SLAM Top 50: Rajon Rondo, no. 50

You can try as hard as you want to fit a square peg into a round hole, but no matter what you do it will prove to be a task doomed for failure. Last season, the Dallas Mavericks learned this the hard way after acquiring Rajon Rondo from the Boston Celtics in a deal meant to bolster their run at a Championship.

Rondo is a four time All-Star and one of the best distributors in the game, having averaged over 11 assists as recently as the 2012-13 season.

Rondo’s sharp edges didn’t mesh with head coach Rick Carlisle’s way of doing things. Soon after the trade, there was a palpable tension between the All-Star guard and his coach on the court, and the relationship slowly deteriorated further to the point of spilling off the court.

Rondo was even suspended for a game, and eventually a “back injury” forced him to the bench in the Playoffs—an injury that seemingly would have never caused Rondo to miss an important game in Boston.

Perhaps this lack of adaptability on Rondo’s end demonstrates something in him that can keep him from ever being the player he once was. On the other hand, should the Mavericks have done more to incorporate Rondo into a team that without him had no legitimate chance to win the Championship anyway?

The role of an NBA point guard is morphing into something the League has never seen before on such a large scale. From Russell Westbrook to Derrick Rose to Stephen Curry, point guards are taking on a much larger scoring role, but even so, it remains the job of the point guard to facilitate and make every single guy on his team better.

Rondo has proven that he does the latter better than almost anyone else, and that if he is given the proper tools, he can lead a team to a Championship.

Make no mistake, without Rondo, the 2008 Boston Celtics do not win a Championship. Everyone talked about the big three of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, but in the end, it was the fiery point guard who led that team with confidence and tenacity on both ends of the court all season long and over the next few years of contention.

He isn’t the scoring point guard that others are, but he has proven in the past that he can make the plays. In his last Playoff series, for example, he averaged 17 points per game to go along with his usual playmaking.

He doesn’t have a jump shot and for some reason he can’t make a free throw, but he has been able to keep his field-goal percentage around 50 percent in many seasons thanks to good shot selection and penetrating to the hoop.

All Rondo needs in order to return to that highest level of play is a change of scenery. Enter the strange concoction of George Karl, Vlade Divac, DeMarcus Cousins and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive.

If you are searching for a precursor to Rondo’s odds of success in Sacramento, you need not look past his new head coach. From George Karl’s rookie coaching gig with the Cleveland Cavaliers, all the way through to his most recent tumultuous but successful run with the Denver Nuggets, it has been proven that Karl’s system can elevate a point guard to the best version of himself.

John Bagley, the Cavs’ point guard during Karl’s short two-season run in Cleveland, averaged 9 assists per game under Karl, and under 6 for the rest of his career. Ty Lawson rose to prominence under Karl, fitting perfectly into the coach’s system in place in Denver. We know that Rondo can excel in the right conditions, and it appears that Sacramento might just be the perfect storm for him to do just that.

After the franchise was unfairly criticized for what turned out to be a pretty good offseason, it now looks like the Kings can make some noise in the loaded Western Conference. They added solid role players in Kosta Koufos and Marco Belinelli, drafted young big man Willie Cauley-Stein, and are now adding Rondo to a group featuring DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. Rondo could be the final piece of the puzzle, just as he was in Boston.

The Sacramento Kings are actually the perfect landing spot for Rondo this season. He is one more year removed from his ACL surgery, which can only be a good thing. He may have ended up there because he couldn’t get the big money, long-term contract offer he was seeking, but it does seem as though contract years always bring out the best in people, and Rondo has a lot to prove to those who doubt him.

Rondo is more of the type that thrives in real competition and wouldn’t seem to ever play better for a paycheck, but he was definitely slighted last season, and the extra motivation is there.

Should we not be concerned that, in a world where Tristan Thompson is holding out for a max contract, Rondo is taking what he can get so he can prove his worth to the League once more?

He has a real chance to thrive and return to All-Star form in his new surroundings, and if that leads to the Kings snagging a Playoff spot, you better believe a fat contract will be waiting for him either in Sacramento or elsewhere.

Rondo is the ultimate competitor. He sneaks into opposing teams’ huddles. He crushes children without mercy off the court in games of Connect Four. He plays through dislocated shoulders. And he has orchestrated a team to a title. The Sacramento Kings? Playoffs? It’s not as crazy as it sounds if all goes according to plan.


SLAM Top 50 Players 2015
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Rajon Rondo Kings PG 14

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2015-16—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.