It appears that the Sacramento Kings stumbled onto a gold mine when they signed free agent point guard Rajon Rondo. The 29-year-old four-time All-Star was all but left for dead by NBA executives. When the Kings signed him to a one-year $9.5 million deal, they were mocked for competing against themselves for his services.
What is an elite point guard worth on the open market? If you’re the Sacramento Kings, he’s worth more than $9.5 million. For a franchise that struggles to lure in free agents, landing a star-level player, regardless of what baggage he may bring, was a coup for the Kings.
Make no mistake, Rondo is elite. After dropping in 14 points, 18 assists and nine rebounds in Thursday’s loss to Miami, Rondo is now averaging 12.6 points, 10.2 assists and 7.6 rebounds per game on the season. He ranks second in the NBA in assists and his rebounding number is second on the Kings behind DeMarcus Cousins.
Why is Rondo off to such a blazing start? It could be that he is 100 percent healthy and a few years removed from a major knee injury. It could also be that he had the opportunity to develop a rapport with his team through a full training.
Rondo has an idea of what has aided his quick start and it is not what most people would guess.
“Coach, it has to do with coach, it has to do with team, it has to do with freedom,” Rondo said. “They all play a role. I worked my butt off this summer and I’m continuing to get better."
Despite leading the league in triple-doubles early in this season, Rondo sees plenty of room for growth. He may be his own toughest critic.
“Now, I still have room to improve,” Rondo said. “I want to improve my shooting, my free-throw shooting, keeping my turnovers down,” the pass-first point guard said. “I still have a lot of room to grow. Like I said, it starts with your coach. If your coach doesn’t believe in you, then as you see, it can happen to anybody.”
Rondo comes from winning. He’s led his team to the playoffs six times in his career and he was integral part of the 2008 Champion Boston Celtics squad.
“I don’t think he’s happy because he wants to win,” George Karl said. “I think his play is very encouraging and positive for everyone. He makes people better, he makes the game happen, he makes the game work.”
There is no question that Rondo makes people better. Cousins is third in the league in scoring at 27.5 points per game. You can see his effect on Ben McLemore, especially on Thursday against the Heat. Slowly the Kings are adjusting to his style, but at 4-9, the results are nowhere near Rondo’s lofty expectations.
“(Wins) are what it is about,” Rondo said. “You get paid on wins and in my opinion, we haven’t gotten enough wins. We’ve been in game situations, We’ve just got to find a way to start closing games out and get timely stops and not turn the ball over in critical times. It Starts with me.”
At least coach and player are on the same page. They both love to win. They both see a path to success. Neither will accept anything less.
Every coach will tell you that it is easier to tame a player that runs too hot and try to motivate a player that doesn’t care. Rondo has always been a player that takes extra time to manage, but it’s because he cares.
Karl loves Rondo’s fire and so do his teammates. Then again, who doesn’t love a player who drops in a near triple-double every time he walks on the court?
There was a Ben McLemore sighting in Miami. Sacramento has waited for their athletic young shooting to come to life. On Thursday night, he took major strides towards earning more playing time.
The 22-year-old guard dropped in 17 points on 7-for-12 from the field. He also hit 3-of-4 from downtown and gave a spirited effort on the defensive end against a first-ballot Hall of Fame player in Dwyane Wade.
As the Kings continue to build chemistry, it is good to see a young player finding and filling a role. McLemore has incredible potential, but Sacramento has very little time to wait for him to figure out his game. His performance in Miami shows that McLemore may be closer to contributing major minutes than he was a week or two ago.
There is nothing that DeMarcus Cousins hates more than losing. But, that is exactly what happens to his team when the star big man misses a game. Sacramento dropped to 0-5 on the season and 11-38 all-time without their leading scorer. Replacing 27.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game is next to impossible.
Cousins has missed four games so far due to injury this season, which happens during an 82 game season. But the Kings had an opportunity to end a 14-year drought in Miami and the Kings best player missed a game because he hit a player in the face with a forearm. At some point the idea that Sacramento can’t win without him has to be more important than the need to retaliate in a heated game.