Team USA has its 12-man roster set for the FIBA World Championship. Whether or not they made the cut or the cut was made for them is the question.
Rajon Rondo was left off the final roster, presumably being cut by head coach Mike Krzyzewski. He played poorly against Lithuania Saturday and was benched Sunday for USA's high-profile exhibition against Spain, his first "DNP-Coach's Decision" since his rookie year in the NBA.
In a release, however, USA Basketball director Jerry Colangelo gave the impression that Rondo decided to leave because of outside factors.
“Rajon came to us and said he was going to withdraw from the team, that he had some family matters to attend to and some things to take care of before the NBA season," Colangelo said. "He did an outstanding job during our training, we appreciate the effort and commitment he made to our program and he completely has our support."
Rondo missed a practice in New York earlier this month to attend a funeral for his uncle.
Speaking to reporters today at practice, Rondo sounded like he was bracing himself for the possibility of being cut. Rondo told ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan, "I think I'm on the bubble. Just looking at the obvious -- I got a DNP last game. That pretty much speaks for itself ... It's what's best for the country. It's part of it. We knew coming in it was still tryouts until we make the team that goes to Turkey."
Meanwhile, even though Krzyzewski initially said Rondo was benched in order to get a look at other players, today before the decision was announced the Team USA coach talked as if Rondo's cut was a foregone conclusion. Krzyzewski said roster decisions will be made based on team needs and chemistry, and added that Derrick Rose and Chauncey Billups have something going. Krzyzewski said Stephen Curry's 3-point shooting makes him dangerous. Rondo's shooting struggles are well known, he also stumbled against Lithuania, giving up ground in a loaded competition at the guard spot.
"It's not so much what Rajon has to show, it's what our team needs," Krzyzewski said. "We've found a good lineup, and the international game is so different from the NBA game, you can ask any of these guys. Part of it is to make sure that we try not to have two non-shooters out on the court, and there's the physicality, too.
"Derrick right now being with Chauncey is a good [combination], and Stephen, he provides a different thing, because if they are going under [screens] and they keep going under on him, then he has a 3. So it forces another team to change the way they defend our team. So it's things like that, and how we feel strategy-wise what'll be best for the team."
Team USA plays its final exhibition tomorrow against Greece and will then open the preliminary round in Turkey on Aug. 28 against Croatia.
Even though he knew the experience would help the 24-year-old point guard, Celtics president Danny Ainge breathed a sigh of relief.
“You’re always worried about the injury factor and the getting-worn-down factor. But I think that there is some good that can come from it as well, particularly with young players. But Rondo played late into the season and it was a long season. He carries a pretty big load for our team. So I can’t say that I'm disappointed that he’s coming home.”
“It’s a different style of play, different people around him. He certainly showed what he’s capable of doing on that team. The team is loaded with point guards. I know that initially Rajon was not really overwhelmed with the opportunity. It was not something that he was thrilled with doing. It was something that he did because he was kind of being told it was the right thing to do by those trying to get him to do it. But it wasn’t something that he was dying to do. So I’m not surprised. And I’m happy to see him finish the summer experience being healthy.”
Though they have yet to speak and he wasn't entirely sure of the reason for Rondo's withdrawal, Rondo's brother William said that the passing of his uncle may have weighed heavy on Rajon.
“That’s my mother’s brother and we’re a small family. I’m not sure how you put it in words. The only person that talked to him was my mom. He was really close to my uncle. All of us were. Maybe it got overwhelming and he decided he needed to take some time away from basketball. You never know.”
Doc Rivers said he was in touch with Rondo throughout the process and added that on the whole he was satisfied with the way Rondo's Team USA experience played out even if he didn't make the team.
Coming off the Finals, I think in a lot of ways this was a great experience for him. I’m just happy he went through the experience. I didn’t worry about any of the other stuff.
I thought with all the changes they made on the team -- having to go with more guards, they needed more shooting and all that stuff -- I thought all that [played a part]. And I think Rondo wanted to come home, too. I think all that was involved.
The only thing you can concern with when they go over there -- you’re always worried about injury whenever your player plays -- but you’re more concerned about fatigue.
In a lot of ways he gets the best of all of it. He gets to play, he got to compete, he got to compete against the other guards. He knows shooting was a premium on this team so he clearly knows that’s an area he has to keep working on to improve and he gets to come home and spend some time with the family.
I think it played out the way it played out and I think everybody’s pretty satisfied with it.