What’s Up with Rajon Rondo and Team USA?

25 08 2010

If you haven’t heard, Rajon Rondo pulled out of consideration to make Team USA’s roster for the World Championships, thereby making the final cut a moot point for Mike Krzyzyzyzewski and Jerry Colangelo. After not seeing any action during Sunday’s exhibition victory over Spain, Rondo decided to take himself out of the running and return home, supposedly to tend to family issues.

It was yet another bizarre episode in what’s become an interesting relationship between Rondo and Team USA. Earlier this year, he’d said he wasn’t interested in representing his country this summer, but that situation changed after discussions with Colangelo, and Rondo seemed committed to trying his best to make the team and star in Turkey. Now, though, he’s chosen to avoid the notoriety of being cut from the team and just go on his merry way.

It wasn’t supposed to work out this way for Rondo, who proved himself to be one of the league’s rising stars this postseason as the Celtics’ best player on their run to the Finals. For him to leave Team USA, or even to be on the bubble in the first place, is something of a black mark on his career progression. It’s not entirely surprising given that the international game doesn’t exactly conform to his strengths, but it’s still goofy that he would have to quit the team altogether.

Then again, maybe it makes perfect sense for a star on the rise to avoid the embarrassment. Over the past month, it’s become clear that Coach K prefers Derrick Rose, Chauncey Billups, and possibly even Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry as the main guards for this team. In the postseason, Rondo rose to a step above those players, putting himself just below Chris Paul and Deron Williams as the best point guards in the league. If he were to maintain that status heading into next season, he couldn’t be beaten out by that lesser group on an international stage, even if international ball is very different from the NBA game.

Perhaps this shows a lack of integrity or acts as proof that Rondo is too concerned with his image. But it also shows how much American stars stand to lose when they enter international competition. Winning is assumed, and losing carries a stain. Plus, when you don’t sit at the top of the Team USA hierarchy, you can sometimes seem like less of a star than the NBA has already proven you to be.