Quietly, Rajon Rondo is having a comeback year. Up close, he is Rondo the ball whisperer not Rondo the pouter. His drives in the lane for floater scores are reminiscent of the old Rondo the Celtics were enamored with. He is still allergic to perimeter shots as he controls the tempo. He is still a bad free throw shooter. He is still in possession of that Rondo scowl that makes his face look like it’s going to crack four ways. But it’s not because he is fed up or frustrated by his turnovers or that he is escaping some Cousins/Karl drama by being on the court. Rondo is just being Rondo. He’s serving up the ball and dishing out that scoop assist and it is working for the Kings. In his last five, he is averaging 12.4 assists, 11.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 34 minutes. He dropped 19 dimes in a game. The Kings are 2-3.
Sacramento isn’t Boston and it isn’t Dallas. It’s one thing to be on a bad team in a big market surrounded by a thriving city with distractions. It helps ease the soul when things are going sideways. Or, if you are on a team with a history that’s rebuilding- you can focus on what used to be.
But there’s nothing worse than being on a bad team in a small market whose best year was almost winning the Western Conference in a year no one remembers. But it is so like Rondo not to care. His career was in desperate need of a revival, an overhaul after his Dallas disaster. In the capital of California he has found one.
He has rediscovered his three year ago game when he was coached by Doc Rivers. His scoring is back on track. They say freedom is the gateway to happiness. Freedom gives you choices. George Karl has given Rondo the same thing Rivers gave Rondo: freedom and trust. Rondo scrapped Karl’s offense so he could be himself. In turn, Karl is the beneficiary.
Karl’s relationship with DeMarcus Cousins was always going to be a war of attrition with each side claiming victory depending on the month. Through all of it, Rondo has the appearance of the mature one.
It has been such a long time since the Kings have made the playoffs that any talk of that possibility seems so far fetched, almost like a trick question. But the west isn’t dominating much of anything, once you extract the Warriors and the Spurs. Seeds 3-8 are a measly 14 games over.500 while in the East seeds 3-8 are 25 games over .500.
The Kings want to believe if they just hang in there and hover around .500, (a long shot to be sure), post All-Star break they can make a push with Karl’s experience and Rondo’s on court leadership. The question always begins and ends with Cousins. Can he control himself?
His profanity laced tirade last month was perceived as Cousins back to his usual tricks but his apology to Karl was a nice change of pace. Cousins is having a typical Cousins year, 25 points, 10 boards and a PER of 22.7. Sacramento doesn’t have much of a bench. Marco Belinelli is having career lows in shooting efficiency and PER, and Ben McLemore is only good for 8 points in 21 minutes. So it leaves Cousins, Rudy Gay and Rondo to do all the heavy lifting.
Rondo signed a one-year deal in the off season. His reputation was blown to smithereens after his Dallas debacle. Rick Carlisle is one of the most respected coaches in the league. An inability to play for him waved huge red flags. The Kings, always in their own way, and desperate for a point guard who can get shots for others, took a chance on Rondo because why the hell not? Why not put Rondo, Karl and Cousins together, just for the sake of the drama and chaos and entertainment. You may get a lottery pick out of it if someone becomes trade bait.
If only Vlade Divac and Vivek Randive were smart enough to think that far around the corner. They took Rondo for obvious reasons. They needed a veteran who knew how to win.
“I’ve had different types of point guards than Rajon but the only guy I’ve coached who orchestrates a team as well is Andre Miller. Not many players play the ball off the rim, play the ball before it hits the rim. It’s like he’s a magnet.” (George Karl, Sacramento Bee)
The Kings have a losing record so Rondo’s impact hasn’t been enormous. But without him a 9-15 team would be a 4-20 team. Besides, the Kings are going to get better if Karl doesn’t wreck it with his George Karl antics. Cousins and Rondo need a lot of room to maneuver. They can’t be micromanaged.
The Kings have a few days off before Houston at home and then a four game trip (Timberwolves, Raptors, Wizards, Pacers). They come home for X-mas followed by a game against Damian Lillard and the Blazers. They go to Oracle to play the Warriors. A few days later they are on the road at the Thunder and Mavericks. Things can get much worse.
Or, Rondo can keep this rocky and tilting ship from sinking.
photo via llananba