The Works: Rajon Rondo's Mysterious Exit
But first, some questions about Rajon Rondo's departure from the national team.
A Most Mysterious Exit: The official line is that Rajon Rondo left Team USA to deal with family issues. He did recently fly from New York to Kentucky for an uncle's funeral, and it's hardly our business to guess at anyone's grief. These things take time. Yet there are reasons to believe that Rondo withdrew to save face, or was pushed as much as he jumped. It's purely circumstantial at this point. But in what's effectively an off-year for USA Basketball, did this team really want Rajon Rondo?
The question isn't whether it needs him. Maybe he's no Kevin Durant, but Rondo was one of the few elite players to show up. Nor will his spot go to a quality big man, something this team could probably use. The other most likely casualty was Stephen Curry -- who with all due respect, isn't an All-Star with a ring and several near-legendary playoff performances to his name.
After Rondo received a DNP against Spain and expressed his frustration to the media, Coach K argued for the effectiveness of a Derrick Rose-Chauncey Billups backcourt. His teammates -- none of whom saw it coming -- found out once the official announcement had been made, like he hadn't been one of them.
In short, the disparity between USA Basketball's handling of Rondo and his talent level is, to say the least, questionable.
Rondo may be the best man for the job, but things like that don't matter this summer. If they did, Colangelo would have pressed harder to get some -- any -- of the Beijing team back together. He had initially tried to get the Redeem Teamers to come along for the summer.
After meeting with some resistance from LeBron James and others, Colangelo backed off. He later told Ball Don't Lie that the players had been given two choices: Play in these Worlds, or take the time off and come back for the FIBA Americas Championship and destroy everyone then -- assuming Team USA even has to play. Not sure how that's a choice, unless someone's worried about losing a roster spot. In any case, no one took him up on the longer stint.
Rondo also took forever to make up his mind, except he hasn't had anything to do with USA Basketball since he was a freshman at Kentucky. That's pretty much in keeping with his mysterious, sometimes querulous, personality, or at least the side he shows to anyone other than his teammates. It would also irritate Colangelo, who places a premium on respect for the program and demands a sense of duty. This summer, with nothing on the line, players emboldened by this offseason -- and the CBA on the horizon -- is exactly the right time to send a message.
Ever since the dismal showing by 2006's edition, there has been a steady slide away from Colangelo's original, top-down vision. That came to a head in 2008, when the staff stepped back and let the players do their thing. This decision seems more sinister in retrospect, since that was also where LeBron, Wade and Bosh first considered the possibility of playing together.
Yes, the Redeem Team helped bring superstars together and foster a new sense of brotherhood and solidarity. Next time around, will Team USA go along with a gag order about human rights in Darfur?
I'm not saying that Rondo is looking to stir up trouble, or has an attitude problem. Nor is he the second coming of Craig Hodges. Most likely, he would be welcomed back for 2012 -- or even 2011. However, he's independent, strong-willed, stubborn, and has ideas of his own -- not the kind of good soldier that USA Basketball would prefer to cultivate. It hands control over to the players when it has no choice, but the rest of the time, there are certain standards to uphold. Or at least aspire to.
All of which is a long way of saying that, rather than fix the USA's FIBA problem, the Redeem Team may have simply made it worse. We learned that 2006 was little better than 2004, and yet there still remains a question of who is running the show, who the program really belongs to.
If Colangelo has the luxury of being able to play without Rondo, you had better believe he'll take it. And if the decision wasn't Colangelo's, well, he's still probably thankful for it. (BS)
The Right Kind of Exit: Admit it, part of the scorn heaped on Miami's Big Three has to do with the fact that it's Miami. It's the city most readily associated with NBA players living the high life. Pat Riley has won a title there, and now gets to brag that he's a front office mastermind. But "taking my talents to the South Side" doesn't have quite the same vainglorious ring as "taking my talents to South Beach." Yes, I know, both are geographically imprecise.
That's why Carmelo Anthony has so many people angry: his rumored destination is New York, a city synonymous with, well, being New York. Factor in this hypothetical super-team with Amar'e Stoudemire and Chris Paul and Melo is every bit as unseemly as those other dudes. What if, as Woj reported, Anthony really has his eye on the Rockets? That's an altogether more respectable choice; as Haubs put it on Twitter, Houston offers "competent ownership [and a] team that's won titles since 1973."
You've got whiz kid Daryl Morey leading the statistical revolution from his GM's chair and eminently lovable Yao Ming trying to put together the career he deserves. What could bring out Melo's bright side, and the high points of his game, like those two plus Rick Adelman's system?
I've never understood why anyone would want to play for the Knicks; no matter who they hire, the team is still owned by James Dolan. That's why "it's New York," or "Madison Square is the Mecca" are such selling points -- and so laughable. Houston, while it offers its share of nightlife, also has a legit basketball organization there. In other words, there are real basketball reasons to relocate down there. (BS)
Note: Carmelo Anthony's plans to star in a full-length Chinese hoops flick with Dwight Howard will be discussed at a later date.
Tim Duncan vs. Scientific Law: Last week, the 2010 Fields Medals were awarded to four young mathematicians. One winner, French wunderkind Cedric Villani, who as you can see at right looks like the younger brother of Fabricio Oberto, earned his medal for making progress on the question of entropy. As Julie Rehmeyer of Science News put it: we already knew the world was always falling apart, but Villani proved that the increasing speed of entropy varies. In other words, the arrow of time, which always points toward disorder, is not standard issue. Some things, all else held equal, simply fall apart less quickly than others.
We can apply this to NBA basketball. (Only in a completely non-scientific, possibly sacrilege fashion, mind you.) Imagine offense vs. defense as a so-called ordered state. An offense is contained by five defenders, whether those defenders be in a zone set-up or man-to-man matchup. The goal of the offense is to bend the defense in a way that results in a clear shot at the basket. The goal, essentially, is to see the defense in disorder. If you apply the second law of thermodynamics, which says that everything is always falling apart, you'll see that universal forces are trying to drive the defense into disorder. The arrow of time is working with the offense to break down the defense.
Villani's work, perhaps, explains why defenses like the great Spurs units of the Aughts seemed to rarely break. San Antonio's arrow of time was less successful than that of other teams. How? It's not as if the Spurs had better athletes or smarter players than other teams, and it's not as if many coaches haven't aped Gregg Popovich's principles. Why could San Antonio fight the arrow of time and the inevitability of disorder so much more effectively?
I think pace and the artificial constraint of the shot clock come into play here. San Antonio played famously slow on offense, and forced teams to play slow at the other end. That effectively shrinks the span during which the opponent and the arrow of time can cajole the Spurs defense into disorder. Perhaps the difference in the Spurs' arrow of time and that of, say, the Mavericks is that S.A. is made to fall into disorder after 26 seconds, while Dallas is likely to fall into disorder in 22 seconds. With the shot clock at 24 seconds, there's your separation, there's your Spurs advantage. The Spurs manipulate time itself through pace, and put off the realization of entropy -- of a disordered defense -- until they already have the ball back.
Does defense really come down to atomic physics? You be the judge. Just don't be surprised when the Moneyball movement takes a turn for the truly inaccessible. (TZ)
Requiem for Kwame: No, Kwame Brown didn't pass away, or retire. He did sign with the Bobcats, giving Michael Jordan a chance to right history -- if he were inclined to play David Kahn to Kwame's Darko Milicic. But while Darko was a tremendously hyper prospect, drafted over Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh based on overcooked reports from foreign shores, Kwame Brown might be the most unknown No. 1 overall pick ever.
The 2001 Draft was one of the first to feature a huge bunch of high-schoolers, before we spent our free time monitoring the progress of 15-year-olds in Georgia. Brown went at the top, but it was Eddy "Baby Shaq" Curry who came with the best brand attached. At least Tyson Chandler had been featured on some network news show (sorry, the name escapes me).
In fact, Brown was as low-information a pick as some Euros. Look at his NBA.com profile from the draft. NBADraft.net shrugs amicably. You pretty much get from this that he's tall, shy, athletic, and possibly not ready for the pros. That's the player the Wizards got, and yet does that really sound like a player you would take number one? I'm not talking about the red flags; it's how little there is there to generate irrational exuberance. That is, aside from the time Brown "killed" Chandler in a Wizards workout.
Brown was a bad pick, but he was also an unremarkable one. That what makes his story so strange: Busts usually fall from grace or fall short of expectations. We were never given any reason to believe that Kwame Brown belonged there in the first place. (BS)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be available this October.