Rondo The Great
Updated: Oct 16, 2020
Improbably, Rajon Rondo is again an NBA champion. Once the 22-year old spunky kid brother to one of this century’s most iconic teams, Rondo waited twelve long years before hoisting the Larry OB yet again.
From his days as a Boston Celtic, Rondo wandered the NBA desert in search of a home. The cerebral, pugnacious point guard rode one hell of a roller coaster before playing a key role in once again winning a title, this time alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Rondo now looks poised for a shot at the Hall of Fame. His NBA career - far from over - is a remarkable one. Let’s take a look:
The Celtics years
Rondo’s career with the Celtics was almost capped at one season. Had Kevin Garnett not advocated for him, Rondo might have been shipped out of Boston as the C’s constructed their new championship roster ahead of the 2007-08 season.
Instead, Rajon Rondo became a household name in short order. During the regular season and into the playoffs, he proved himself an elite playmaker. More importantly, Rondo showed he could hang tough in one of the most accomplished and demanding defenses in modern basketball.
The Big Three Celtics have an outsized mythology for a team that only went to two Finals. But then again, so does this entire era. The Lakers, the Pistons, the Bulls, the Magic, the Cavs. The Celtics did battle with some iconic teams.
And there was Rondo, right in the mix.
As the Big Three aged, Rondo came into his own. In the 2012 postseason, he averaged 17.3 points, 11.9 assists, and 6.7 rebounds per game. Now a veteran in his own right, he showed the same toughness and ferociousness as Kevin Garnett and the rest of the Celtics.
In January of 2013, Rondo tore his ACL, in some ways fast-forwarding the end of this Celtics era. This was the beginning of the end for the All-Star guard. By the time he made his return to action the following January, everything had changed for Boston. Though he was named captain of the C’s, his days in the Hub were quickly coming to a close.
On December 13th of 2014, Rondo dropped 13 points, 15 assists, and seven rebounds for the Celtics. This would be his final game with the Celtics. And indeed as a star-level player for quite some time.
The journey years
Rondo isn’t the first player for whom major injuries and changing roles dramatically shifted expectations. A rising star with a hot temper, he became an over-qualified, oft-injured leading man on a rebuilding team rather quickly.
Boston traded Rondo to Dallas in 2014, where things never gelled. He had a few moments and flashes of greatness, but his relationship with the team was poor at best. Mavs coach Rick Carlisle benched Rondo in the postseason, and the situation never improved.
Soon Rondo was in Sacramento, where he would spend the 2015-16 season. Yes, he set the franchise record for triple-doubles with six. But all told, this was another disappointing stop.
Rondo’s fall from grace wasn’t exact. He landed a two-year, $24 million deal in July of 2016 with Chicago. And alongside Dwayne Wade and Jimmy Butler, the on-the court product was pretty good. In fact, his thumb injury in Game 2 against Boston might have kept the Bulls from an exciting postseason upset that year.
Things in Chicago, though, were dicey. Rondo and coach Fred Hoiberg rarely saw eye-to-eye. His defense was inconsistent, and his knack for racking up assists seemed detrimental to the team. In July of 2017, the 31-year old Rondo was waived by the Bulls.
Down but not out, Rondo joined the Pelicans, signing a $3 million contract. He proved he had plenty of gas in the tank, though the injury bug was a problem. Rondo was instrumental in New Orleans’ surprise first-round sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. Against the Warriors, he shined, including a 21-assist night in Game 3.
Away from Boston and the scaffolding of the Big Three, Rondo floundered for years. He never quite found a home that supported his playing style, his attitude, and his sometimes fragile body.
Save a few fleeting moments, he never regained the spotlight he had once garnered. Decidedly on the wrong side of 30, Rajon Rondo’s NBA twilight was starting to take shape.
The Lakers years
In 2018, Rondo inked a one-year, $9 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. It was assumed at the time that the once great guard could help mentor young Lonzo Ball and fill out LA’s bench.
The entire 2018-19 campaign was a tumultuous one for the Lakers. Rondo’s ride was no different. He set new records for triple-doubles, as well he might, while also earning a three-game suspension for supposedly spitting on Chris Paul. The entire year was a bizarre one for LA.
The Lakers went out the following summer and landed Anthony Davis in a trade that gutted the team’s roster. Rondo was brought back on a meager deal, which was seen as simply adding bodies to the pine. Said one Bleacher Report article at the time, “Rondo doesn't have to be a major factor in the rotation for [the Lakers] to succeed next season.”
Rondo wasn’t really a major factor in the regular season after all. He started just three games for LA, and logged just 20.5 minutes of playing time in the process. Alongside Dwight Howard, JR Smith, Dion Waiters, and Jared Dudely, he was one of many veterans hiding in the long shadows cast by LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Then came the postseason, where Rondo’s play-making, poise, and yes, three-point shooting all played essential roles for the Lakers. Much to the benefit of players like Markieef Morris and Alex Caruso, Rondo was back in his bag of tricks. He logged 105 assists this postseason in just sixteen games, all off the bench.
Rondo also shot 40 percent from three on north of three attempts per night. Not bad for a player not known for his shooting. His defense was more than adequate, also pretty good for someone who has been streaky on D outside of Boston.
The Lakers bench was inconsistent and a bit of a mess this postseason. Rondo provided critical stability. And leadership. Even LeBron took a few notes from his former foil. And in a Game 6 with the Title on the line, Rondo showed out with 19 points on 8-11 shooting off the bench.
Rondo was reportedly instrumental in encouraging his Lakers teammates to tighten the screws down the stretch. With a second championship win under his belt, here’s what Rondo had to say:
“To be able to come back and redeem myself and play a big part in this championship is definitely a hell of a feeling and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
Rondo’s fall from grace was obvious. He went from perennial All-Star and contender to a maligned journeyman. Even with LA, it was never expected he’d play such a critical role in earning a title.
Amid the glory of another LeBron ring, the vindication of Anthony Davis, and a title in Tinseltown, let’s make sure to shine light on another key storyline from a wild NBA season. Let’s find time to celebrate Rondo the Great.