
“I don’t really want to even get into that,” said Rondo, who has never experienced free agency, signing a contract extension with the Celtics before he hit the open market. “I just want to win playoff games right now. That will come. Free agency isn’t until July 1. Honestly, I haven’t lost any sleep this year about it. I don’t think about free agency at all. I just want to play better and win games here as a Maverick.”
Rondo is happy to be healthy, having been humbled by the extended time he missed when he suffered his serious knee injury. He just wants to stay healthy, contribute to making a playoff run and let the chips fall where they may.
“Exactly,” Rondo said. “There’s only so much I can control. What’s for me is what’s for me. That’s how I look at it. I can control a little bit of it, but for the most part, what’s going to happen is what’s going to happen.”
The Mavs hope what happens is the return of playoff Rondo.