The suspension stems from Rondo's profanity-laced shouting match with coach Rick Carlisle over play-calling responsibilities during the third quarter of Tuesday's win over the Toronto Raptors. Rondo, a four-time All-Star acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Boston Celtics on Dec. 18, traveled with the team overnight to Atlanta but did not play in Wednesday night's 104-87 loss to the Hawks.
Rondo and Carlisle had another emotionally charged dispute in the locker room after the game, sources told ESPNDallas.com, and the Mavs subsequently announced Rondo's suspension a little more than two hours before Wednesday's tipoff.
"The events of last night are now in the past, and we've got to move forward," Carlisle said to open his pregame media availability Wednesday. "I need to say this very clearly: He is an extremely important part of our team. 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."
Rondo was one of four key Mavs unavailable against the Hawks. Center Tyson Chandler (hip), small forward Chandler Parsons (ankle) and reserve center/forward Amar'e Stoudemire (rest) also sat out the game.
The incident between Carlisle and Rondo occurred with 8:10 remaining in the third quarter Tuesday night after the point guard ignored a play call from the coach while bringing the ball up the floor. Carlisle angrily called timeout, stormed onto the court and shouted at Rondo.
Rondo responded by shouting back at Carlisle. They exchanged heated words for much of the timeout, prompting assistant coach Jamahl Mosley to stand in front of Rondo at one point to prevent Rondo and Carlisle from getting in each other's faces.
"Well, it's an emotional game, and we had a difference of opinion," Carlisle said after the game. "There was an exchange, and then in my mind, it was over."
Rondo did not play the remainder of the game, as reserve guards Devin Harris and J.J. Barea played key roles in Dallas coming back from a nine-point deficit after the outburst. Carlisle refused to specify whether the decision to sit Rondo the final 20:10 was due to strategy or discipline.
Rondo, who has a reputation for being difficult to coach, declined to answer questions after the game. His only comment: "Discuss with Rick."
Team sources told ESPNDallas.com that friction had been building between Carlisle and Rondo over play-calling responsibilities, the majority of which the coach has handled. Former Mavs point guard Jason Kidd had similar frustrations during his first season playing with Carlisle, although it never resulted in a public outburst.
Rondo, who has averaged 9.0 points, 6.2 assists and 2.9 turnovers in 25 games with the Mavs, brought the subject up when asked about his comfort level in the Mavs' offense after last week's loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"I'm able to adapt and adjust to anything," Rondo said then. "Coach does a lot of the play calling, and just go from there."
Carlisle said Rondo would return to the starting lineup for the Mavs' next game Saturday night against the Brooklyn Nets.
"I want to stress and reiterate how important Rajon Rondo is to the Dallas Mavericks," Carlisle said Wednesday. "For us to get where we want to get and we strive to get this season, his abilities have to be utilized by us the best possible way. That's in large part my responsibility, and I do not dodge that.
"A lot of that starts with great communication with him. I'm always working on being a better communicator, and we talked about it today. He admitted that he's got to do the same. So that's where we are, and we'll go forward from here."
Mavs owner Mark Cuban, who made it clear after acquiring Rondo that he intended to re-sign the point guard when he becomes a free agent this summer, attempted to downplay the shouting match.
"S--- happens. Not the first time, not the last time," Cuban told ESPNDallas.com. "It'll happen again. It's not just Rajon. It's a long season. In my 15 years, I've seen it happen more times than I can count, and we survive every time."
This was the second time that Rondo was benched for an extended period since arriving in Dallas. Rondo did not play the final 5:12 of a 102-98 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 23 but downplayed Carlisle's decision as "no big deal" after the game.
Rondo said then that he felt he was better suited to handle disagreements with a coach than earlier in his career because he had matured.
"I'm very grateful to play the game that I love so much," Rondo said that night. "Life is too short to complain about not playing five minutes of a big game. Like I said, I'm a competitor. I'm pretty sure you guys know that I wanted to be in that game, but it didn't happen. I did my best to cheer my teammates on."