Rajon Rondo’s Rebirth In Sacramento

Nov 27, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) talks to guard Marco Belinelli (3) against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 27, 2015; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) talks to guard Marco Belinelli (3) against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the second quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Rajon Rondo isn’t just surviving in his comeback season in Sacramento, he’s thriving.

Rajon Rondo was seen as washed up this offseason. When he signed a $9.5 million contract in Sacramento with the Kings as his only apparent suitor, it seems like a classic overpay for a name and nothing more.

After all, this was Vlade Divac‘s first offseason in charge, and one could be forgiven for assuming he didn’t quite know what he was going. Running the front office of an NBA team can’t be easy, and Rondo was coming off of his worst season ever.

Maybe not according to the stats, as Rondo’s numbers (outside of that horrid free-throw percentage) weren’t actually that bad in his Dallas stint, but it cannot be denied that things were bad when Rajon Rondo was a Maverick. He squabbled with Rick Carlisle and got himself benched in the playoffs.

His play this season has made all of that irrelevant. And really, it shouldn’t have been all that relevant to begin with. The extremely small sample size of half an NBA season, along with the fact that the parts just didn’t fit in the pressure cooker that was Carlisle’s Mavericks gearing up for another Dirk Nowitzki lead playoff run, make Rondo’s time there a complete outlier.

That’s more than speculation at this point–Rajon Rondo is working hard to prove everybody wrong about him. Rondo himself told Tim MacMahon as much in a recent ESPN interview:

"“I never started doubting myself. It made me work a little bit harder. I think I worked the hardest I ever worked in the NBA this summer.“I’m a competitor. I never doubted myself. All these people have counted me out since I got in the league, so it never made me any difference. I kept myself around positive people, got a great support system and just kept at it.”"

That’s a smart veteran who’s been through the absolute highs and lows the NBA has to offer talking. It’s also that same smart veteran playing for Sacramento these days. Rondo is posting All-Star caliber numbers this season, even in a point guard crowded Western Conference.

Through 19 games, Rajon Rondo has averaged 12.9 points, 10.7 assists, 7.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals. He’s also starting to prove that his success shooting from long range in his time with Dallas was no fluke–Rondo is shooting 35 percent from three-point territory, the same number he reached in his time with the Mavericks.

It’s not just pure statistics that Rondo is adding to the Kings this season though. In a team without much direction in recent seasons, Rondo is running both the floor and the locker room through him in a pretty selfless way. He’s a lightning rod for criticism, and he is using that position to take some heat off of both DeMarcus Cousins and George Karl.

Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

Instead of the bickering heard from Sacramento’s biggest personalities this offseason, Rondo is trying to instill positivity between the two. He called Cousins “the best big man in the league hands down” and asserted that this is still Karl’s team in that same ESPN interview.

Those quotes may seem casual, but they’re hugely impactful to this Kings team. This franchise has been a bastion for turmoil in the past five seasons or so.

The Kings haven’t had a veteran leader who commands respect and attention like Rajon Rondo. The one expected to implode the Kings is actually actively working to keep everything together.

Sacramento may not be a playoff team at the moment, but they’re on a 6-5 run after starting the season a horrible 1-7. There was a point in that first eight games where it seemed as though Karl wouldn’t make it to December as the head coach of the Sacramento Kings.

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There hasn’t been much leaked from the meeting the team held after that start when Karl was rumored to be on a very hot seat, but it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that one Rajon Rondo was huge in keeping this team together.

Rondo has been everything Sacramento could’ve hoped for, and more. When his signing was first announced, many speculated that his supposedly hot head would result in an ignition of the powder keg that was this Kings locker room.

The opposite has happened. Rondo has been a leader both on and off of the floor, and he’s helped unite this team after a rough start to get the Kings back on track.

Next: 25 Best Players to Play for the Sacramento Kings

His NBA-leading four triple-doubles and overall great play has helped Sacramento on the court, but his level head and veteran leadership might still be Rajon Rondo’s greatest contribution to this team. The Rondo of old is back. Watch out, NBA.