Despite the multi-year long rumors surrounding Rajon Rondo potentially joining the Sacramento Kings via trade, it was still a surreal moment for me when I found out he had actually signed with the Kings. I loved the fit when those rumors started popping up years ago to the point where I didn’t think there was another attainable player in the entire NBA that could make this team better than Rajon Rondo could, and I had so much anecdotal evidence to back that up.
I lived 40 minutes from Boston throughout Rondo’s run with the Celtics. I had watched him play hundreds of basketball games and was glued to the television for every instance of ‘playoff Rondo’.
He was so good, so brilliant, that I still have the hardest time wrapping my head around what happened in Dallas. His work ethic, by all accounts, is off the charts. I’m comfortable calling him a basketball genius, which we will touch on later, and chalking his time with the Mavericks up to ‘bad fit’ always felt too easy, but I don’t have a better explanation for why that went the way that it did. I can blame his latter years in Boston on various legitimate, surgery requiring injuries. Dallas was supposed to be different. He was healthy, he was still just 28, he was playing with high caliber players again, and it was a disaster.
I usually put together the ‘5 things’ before writing this introductory blurb, and after reintroducing myself to Rondo as a person and as a player for this column, I can’t help but mutter to myself "why isn’t this guy still a superstar?" and I don’t know the answer.
Here’s to him resurrecting his career in Sacramento this season. Wouldn’t that be something?
1. Basketball Savant
This could also be titled "go read Baxter Holmes’ amazing profile on Rajon Rondo for ESPN the Magazine last April". Seriously, are you done reading it? Ok. Proceed. Rondo is special, like, Professor X-should-probably-try-to-recruit-him special.
Baxter Holmes, Via ESPN –
At shootarounds and practices in Boston, Rivers says, Rondo would become "very irritated" when they had to go over plays again and again, even for veterans. For Rondo, learning plays came as naturally as math. Teammates and coaches would universally claim that Rondo has some sort of photographic memory -- he doesn't deny it -- and former Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau, now head coach of the Bulls, says that by the time they'd watch game film the morning after, Rondo had already reviewed the footage two or three times. ("He doesn't sleep," Doo says.) The Celtics considered him a pseudo-advance scout, listening and looking for cues from the opponent, then calling out exactly what they were about to do.
2. Tip-Off Ritual
Rondo does something for every won tip-off. It’s never the same thing, either, so maybe ritual isn’t the best word, but it’s a fun quirk. Why does he do it? who knows. Why not?
3. Pregame Routine
Jason Terry, Via ESPN -
His routine is long-winded and it lasts all the way through tip-off. It starts in the back hallway. He runs down a corridor and he throws the ball to our team chaplain, who throws it back. Then [Rondo] runs out into a circle, high-fives the whole team and then he does the layup lines for five minutes.
"Then he will stand under the goal and Paul Pierce will shoot every ball on the rack from half court. Rondo will catch four balls at one time and then after that, it's just amazing -- one pass off the backboard to KG, one bounce pass to Paul Pierce and then he throws it all the way up to the scoreboard and Jeff Green finishes with an alley-oop.
"It's every game, even road games. I have no idea how he started it; I'm new to the team. I was still going through layup lines and I almost got hit with one of those balls in the head. I wasn't aware that's what they were doing. It threw me off.
This sounds fake, or at the very least fabricated, right? It's really specific, and completely superfluous. I wouldn't believe it myself if a fan didn't have a recording.
Via Celtics Life
4. Relationship with Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins
Rajon Rondo’s friendship with Rudy Gay is pretty well documented. Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears reported that Gay played an instrumental role in convincing Rondo to join him in Sacramento. They had played basketball together in AAU; Rondo was in Gay’s wedding, etc.
Rondo’s relationship with Cousins is a little more nuanced. Rondo, like Cousins, is a Kentucky alumnus, but Rondo was there before John Calipari took over and turned Kentucky into what it is today.
In 2011, Rondo and Cousins got into a little shoving match during a game in Sacramento. That was under the Paul Westphal regime, though, so I’m OK forgetting that ever happened.
In the following offseason, Rondo and Cousins would become teammates for one night when a Kentucky alumnus team took on the Dominican Republic national team (Calipari was the DR coach at the time) at Rupp arena for an exhibition game. That game produced one of the most laid back press conferences I’ve ever seen. Watching Boogie jokingly trash the officiating in an exhibition game, and Rondo questioning if Calipari hired them is comically accurate to what you'd think a Couisns/Rondo press conference would be like.
Chemistry, for better or worse, will determine what kind of season the Kings have. On paper, they have enough talent here to suggest playoff contention is possible. In other words, talent won't be why this team struggles, and you couldn't have said that at any point over the last decade. I won't argue that this team is perfect from a talent standpoint, but they have enough of it to make some noise.
I don't want to paint these relationships as having more value than they do, but I think they have to count for something. We know Gay and Rondo are solid. At the least, I think we can say Cousins and Rondo have a healthy respect for each other. I think Rondo and Cousins can certainly relate to how they've been treated in the media over the last couple of years, not that some of that treatment hasn't been deserved, but still.
Cousins told Bill Simmons that he thought Rajon Rondo was the best point guard in the NBA. This was only 14 months ago. Some have said that these two personalities will clash, and I'd say it's just as likely that they mix perfectly. It could go either way.
5. Four Time All-Star, NBA Champion
The narrative surrounding Rondo’s Dallas exit was so deservedly negative that it’s easy to forget just how incredible he was only two seasons ago. Rondo is 29 years old. His career shouldn’t have flamed out like it did in Dallas. That goes back to the overwhelmingly perplexing ‘why isn’t this guy still a superstar?’ question from 1,000 words ago. He’s been labeled a quitter, but I think that argument is just as hard to make as it is to defend. How can Rondo go from 4x All-Star, former NBA champion and key cog to multiple deep playoff runs to quitter in just a matter of months?
I don’t think Rondo is a bad guy, either, for whatever that’s worth. Baxter Holmes conducted a Q and A with Rondo last year, and when asked about the lack of publicity for Rondo’s charity work (he was a finalist for the NBA's Community Assist Award that year), Rajon responded -
You don’t do charity work for publicity. Well, I know I don’t. Everybody’s different. I feel like if you do stuff like that for charity, it should be from the heart. You don’t have to get exposure for it.
The people that you’re doing it for are very grateful. It’s not to get media attention. It’s not to get the NBA behind me. I do it for myself. I do it for the people that need it and I do it because I want to do it.
There’s no need for a big media blast. People do that stuff all the time all across the world that you don’t hear about. People volunteer over in foreign countries and do way more stuff than I’m doing.
So for me to do what I do, I’m very blessed to be in my situation. I don’t feel like I need any exposure or a pat on the back when I’m doing it. I do it because I want to do it.
Charity work doesn’t equal great guy, but we’ve seen, heard, and read similar sounding stories about DeMarcus Cousins and his commitment, his attitude, his locker room presence, etc. With limited-to-no exposure on what he does for the various communities he’s a part of. We know the best side of DeMarcus Cousins, and I think we’ll get to know that side of Rondo for as long as he’s here.
The worst-case scenario, and what I'd consider the most realistic reason why Rondo hasn't been Rondo over the last few seasons is that the injuries took so much of a toll on him, and the recovery time kept him from the court for so long on such a consistent basis that he just couldn't get back to the level he was previously at. While that doesn't necessarily explain what happened in Dallas, it would explain why his production has tailed off in the way that it has. The Kings are obviously hoping that his recent stretch of good health, along with a full summer to work on his game, will return him to form. If you wanted to call that wishful thinking, I'd have a hard time convincing you otherwise.