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 Images)

Harry How/Getty Images

Don’t mistake the NBA‘s peppering of suspensions as finality. We still have much to learn, digest and infer about Saturday’s skirmish between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers. 

Brandon Ingram (four games), Rajon Rondo (three) and Chris Paul (two, with one served) will all miss time for their roles in the dustup. No one has to like this decision, although some might.

Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni is livid his team lost Paul at all. Carmelo Anthony is pleasantly surprised his bestie didn’t earn a longer absence. Rondo deserved a heftier sentence. Or perhaps not. Ingram is lucky to only receive a four-game slap on the wrist. Or maybe he’s being treated too harshly relative to the context of the game.

These punishments seem arbitrary. And they might be. Kiki VanDeWeghe, the league’s executive vice president of basketball operations, tried to explain them:

In some ways, what’s done is done. But curiosity doesn’t conclude with official resolutions. Player beef doesn’t, either. We have our own informal investigation to conduct. 

          

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Brandon Ingram #14 of the Los Angeles Lakers is restrained by Lonzo Ball #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 124-115 loss to the Houston Rockets at Staples Center on October 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by

Harry How/Getty Images

Everyone is talking about Paul and Rondo, but let us not forget about the gatekeeper to what Charles Oakley would call a pillow fight. 

Tensions were flaring long before the main event. Players griped about calls and non-calls. They exaggerated contact. They stared at one another. A mild melee may have been inevitable.

Ingram ultimately set the stage for the fight by shoving James Harden and getting in face of official Jason Phillips. He then returned to the scene after being escorted away by Lonzo Ball and Lance Stephenson so he could throw hands:

“I was wrong for my teammates, but I also stepped up for my teammates and that’s what I’m going to do 10 times out of 10,” Ingram said, per ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin.

Everyone tuning in could sense Ingram growing frustrated. He spent time defending both Harden and Paul. Contact and whistles wore on him. He felt wronged. Harden and Paul were annoyed by his invasive reaching. They felt wronged, too.

Harden and Paul have a way of getting under opponents’ skin, but damn. Going full rage monster has never seemed like Ingram’s style.

Was he teed off by this game alone, or is something larger at play? Does he miss knowing what it feels like to make a three-pointer? Did LeBron James ground him for missing curfew earlier in the week? Did he just now realize Derrick Rose’s haircut is better?

             

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Rondo truthers—or rather, CP3 protestors—need to cool their jets. Something clearly came out of Rondo’s mouth.

The video shows it:

And the NBA knows it:

Whether Rondo meant to shower Paul with his saliva is another matter. Some of Twitter’s part-time mouthguard scientists would have us believe this is an unavoidable batter of drool and phlegm releasing itself when Rondo went to speak. 

Color me skeptical. This angle makes it look like Rondo casually hocks a loogie in Paul’s face after checking to see whether Phillips was watching:

Paul’s reaction instantly becomes understandable if Rondo deliberately used his mouth as a spittle cannon. The “Macho-Person Code for People Who Aren’t Macho” stipulates projectile slobber must be swiftly met with a boop in the face.

          

BOSTON - NOVEMBER 1:  Rajon Rondo #9 of Boston Celtics talks to Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets on November 1, 2009 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Doc Rivers has coached both Paul and Rondo. As a result, he isn’t the least bit surprised they tried to smash in each other’s faces.

“They’ve had their run-ins,” he said, per the Los Angeles TimesAndrew Greif. “I’m not actually sure what it’s all over. I know at one point they both wanted to be known as the best point guard, but it’s got to be more than that. There always is, and I don’t know what it is, but there’s no love lost, there’s no doubt about that.”

Paul Pierce, a former teammate of both players, shares Rivers’ sentiments.

“I am not surprised at all,” Pierce said on ESPN. “For you people out there who don’t know, Rondo and Chris Paul have never liked each other. This dates back to maybe Rondo’s rookie year or second year. They’ve had heated exchanges over the course of the years. I’m surprised this is their first fight, actually, because throughout Rondo’s time in the league, him and Chris Paul have never got along.”  

This mutual disdain has existed since at least 2009, Rondo’s third season in the NBA. While talking trash, he apparently told Paul, “I’ve got a ring, and you’re never gonna win one,” according to Adrian Wojnarowski, then of Yahoo Sports.

Something like that could easily stick with Paul. Or perhaps Rondo remembers how the Boston Celtics were willing to trade him for CP3 back in 2011. Or maybe Paul exacted revenge on Rondo at some point Saturday, telling him, “I’ve signed a bunch of max contracts, and you’re never gonna get one.”

Whatever the trigger, reconciliation seems out of the question—mostly because Paul and Rondo don’t have an actual relationship to mend.    

         

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers directs his teammates during a 124-115 loss to the Houston Rockets at Staples Center on October 20, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Harry How/Getty Images

According to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, “a heated Paul told teammates and coaches in the locker room afterward that Rondo’s girlfriend had sparked a verbal confrontation with Chris’ wife in the stands.” An eyewitness also told L.A. Sentinel‘s Lauren A. Jones that Rondo’s girlfriend shoved Jada Paul, who was sitting next to Savannah James, LeBron’s wife.

As if things couldn’t get any stranger, Houston-raised rapper and producer Travis Scott looked like he might join the fracas as well.

           

You decide.

           

Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

Multiple sources told McMenamin and ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk that the league “could take Rondo’s previous suspension for directing an anti-gay slur toward referee Bill Kennedy in 2015 into consideration when determining his punishment.” 

It’s safe to say the NBA did no such thing. Three games aren’t enough if it did.

Ingram arguably warrants the longest suspension looking at this incident alone, but Rondo has a checkered history of on-court incidents. 

Before he ever hurled anti-gay slurs at Kennedy, Rondo received a two-game suspension in 2012 for throwing the ball at one referee. That same year, he was ejected from a playoff game for lightly and heatedly chest bumping another official.

Rondo maintains he didn’t spit on Paul. That could be the difference. But as VanDeWeghe noted, the NBA essentially determined that he did. A three-game suspension doesn’t cover that, the punch he threw and his past actions. 

Maybe it doesn’t need to. Maybe Rondo’s previous issues shouldn’t come into play. Either way, let’s not pretend the NBA set a hard-line stance or sturdy precedent with these suspensions.

           

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20:  LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers escorts Chris Paul #3 of the Houston Rockets after a fight involving Rajon Rondo #9 and Brandon Ingram #14 during a 124-115 Rockets win at Staples Center on October 20, 2018 in Los

Harry How/Getty Images

Just kidding. Cease contact immediately with anyone who is not.

         

Funk rock isn’t my thing, so I’m not sure. My guess is not anytime soon. Frontman and White Goodman lookalike Anthony Kiedis seems pretty busy at the moment.

             

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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