Who Is the Worse Teammate: Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul?

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Who Is the Worse Teammate: Rajon Rondo or Chris Paul?
Los Angeles Lakers' Rajon Rondo (9) defends on Houston Rockets' Chris Paul during the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

You didn’t think the Spitgate beef between Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul would just fade off into the sunset, did you?

Suspensions have been doled out, but animosity still lingers and grade-school jabs continue to be thrown. The latest haymaker comes not from Brandon Ingram’s Play-Doh arms but Rondo’s mouth…again.

“Of course, the NBA went with [Paul’s] side because I got three games and he got two,” Rondo told ESPN. “Everyone wants to believe Chris Paul is a good guy. They don’t know he’s a horrible teammate. They don’t know how he treats people. Look at what he did last year when he was in L.A.; trying to get to the Clippers’ locker room. They don’t want to believe he’s capable of taunting and igniting an incident.”

Whoa. You might say this is Rondo—[puts on sunglasses]—[promptly whips off sunglasses]—spitting some hot fire. (Thank you.)

This karate chop to Paul’s resume might seem juvenile, because it absolutely is. All of this he-said-that, he-spit-this business is fodder for monkey-bar talk at recess. And we’re here for all of it. 

So, it is with profound purpose that we seek to answer the following question: Who would you rather have as a teammate, Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo?

        

Darren Abate/Associated Press

Rondo is not alone in assessment of Paul’s people skills. Glen “Big Baby” Davis, who played with both point guards, has already come out in support of his stance:

So has Ryan Hollins:

Others who have played with Paul, mainly during his time on the Clippers, share similar sentiments. Consider the following musings from Kevin Arnovitz’s 2017 profile for ESPN.com on Lob City’s relatively joyless, obviously tense culture.

“Paul demands from his teammates a conformity and insists they absorb criticism at any moment, according to several teammates,” he wrote. “Blow a coverage, you’re going to hear about it, even after you’ve offered a ‘my bad’ and even if the replay shows something to the contrary.”

That’s from when Paul was still on the Clippers. The rumblings grew louder once he forced his way to the Houston Rockets. 

He might’ve had issues with the way Doc Rivers treated his son, Austin Rivers. He definitely had issues with Blake Griffin. DeAndre Jordan almost left for the Dallas Mavericks during 2015 free agency at least in part because of him. Doc is on record admitting that the dynamic between Los Angeles’ former Big Three wasn’t great, and that Paul was far from the perfect teammate.

“I thought when Chris rubbed guys the worst was when he messed up, because when you mess up, you gotta take it,” Rivers told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan last October. “I didn’t really think he did.”

Petulant. Determined. Insufferable. Invaluable. A flopper. An all-time great. Paul has been called all of it. He is so many things to so many different people, both fans and those around the league. That happens with superstars. They’re divisive outside of their own franchise.

Paul’s legacy is unique in that he’s seldom escaped criticism inside his bubble. He didn’t leave New Orleans under the best circumstances, and the murmurs emanating from Los Angeles often mutated into deafening roars. 

Houston has been a different story. Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni doesn’t view interacting with Paul as a daily challenge. Other than a small sideline tiff during last year’s playoff push, James Harden has not indicated he feels any differently.

“I don’t mean to sound too mushy or whatnot,” Harden said in April of his chemistry with Paul, “but it was like love at first sight.”

At least we know Paul is a better teammate than Dwight Howard. Which, well, never mind.

Rondo does fail to properly sabotage Paul’s image on one level. Last year’s secret-tunnel tussle is first and foremost objectively hilarious. It also sheds Paul in the opposite light.

He Ocean’s Eleven‘d his way into the Clippers locker room along with other Rockets players to confront Griffin and Austin for contentious behavior toward him and his new team. His motives were hardly selfless, but he wasn’t acting on his own or undermining his same-jersey brethren. Los Angeles had long since become the enemy by that point.

             

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball against the Houston Rockets on October 20, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadin

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Another player might have a clear edge over Paul after pillaging through his iffy track record. Rondo isn’t one of them.

Time and again, he’s been billed as uncoachable. Boston Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck described him as stubborn in 2014. Rivers, who coached Rondo for seven years in Beantown, joked last season about how he and his point guard would want to choke each other. 

Ray Allen was first moved to the Celtics bench because Rondo stopped passing to him, according to Ray Allen. Paul Pierce has noted that Rondo didn’t always bring it on a daily basis. A half-season stint with the Dallas Mavericks, meanwhile, ended with the team traveling great lengths to deny his existence in the midst of the playoffs.

“The truth was that the Mavs didn’t want Rondo, who was going to be replaced in the starting lineup regardless, pouting and rubbing off on other players, [Monta] Ellis in particular,” ESPN.com’s Tim MacMahon wrote. “Essentially, the Mavs made a drastic move in an attempt to do damage control on a chemistry crisis.”

Rondo’s lone season with the Chicago Bulls was weird. Their inexperienced whippersnappers took to him, but he blasted the leadership tact of both Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. His stay with the Sacramento Kings didn’t include any prominent locker room quarrels, but closed-door dysfunction is, as Rondo himself pointed out, the status quo for that organization. (He was also suspended one game while in Sacramento for directing anti-gay slurs at referee Billy Kennedy.)

For his part, Rondo seems to take pride in aspects of his renegade reputation.

“I don’t think there’s not one coach I’ve played with that I haven’t got into it with,” he said while with the Mavericks, per the Star-Telegram‘s Dwain Price. “I like to test where the coaches are at and I think they like to test me. So I’ve gotten into a shouting match with a lot of my coaches in my past years. It started when I was around 6 years old. I got into it with my Little League football coach.”

Checkered relationships have not prevented Rondo from gaining the respect or entering the good graces of many around the league. Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has recommended Rondo’s services to multiple teams since his time in Dallas, per Price. Hollins still loves him:

And unlike Allen, Rondo is on speaking terms with Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the rest of that 2007-08 championship Celtics team:

Bouncing around the NBA has to some degree warped how Rondo is portrayed. The game has moved away from ball-dominant point guards who don’t knock down jumpers off the dribble.

Seesawing engagement doesn’t help his case. Paul is celebrated as a fierce competitor day in and day out, while Rondo’s defensive effort verges on listless for games at a time. Fair or not, it renders him less likable from afar.

Character flaws are easier to overlook or repackage as misunderstandings when they’re considered symptoms of obsessive interest. Rondo is competitive, just like all professional athletes. But he’s been plagued by inconsistency and an outmoded style since the dissolution of the Big Three-era Celtics. Selling him as a genuine figurehead is more difficult under the circumstances.

          

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets reacts to a foul from Rajon Rondo #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second quarter at Staples Center on October 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Image

Harry How/Getty Images

Star power grates on those along for the ride.

Michael Jordan punched Steve Kerr in the face. LeBron James helped push Kyrie Irving out of Cleveland. Look at what has happened in Minnesota with Jimmy Butler. 

Controversy is not uncommon amid lofty ambitions. Not everyone can be Stephen Curry, an egoless MVP who endures and sacrifices more than he inflicts. 

Rondo and Paul are examples of the rule, not exceptions. They are stubborn, maybe entitled, because marquee names have egos. Teams ferry their baggage because they’re worth it.

Except, well, Rondo isn’t a star anymore. His ship sailed out of the best-point-guard conversation many moons ago, and it was only docked there for a brief time.

That doesn’t exonerate Paul in this discussion. Both he and Rondo have their warts. Judging from Rondo’s uneventful season in New Orleans and Houston’s hero-worshipping of Paul, both have also worked at becoming more manageable team members.

Something about Rondo still doesn’t feel totally authentic, though. This most recent feud has only accentuated that superficiality.

Ingram apologized to the Lakers for his role in Saturday’s schoolyard scuffle, per the Orange County Register‘s Kyle Goon. Paul likewise told the Rockets he was sorry about how it unfolded, per the Los Angeles TimesAndrew Greif.

As for Rondo…well, he didn’t think he owed his teammates an explanation:

Maybe he’s since talked to his Lakers fam. He isn’t obligated to tell us anything. And Paul is no boy scout. In many ways, from their intractable personalities to their high-IQ aplomb, he and Rondo are the same. 

And all dramatics being equal, who are you going to ride with: Rondo or Paul? 

This shouldn’t be a question. Paul is near the height of his powers—one of the 10 or 12 best players in the league. Rondo has a ring, but he’s never been that player. Nor has he ever been further away from being that player. 

Besides, Paul might yet win the likability battle free and clear. Past bridges have been burned, but before his final season with the Clippers, people around the team told Arnovitz that Paul has “mellowed” over time. 

“He just can’t be wrong,” one player said to Arnovitz at the time. “But if I had to go to war, I’m going with Chris every day.”

Ditto.

        

Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com or Basketball Reference. Salary and cap-hold information via Basketball Insiders and RealGM.

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R’s Andrew Bailey.

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