Minutes after the Dallas Mavericks’ dramatic victory over the Chicago Bulls late Tuesday, Coach Rick Carlisle explained why he didn’t call a timeout in the waning seconds between Jimmy Butler’s go-ahead basket and Wesley Matthews’ three-point game-winner.
“It creates unpredictability,” Carlisle said. “Plus, (Rajon) Rondo knows all the plays.”
Carlisle wasn’t kidding.
The former University of Kentucky star’s high basketball IQ is cited as frequently as the volatile incidents with coaches from his past, which is why the following might surprise some but really shouldn’t: Rondo wants to be an NBA head coach when his playing days are over.
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“I absolutely want to coach,” Rondo said inside a nearly empty Bulls locker room.
I’ve been preparing to coach since I left Boston, really. I study all of my coaches. I watch the way they move, the timeouts they call, plays they draw up out of timeouts, how they run practices, speeches they give. I’m trying to follow it all.
Don’t force Rondo out. His goal is to play in the league “six or seven more years.” Given his consecutive short-term, make-good deals with the Sacramento Kings and Bulls, that could be a sign of Rondo’s well-documented stubbornness.
But whenever Rondo places the period on his successful playing career, he’s uber focused on what’s next. The veteran guard even has practiced drawing plays on a greaseboard, which again should surprise no one who has watched Rondo’s preparation.
“I’ve been preparing to coach since I left Boston, really,” Rondo said. “I study all of my coaches. I watch the way they move, the timeouts they call, plays they draw up out of timeouts, how they run practices, speeches they give. I’m trying to follow it all. I see how players gravitate toward different coaches.
“I actually went back (to Louisville) a couple (of) days ago and saw my high school coach (Doug Bibby). He’s one of the best: his delivery, how he encourages players, the confidence he gives them, his attention to detail in timeouts. I’m taking my notes on a lot of different stuff.”
While Rondo believes he could coach successfully on any level, he has watched peers such as Jason Kidd transition quickly from a playing to coaching career and wants to follow suit. Coaching in the NBA is his sole focus.
“That’s the plan. Hopefully I can transition right into it after playing instead of having to sit out or going a different route,” Rondo said. “I know it’s not an easy job. But I respect that this is the highest level of being a coach. If I needed to go an assistant route, I’d do it. But I don’t know if it would need that.”
Rondo knows what you’re thinking: What about his checkered past with coaches?
But for all the talk about the combustible relationship Rondo had with Carlisle when Rondo and the Mavericks basically mutually agreed to part ways during their brief 2015 playoff run, they share a strong mutual respect. Carlisle even advocated for Rondo when teams called the coach for background on the no-nonsense guard.
Former Kings coach George Karl also has praised Rondo — even while calling him out for a lack of defense.
“I have relationships with all my coaches, even Tubby Smith,” Rondo said, citing the college coach with whom he also butted heads. “Most know I like to challenge them.”
And if players tried to challenge him as a coach, Rondo said he could relate. In fact, relating to players is where Rondo said he would feel most prepared for his potential second career.
Rondo has taken several young Bulls under his wing dating to when he voluntarily joined the summer league team to practice with players, many of whom had no chance to make the roster.
“He’s just a great teammate,” Taj Gibson said. “I know he gets a lot of criticism, but he’s always inspiring. He’s in the huddle, and if you’re not feeling right he’s always going to have your back. That’s the type of player I want to play with forever.”
Like many players who have experienced playing success, Rondo would have to improve his patience level. But he hopes to shadow some coaching friends whenever schedules jibe, watching film and taking notes.
“What I learned from Doc (Rivers) is, you can’t teach everybody the same,” Rondo said of his coach with the Celtics. “Everybody doesn’t learn the same way. You can’t yell at everyone. Everybody’s personality is different. It’s knowing how to manage players. I feel I’d be good at that.”