When Rajon Rondo left Boston a little less than a year ago in a trade that sent him from the Celtics to the Mavericks, his hope was that he was about to embark on the phase of his career that would establish him as an elite point guard in the NBA, one who was not only able lead a contender as a featured player, but also would prove to be worth the maximum contract he would seek in 2015 free agency. That did not happen. Rondo never got comfortable in Dallas, had an embittered relationship with coach Rick Carlisle that featured (at least) a pair of shouting matches and finished out the team’s brief playoff run sitting with
When Rajon Rondo left Boston a little less than a year ago in a trade that sent him from the Celtics to the Mavericks, his hope was that he was about to embark on the phase of his career that would establish him as an elite point guard in the NBA, one who was not only able lead a contender as a featured player, but also would prove to be worth the maximum contract he would seek in 2015 free agency.
That did not happen. Rondo never got comfortable in Dallas, had an embittered relationship with coach Rick Carlisle that featured (at least) a pair of shouting matches and finished out the team’s brief playoff run sitting with
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But after just a little more than a month with the Kings, there’s evidence that Rondo has wiped clean the memory of his rough tenure with Dallas and has rebuilt his value heading into what could be a free-agent bonanza next summer, when the league’s salary cap will spike as new television money is added to NBA revenues.
“I don’t know whether he will quite get the maximum, mostly because we don’t know what the max is going to be,” one Eastern Conference general manager told Sporting News. “But there is going to be a lot of money on the market and only a handful of players who you would really say are max guys. If Rajon were to keep playing the way he’s been playing, if he is not getting the max next year, it’ll be close.”
Rondo is averaging 12.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and a league-leading 10.7 assists a game for the Kings. He has been a much better fit in Sacramento, where he is allowed to control the ball and make plays off of penetration, as opposed to Dallas, which relies more on spacing and team-wide ball movement. He has struggled with his mid-range shot — perhaps the biggest nemesis of his career — but he has made 35.4 percent of his 3-pointers, well above his career average from the arc (27.1 percent).
The Kings have dealt with a slew of off-court issues, mainly centering on the difficult relationship between star DeMarcus Cousins and coach George Karl. Rondo has a long history of prickly relationships with coaches, starting with Doc Rivers in Boston and on to Carlisle last year. But by the end of Rivers’ tenure in Boston, the two had forged a solid working friendship and Rondo got along well with Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who replaced Rivers.
Rondo has not been part of the conflicts in Sacramento. In fact, he has done what he can to help cool the Karl-Cousins contretemps, trying to establish some communication and stability on a team that has known so little of either in the last few years. The Kings entered Thursday at 7-12, and while that’s a disappointing record, they’ve shown flashes of becoming a credible team with a shot of finishing near .500 and even making a bid for a postseason spot.
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That was one of the hopes when Sacramento signed Rondo to a one-year, $9.5 million deal last summer. His time in Dallas caused Rondo’s market value to plunge, and while there was some hope that he would join Lakers friend Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, that possibility evaporated when the Lakers drafted D’Angelo Russell with the No. 2 pick in June.
With few teams in need of a point guard and with his reputation bruised, both the Kings and Rondo took the one-year gamble. It’s paying off, and should pay off handsomely for Rondo.
Even Carlisle told reporters this week, “He’s a max player next year. Someone’s going to have to back up the truck to get him.”
Don’t expect much word from Rondo and his camp on the subject, however. Rondo has brushed off questions from the media about his free-agency goals, and folks in Rondo’s camp are remaining tight-lipped about his future. You won’t hear Rondo or his agent, Bill Duffy of BDA Sports, proclaiming his status as a max player any time soon.
There’s good reason for that. Rondo will turn 30 in February, and the last four years have taught him how quickly things can change. He was an All-Star in the midst of his best season when tore the ACL in his right knee in January 2013, struggled to get back to form before getting his chance with Dallas last year. But the excitement of that deal quickly soured.
Consider Rondo in the “so far, so good” stage of his time with the Kings.
“It would not surprise me at all if he winds up with a max deal next summer," another league executive told Sporting News. "Maybe not for five years, but a three-year deal or something like that. But if he stays healthy, I would expect the money to be around max. But let’s see how the year goes.”
There’s still a long way to go in this season. But considering all that transpired for Rondo in the past year, he’s already come a long way in his personal rebuild.