Rajon Rondo stolled around the perimeter of the Oracle Arena court on Monday night wearing a striking gold suit. He wasn’t there to play basketball, although his shoes might have been a mix of form and fashion. He looked good and despite his love/hate relationship with the media, it didn’t take much to see him becoming an analyst when his playing days are done.
He’s one of the more intriguing players you’ll ever meet in an NBA locker room. Guarded, bright, quick witted and honest -- when he wants to be.
While he wasn’t there to talk about his future, it doesn’t hurt his value to be seen standing next to Paul Pierce and Michael Wilbon on the court in pregame doing a talk-back segment or with the Bay Bridge as his backdrop while chatting with Rachel Nichols and Steven Jackson on The Jump.
“On the inside it wasn’t too bad, it wasn’t as bad as it seemed from the outside, I’m assuming,” Rondo told Nichols about what it was like in Sacramento last season. “I was in a tunnel, this year in particularly, focused on my body and trying to do the best I could do for this team.”
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The 30-year-old guard came into camp in incredible shape. His goal was to take a one-year deal in Sacramento and re-establish himself as a top flight point guard coming into this summer when the NBA’s salary cap jumps to more than $90 million dollars per team.
Rondo played in 72 games, although he sat out six of the final nine games to “rest” while the Kings were out of contention. His production on the floor was impressive for a player who many had written off. He finished the season averaging 11.9 points per game on 45.4 percent shooting from the field and 36.5 percent shooting from long range. He added a league-high 11.7 assists per game while grabbing six rebounds and two steals per game.
On paper, he was a top tier guard, but it wasn’t enough to launch the Kings into the playoff race.
"There were too many distractions on and off the court,” Rondo said. “The organization as a whole, I don't think was together completely. I think as a team you have to want the best for the next man beside you, and that wasn't the case with the Sacramento Kings."
Rondo was clear that the main issue facing the team was the disconnect between head coach George Karl, who has since been replaced by Dave Joerger, and franchise cornerstone DeMarcus Cousins.
"Too much tension. I've never witnessed or experienced a thing like that in my 10-year career," he said.
The issues between Cousins and Karl are well documented. It was a bad mix from the beginning, but Karl’s attempts to have Cousins traded during the offseason built an insurmountable rift between the two. It spilled into the regular season and the tension was palpable throughout most of the season.
“It was a whirlwind of problems, but I think we made the best of our opportunity, when needed, with all the things going on between coaches and players,” Rondo said.
Rondo remained close with Cousins all season long, playing the role of mentor in the same way that Kevin Garnett had done for him as a young player. There was clearly a bond between the two and neither would mind teaming up again.
"He's one of the guys that's very selfless,” Rondo said. “He has to find other ways to get it done. He's going to continue to grow and learn. I was just glad I was able to be in his life and have a little bit of influence and help him a little bit this year."
Whether the duo will get that chance is unknown at this time. Sources have confirmed to CSN California that the Kings have cooled on the idea of bringing back Rondo for a second tour of duty, although they haven’t completely closed the door.
“Vlade and I spoke and we want to go in the same direction, we’ve just got to figure out if things are going to work financially,” Rondo said of his exit interview with general manager Vlade Divac. “I’m pretty much open anywhere, I don’t have any set destinations I want to be, I just want to play for a team that wants to compete and an organization that’s trying to build towards a championship.”
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Rondo and his agent are looking for a 4-year deal in the neighborhood of $50 million dollars. The Kings have the cap space to match that demand, but whether they are willing to go that high salary-wise or for that many years with Rondo is a completely different question.
There is no question that Rondo can run a team, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. His run-in with referee Bill Kennedy, where he lambasted the veteran official with homophobic slurs, was a tremendous distraction during the season.
With the events over the weekend in Orlando, where a 49 people were killed in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay night club, Rondo made the following statement.
"I definitely want to apologize again for my actions earlier on in the year. That's not who I am if you know me.
"Want to send my thoughts and prayers out to the LGBT community. The only thing that's going to stop all this madness is love. The only thing that can conquer hate is love. I think that's what we need to do is love one another. My prayers and thoughts go out to the community of Orlando."