Kawhi Leonard Wins

Though it may seem like a paradox, the Clippers got worse and they got a whole lot better. They lost a necessary scorer, particularly when their offensive is flat as a pancake. Lou Williams has been a crucial member of the Clippers culture and can be counted on to get buckets, get to the line, and change the energy in the game. His numbers were down this season because his minutes were down. Williams identity hasn’t changed much. While the Clippers were desperate for a point guard they lacked complementary assets to go out and get Kyle Lowry or Lonzo Ball. They needed a table-setter more than they needed to keep one of the leaders of their culture.

Rajon Rondo was supposed to be a Clipper this summer but they didn’t have the money. He took what he could get from Atlanta and didn’t give much in return. For most of the season, Rajon had that familiar look of someone who had his hand out and wasn’t really interested in the rest of it.  He played six minutes less than last season for 3.9 ppg. Rondo wasn’t taking a lot of shots and so the sample size of his offense was too small to make accurate projections. On a better team and in the playoffs, Rondo will be more assertive. Perhaps.

What happened last year to the Clippers when their flaws were on stage was humiliation. For months they went around town talking about how they were the best team and then couldn’t back it up. They lacked self-awareness. Kawhi and George are finishers. Pat Beverly is a defensive point guard not skilled at distributing shots. Lou Williams is a bucket maker who is about Lou Williams. Reggie Jackson thinks he is a star. That’s where Rondo was supposed to come in, to be the glue.

But unlike his stint with the Lakers where roles were pretty defined, everything revolved around LeBron or Anthony Davis, the Clippers are not constructed in that kind of top-heavy way. For Rondo, it will probably be a breath of fresh air because the Clippers have a lot of weapons. They aren’t selfish.

One of their perplexing problems has been desire. They just don’t play hard every night. They’ve lost games they should have won. They have looked lethargic. You’d think with the way they were embarrassed by Denver they would be out for revenge, they would be on a mission. But not really.

The toughest guy on their team has not played one game for them. Rajon Rondo, on winning teams, has shown a propensity for not mailing it in and holding teammates accountable who do. He can be prickly, competitive, irritable. He sees the game like a surgeon opening up the brain. One layer at a time. Dig here. Cut over there. Stop. Too much bleeding. I expect some spirited back and forth with Ty Lue when Rondo breaks off a play to call something of his own and it makes all the sense in the world to him but Lue is fuming.

While the Clippers have great offensive numbers- 1st in 3’s, 6th in scoring- their rebounding is atrocious and they don’t have explosiveness in the post. Their defensive rating is ho-hum and they don’t block shots. Rondo can’t help that. He is being brought in to fine tune a machine and to keep Kawhi Leonard in town.

The likelihood of Kawhi leaving at the end of this season is small. He just bought a $17 million house in the Palisades, which puts him at 3 homes in Southern California. He was clear to the front office he needed a point guard and so he got his wish. His contract and Rondo’s end at the same time, 2022.

If the Clippers weren’t winners at the deadline, Kawhi Leonard certainly was. He won’t have to hear all the criticisms about his poor leadership. That’s Rondo’s job now.