It’s been a pretty busy hot-stove season for the Sacramento Kings. The biggest rumors and buzz has surrounded on Demarcus Cousins’ future in Sacramento. Some say he’s going to the Lakers. Some say George Karl tried to trade him. Some say that they are going to fire Karl and hire John Calipari from Kentucky. The drama is such a whirlwind, it’s really hard to determine what’s true and what’s worth reading and listening to. And in all honesty, the news with Cousins has been hammered to death in both the media and Twitter-sphere, so I am not going to really go into great detail on this issue.
(But for those who are interested, I think Cousins needs to remain in Sacramento. I understand they would like a ridiculous deal, and I know Karl has found success ditching the superstar for a tremendous package and flexibility in return (i.e. Denver when they traded Melo) but Cousins is such a rare talent in today’s NBA game. There just aren’t that many quality big men with the skills, talent and production of Cousins. Furthermore, Cousins genuinely seems to like being in Sacramento, and not only is that rare, it should also be a sign that the Kings should be doing whatever they can to please and complement their superstar down the road. If Cousins was open about his unhappiness being in Sacramento (ala Kevin Love, Melo, etc.), then I would be open to it, but since that is not the case, Boogie needs to stay.)
Instead, I want to look at some of the possibilities for the Kings with the Free Agency period about to begin. The biggest story in my mind is the possibility of Rajon Rondo coming to Sacramento and inheriting the Kings’ point guard position from Darren Collison, who’s coming off a solid, though injury-shortened season. Rudy Gay, who is friends with Rondo, seems to be the most outspoken supporter of bringing Rondo to Sacramento, per this tweet below from Marc Stein:
Free-agent scuttle: Kings forward Rudy Gay is among loudest voices urging on-the-market point guard Rajon Rondo to come to Sacramento
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 30, 2015
The chatter is interesting for a variety of reasons. First off, the star has really dimmed the past couple of seasons on Rondo. Once ranked at Top-5 point guard in the league 3-4 years ago, injury and lackluster play have made Rondo drop out of that discussion considerably (you could argue he’s not even a Top-15 PG right now). That was amplified last season after he was traded to Dallas in a stint that could be rightfully called an unmitigated disaster. Though his true shooting percentage (42.2 to 46 percent) and points per 36 minutes improved (9.4 to 11.6) in his move from Boston to Dallas, his assist rate fell dramatically (49.3 to 34 percent) and consequently so did his PER (15.4 to 12.4), offensive rating (95 to 94) and offensive win shares (he totaled minus-0.7 offensive win shares last year with Boston and Dallas).
But while the numbers show Rondo’s decline, it was his clash with Rick Carlisle that ultimately led to his undoing. Rondo struggled to co-exist with the Mavs’ head man, so much so that Rondo only played 2 playoff games and 37 total minutes. Even before the playoffs were over, Carlisle was adamant in Rondo’s future being over in Dallas. What was supposed to push the Mavs over the edge in the first round, ended up backfiring, as the Mavs with Rondo faded down the stretch, and didn’t stand much of a chance against the Rockets in the first round (they lost in 5 games).
As a Kings fan, my initial reaction to Rondo was “Do we really need a guy with issues considering how touch the situation is now currently?” But, as I thought about it, I basically came up with three reasons why Rondo wouldn’t be a bad idea in Sacramento next season.
Reason #1: He will be an affordable Free Agent solution considering his position.
Darren Collison did a fine job last season at point guard. However, the Kings second unit struggled immensely, and though Collison showed he could be a serviceable starting point guard, he probably would be better suited as a backup point who can keep the Kings competitive when their starters are off the floor. Collison just doesn’t really match up at a position that is incredibly deep right now, especially in the Western Conference. With that being said, the Kings need an upgrade at point, and their options right now look thin in free agency, as only Goran Dragic and Rondo seem like the only worthy unrestricted free agency options.
Dragic seems pretty unattainable. He’s going to command a massive payday, and it appears that Sacramento doesn’t seem the kind of destination for a player of Dragic’s caliber. As for Rondo, his value is considerably down right now, and it is totally plausible to see Sacramento acquire him much cheaper than initially expected a year ago, when everyone felt that Rondo was going to be the hot unrestricted free agent of this class. In fact, many people are thinking Rondo could sign a short 1-2 year deal that could be pretty reasonable for Sacramento, not to mention hold a lot of benefits. If Rondo does well, and the Kings still are out of contention, he could hold some trade value which can help stock the assets on the Kings roster. If he doesn’t do well, it would be easy to part with Rondo since he is on a limited deal. And if Rondo does well and helps push the Kings in contention? Well, then we can re-sign him to a bigger deal, especially in a couple of years when the cap is expected to rise.
Either way, Dragic or Rondo seem like the only plausible free agent options worth the starting point position and Rondo seems more realistic and affordable than Dragic.
Reason #2: He could be a good fit in George Karl’s system
Rondo is a pass-first point guard who can push the pace and set up his teammates. He’s not a good shooter (career 50.3 true shooting percentage), but he never really has been asked or wanted to be. Rondo is all about generating assists and points for his teammates and he’s carved out an All-Star career doing so (career 41.1 assist rate). Also, Rondo has demonstrated being a plus on defense, though injuries have set him back in that category the past couple of years.
So how would this fit with Karl and his system? Pretty well actually. In many ways, Rondo fits with the Kings much like Gary Payton fit with the Sonics under Karl. While Rondo is not the shooter that Payton was, he can get to the basket well like Payton and he generates offense for his teammates much like Payton did during the Sonics hey day. Also, Rondo is the kind of defender at the point that gives Karl a lot of options on the defensive end. Furthermore, Karl also found success with Andre Miller at the point in Denver and Sacramento, who was a lackluster outside shooter, but excellent at getting to the rim and creating offense (though Miller was more prone to score than Rondo).
Rondo may not fit for a lot of teams, especially with 3-pt shooting in demand from guards across the NBA (i.e. the Golden State model). However, Karl has a positive history with point guards with similar skill sets to Rondo, and that could be a key factor that could sway Rondo to choose Sacramento as his destination next season.
Reason #3: He will fit well with this roster and their personalities
Rondo is a touchy personality. He struggled to co-exist with the younger Celtics last season, and he didn’t do well with the established status-quo in Dallas either. Rondo also has had legendary spats with players in the past (one of the reasons he has not been on the USA National team in the past is due to his feud with Derrick Rose). Some people refer to Rondo as a malcontent, even though he doesn’t typically fit the bill of one (i.e. he’s not getting ejected from games, yelling at reporters or teammates, etc.).
But Rondo has seemed to get along with talented teammates. While there was some adjustment, he eventually fit in with the Big 3 in Boston and helped them be a title contender for about half a decade. If Rondo is on a winning team and with players who can score and finish the plays he creates, he can seem to co-exist just fine. Rondo and Gay already are friends, so that doesn’t seem to be an issue. The big question now is simply this: will he get along with Cousins?
Cousins can get on his teammates and already there are a lot of stories about him that demonstrate he hasn’t necessarily been the best influence on some of the younger players (the biggest example being Nik Stauskas, who just seems petrified of him on and off the court). But Cousins is competitive and recognizes and respect players that can help him win. Furthermore, Cousins had no issues with any players on the Team USA roster during last year’s FIBA World Cup in Madrid, which further goes to demonstrate that Cousins and Rondo would co-exist as long as Rondo brings his effective playmaking to Sacramento.
He’s friends with Rudy, will satisfy Boogie’s desire to win, and seems to also have the kind of eclectic personality that could mesh with rookie Willie Cauley-Stein. I don’t really foresee a lot of the personality issues that Rondo has in Boston and Dallas in Sacramento if the Kings sign him.
Overall Analysis on Rondo
It’s always tough to decipher what offers will be thrown at players in free agency. But, to the Kings’ benefit, Rondo’s stock is low. And thus, he could be an affordable upgrade at the point that won’t require the Kings to surrender any of their assets (unlike Eric Bledsoe, whom the Kings are interested in, but will most likely require the surrendering of a lot of Kings assets, be it picks or players). Rondo seems like he would fit in the kind of style, offensively and defensively, that George Karl will want to play, and I don’t see his personality conflicting with anybody on the Kings roster (even Boogie). If the option is affordable, and short-term, I would not be averse to seeing Vlade Divac and Kings management pulling the trigger on making Rondo a Sacramento King in 2015-2016.