After becoming the first player ever to win a title with both the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics, Rajon Rondo’s failed residency in Atlanta forced them to deal him at the trade deadline. His new home became the Los Angeles once again, this time with the Clippers, in what may have been the best fit of any player who found themself with a new team last March.
As if it weren’t already weird enough to see Rondo hold up the Larry O’Brien Trophy with LeBron James when the Lakers had tied the Celtics for their 17th championship in the bubble, add more to the list of greats that he’s played with throughout his career now that he joins Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
When this past free agency began, the narrative surrounding Rondo’s status was that his tenure with the Lakers was over due to their acquisition of Dennis Schroder. This left the former Celtic captain with two serious destinations in the Clippers and Hawks. The Hawks were interesting, given the idea that Rondo could be a mentor to players like budding superstar Trae Young in Atlanta with his leadership and knack for coaching. This would allow the team’s younger core to be held accountable by the hard-nosed veteran while Young could grow more comfortably with playing off-ball.
Unfortunately, the two-year deal worth $15 million did not go as planned for the Hawks. The off-court issues didn’t help, but there was little to no production on the court either. The 35-year-old appeared in 27 games and started in just two with career-worst averages of 3.9 points, 3.5 assists and 2.0 rebounds. Averaging just 14.9 minutes, Rondo had a PER of 9.9 and a +/- of -49.
Throughout the short offseason and this year, I had been constantly preaching about how Los Angeles was in desperate need of a floor general. Everyone saw how badly the Clippers flaked in the conference semifinals blowing the 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets. No chemistry, no leadership or accountability, not even someone to control the tempo or handle the presumed dysfunction in the locker room. Doc Rivers’ habit for blowing 3-1 leads as well as rumors about players pointing fingers didn’t give people a pleasant outlook on the Clips heading into the future.
As the Clippers were scoping out the market for a PG prior to the March 25 deadline, this deal made perfect sense. Lou Williams, on the tail-end of his career and who was rumored to be out of LA for quite some time now, was returning to his old home in Atlanta. Williams was one of the main issues in the bubble and he’s only had averages this season of 12.1 points, 3.4 assists and 2.0 boards. In 21 minutes, he has shooting splits of 42.1/37.8/86.6 with a PER of 15.9. The Hawks got their guy back who was a fan favorite from 2012-14 while Los Angeles got their veteran playmaker. His game Thursday night against Chris Paul was a vintage Rondo game. A thing of beauty.
The Clippers have ranked 18th in the NBA in passes made and 20th in assists this season. Rondo may not be that great on this stat sheet this season, but as we saw with the Lakers, playoff Rondo is a different breed.
The two-time champion has career averages of 13.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 9.0 assists in the postseason. His leadership on and off the floor makes a huge impact to go with his 10 triple doubles, tied for third on the all-time playoff list. For the Lakers, there were times where Rondo seemed unplayable in the regular season making bad plays and giving up on defense, even sitting in the stands. There was uncertainty if he would re-join them in the bubble due to a fractured thumb. The team wasn’t playing their best basketball in the eight games, but things were different when the postseason came.
Rondo was a crucial commander of the Lakers offense, putting up 8.7 points, 5.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds in the finals. He shot over 30% from three, was a +24 and was considered a dark horse candidate for Finals MVP. Many Celtics fans also probably remember how Rondo led the Bulls to a 2-0 series lead over Boston in 2017 just before fracturing his thumb in the eight vs one matchup. If Rondo stayed healthy, it appeared he was poised to help Chicago pull of a historic upset.
Former Celtic teammate Kendrick Perkins spoke about Rondo following the great performance against the Phoenix Suns.
The four-time All-Star’s ability to read defenses and draw up plays along with seeing them before they develop can open up the floor and take pressure off Paul George and Kawhi Leonard on both sides of the ball.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life,” Rondo told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in a sit down interview over a week ago when asked why he thinks he’ll be a good fit. “What I pride myself on is making First-Ballot Hall Of Famers jobs a lot easier.”
Nichols later asked Rondo what he believes the Clippers ceiling is.
“Championship, that’s it,” he said. “What I love is having that pressure of championship or bust. They’ve been in the playoffs, but this franchise hasn’t won. That is something I’m looking forward to doing. Proving a lot of doubters wrong and going against all odds.”
Photo: (Adam Pantozzi – NBE via Getty Images)