Why Rajon Rondo (Probably) Won't Stay


Sacramento is not exactly the most desirable free agent destination in the NBA. The Kings most popular player of the last 20 years, Chris Webber, cried the first time he flew into the Capitol City and saw all the farmland from the plane.  

Would you willingly play basketball for the Sacramento Kings? Let’s look at it this way: You’re a budding NBA star, 26 years old and fresh off your rookie contract. You are a free agent with multiple teams bidding for your service. Everyone is offering a maximum contract, so the money is the same no matter where you go. Your choices: Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, or Sacramento. Beaches or farmland? The Big Apple or big open spaces? Hollywood or Cowtown? 

It is no secret around the NBA that Sacramento is a less-than-desirable destination. Below is a list of the most successful free agent signing by the Kings for each year dating back to 1998. Notice that even during the successful years (’99-‘04ish), Sacramento has never landed a star free agent: 

1999: Tony Delk
2000: Bobby Jackson 
2001: None
2002: Keon Clark 
2003: Anthony Peeler 
2004: Matt Barnes/Greg Ostertag
2005: Shareef Abdur-Raheem
2006: John Fucking Salmons
2007: Beno Udrih
2008: None
2009: Sean May
2010: Luther Head
2011: Chuck Hayes
2012: Aaron Brooks
2013: Carl Landry
2014: Darren Collison 

The most successful from that group is undoubtedly Bobby Jackson, who won 6th Man of the Year in 2003. The entire list is ugly, particularly from ’08-’14, ending when Darren Collison gave us the smallest, tiniest bit of hope that free agents just might come if the price is right. 

Summer 2015 saw the Kings reel in their biggest catch in at least two decades: Rajon Rondo. Other free agents were brought in, such as Marco Belinelli, Kosta Koufos, and Caron Butler, but Rondo was the crown jewel.

But here’s the thing about Rondo: he didn’t really have a choice. After eight very successful seasons in Boston, Rondo was traded to the Dallas Mavericks mid-way through the 2014 season. It was a horrible match. Rondo clashed with head coach Rick Carlisle, and was benched and inactivated for the Mav’s final three playoff games. He went from sought-after All-Star point guard, to a free agent with a heavily damaged reputation. 

The Kings were one of the very few teams who came calling, and the only one who made a legitimate offer for the talented but blemished Rondo. GM Vlade Divac was able to find common ground with the point guard, and signed him to a one year contract worth $9.5 million. Though it was never said, the stakes seemed pretty obvious: Have a successful season, and Rondo might stick around long-term. Miss the playoffs for the 10th straight season, and its a one-year rehab stint. 

The 2015-2016 season started off well for the Kings, by their standards, and Rondo was a huge reason for their moderate success. He led (and still leads) the league assists at 11.7 per game, and was giving the Kings the point guard play they had longed for.  After a sluggish 1-7 start, Sacramento was 20-23 by January 24th, and alone in the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It was the first time they had held a playoff spot after January 1st since 2007. 

On January 25th, the Kings hosted the Charlotte Hornets and lost a heartbreaker in double overtime, 129-128. The team had 20 hours to fly to Portland and get ready to play the suddenly surging Blazers, who were 2 games back for that last playoff spot. Sacramento lost by 15, and would lose six out of the next seven games, along with their hold on the 8th seed. 

It got worse. The Kings have gone 3-13 since Feb. 24th, and are now eight games back of the final playoff spot. There were rumors during All-Star Weekend that head coach George Karl would be fired, but Karl remained, despite criticisms of his lineup choices and his differences with superstar DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings are all but eliminated from playoff contention, and will likely finish with less than 35 wins for the eighth straight season. (They will, however, likely finish with 30+ wins for the first time in eight seasons)

Come this summer, Rondo will have yet another decision to make. Except this time, his options will be much broader. His image is repaired, and it is obvious that the talent still exists. There will be at least a handful of teams lining up to make Rondo an offer, including the Kings. 

A return to Sacramento seems more unlikely with each late-season loss. The Kings don’t have a huge amount of cap space to offer Rondo a sizable contract while also being able to fill out the rest of the roster. In order to lure Rondo back, they would likely have to outbid every other team’s offer by a solid margin. 

The Kings franchise is a mess, something Rondo has now seen first hand after playing for one of the most prestigious franchises for much of his career. The owner isn’t exactly basketball savvy, and Karl is the team’s fifth coach since 2010. To make matters infinitely worse, it is becoming increasingly likely that they trade their franchise player, who happens to be the most talented big man in the league. 

What would make Rondo want to stay? The new stadium opening next year? Please. The bright young talent on the team? Who? Willie Cauley-Stein? If the Kings are forced to finally trade Cousins, Rajon Rondo is gone. If Cousins sticks around, the small chance Rondo stays exists. Vlade Divac would have to make a hell of an offer while being careful not to overpay.

They do still have Darren Collison under contract as a backup plan, after all. 

 

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