Rajon Rondo, for the better part of half a decade at this point, remains quite possibly the NBA’s most polarizing player. Throughout years of storm and stress, spread out over four different teams, it appears as if there is just one thing he can encourage all of us to agree upon:
The 2015-16 Sacramento Kings were, mostly, trash.
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Rondo was the point guard of that 33-win team, which missed the playoffs for the tenth consecutive season, finishing eight games out of that postseason bracket in the West. Rajon did lead the NBA with 11.6 assists per game, something that still appears rather important to him in the face of a near-flameout in Boston prior to wild misses as a member of the Mavericks and Kings.
Now a member of the Bulls, working through his own newly-culled frustrations with his fourth team in two years, Rondo made a point in talking to NBA.com’s David Aldridge to remind us of how underwhelming his time in Sacramento was after being asked to characterize a high-assist man’s importance on the modern game:
“It’s just, maybe, the personnel in this situation,” Rondo says in response. “I mean, last year — I hate to keep talking about last year — but you couldn’t name three people on my team, the Sacramento Kings, and I led the league in assists. You know? I don’t know. I believe so (that his skill set still has value), given the right personnel and the flow of the game.”
The 2015-16 Sacramento Kings included DeMarcus Cousins, an All-Star who averaged 26.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and three combined blocks/steals a contest for the George Karl-led crew.
The team also included Rudy Gay, one of the more accomplished (statistically, at least) active NBA players to have never made an All-Star team, and Stephen Curry’s brother Seth Curry. Those players, along with Karl, stand with the biggest Q Ratings on that Kings for that particular year.
At the risk of sounding a bit prickish, though, the Kings also boasted Quincy Acy for 59 games, 29 of them starts. Current King holdovers and (to date) lockout washouts Ben McLemore and Willie Cauley-Stein also participated, along with Marco Belinelli. Many fair weather NBA fans could also name Caron Butler, a former two-time All-Star, but they’d need prodding in order to recall that he was, in fact, on the 2015-16 Sacramento Kings.
Through all the hardship, Rajon Rondo still played 75 games at 35 minutes per, and led the NBA in assists. The Kings finished 15th out of 30 teams in offense, as Rondo led the league in dimes per game for the third time in his career. The Kings liked the run so much they went to bat with Darren Collison and Ty Lawson (both rife with off-court trouble) leading the way at point guard this season, declining to sign the free agent Rondo to another contract.
The Chicago Bulls, to the great derision of anyone who has seen Rajon Rondo play basketball recently, happily leapt at what they saw as good fortune in signing Rondo to a two-year, $27 million contract. It’s true that only $3 million of that is guaranteed for 2017-18, but not before Rajon Rondo was paid $14 million to play basketball for Chicago in 2016-17.
What’s happened in that term? The Bulls passed the midway point of the season on Sunday in earning its 21st win in 42 tries, ranking 19th in offense. Despite the preponderance of former All-Stars on the team and the near-MVP season from Jimmy Butler, the Bulls rank second to last in two-point percentage and last in the NBA in three-point accuracy, attempts, and makes. The team is last in effective field goal percentage, and nightly needs an eight-free throw, 12-point fourth quarter from a desperate and haggard Jimmy Butler just to keep things close.
As you no doubt recall, he was benched in full near the end of the 2016 calendar year. This came after a one-game suspension following an altercation with Bulls assistant coach Jim Boylen, and play that saw him working as what either looked like or read like the missing link between the Bulls and what should be a batch of offensive efficiency from Chicago that the team’s front office had hoped to pay for last summer.
Replacements Michael Carter-Williams and Jerami Grant acted the salve, and with the expected (again, to everyone but the Chicago front office) onset of midseason fatigue, injury and illness, Rondo vaulted back into the rotation recently after that well-documented five and a half game absence, averaging 6.5 points and six assists in nearly 23 minutes a contest.
Chicago’s record during that stretch, winning twice in four games, was about as unrepresentative as the stretch that Rondo sat out (a loss in the half-game he sat against Indiana, three wins in five Rondo-less tries to follow). The Bulls’ problems, as was the case with the anonymous 2015-16 Sacramento Kings, run far deeper than Rajon Rondo.
This isn’t to say that Rajon Rondo is not a problem. He is, for reasons that have been detailed here several times over. Outside of the links provided here and above, the most recent recant came when he called Chicago’s reported decision to save Rondo’s game from itself (we’re paraphrasing) bollocks (we’re paraphrasing).
That’s a decision that Rondo still rues, which is understandable. What’s less justifiable is him using the Chicago front office’s own inadequacy as a starting point for playing time negotiations. From the talk with David Aldridge:
“Absolutely,” Rondo said. “I was very cautious this summer, where I chose to play. What I was told in the meeting … it’s a little different (now) from what I was told. That’s all I can say.”
Read: Chicago told Rajon Rondo he was going to start for the Bulls in 2016-17, which was silly of them. He had flamed out under great coaches in Boston (Brad Stevens) and Dallas (Rick Carlisle) prior to his time in Sacramento under George Karl, and it’s a wonder that his team stats were as merely mitigating (as opposed to destructive) as they were prior to his benching in late 2016.
If, as Rondo insinuates, the Bulls told Rajon that he was going to become a significant part of their team moving forward – dominating the ball, playing big minutes – then this is the mess that Chicago has created, and nobody should feel sorry for them clinging to a past-prime 30-something who cannot shoot or play defense.
Nobody should feel sorry for Rajon Rondo, though, just because the Bulls were one team in 30 that went against the grain that even the terrible Sacramento Kings abided by in choosing to let Rondo act as a big time free agent signee, and starting point guard.
Before signing off, Rondo decided to toss in one more bon mot regarding how terribly he had it in Sacramento, starting with the comparison to his headier days leading Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in Boston:
“That’s what I do best. I managed how to get three Hall of Famers the ball and keep everybody happy. All I have is two this year (Wade and, presumably, Butler) and I had one (presumably, DeMarcus Cousins) last year. It’s pretty simple. That’s what I do. I run the show.”
He does run the show, and that’s the problem. This show is terrible. Turn the channel.
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