A more mature Rajon Rondo is ready to cash in this free agency
It’s another free agency summer for Rajon Rondo. The difference between this summer and last summer is that Rondo has reasserted himself as one of the top distributors in the NBA.
Whether he is still one of the top point guards is up for debate, but he significantly raised his stock around the league with the Kings after a difficult stint with the Mavericks.
The former Celtic is looking for more security after signing a one-year, $9.5 million contract to deal with the chaos and drama in Sacramento. For the first time in his career, Rondo served as mentor and voice of reason. He hardly was the team’s biggest issue or headache.
Amid the internal struggle between All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins and coach George Karl, the Kings finished 33-49. Karl was fired. Cousins sulked. Now the Kings are trying to build a more cohesive and attractive roster before moving into a new arena.
Rondo may or may not be part of the Kings’ future. He is open to new opportunities. At 30, this may be the last big contract of his career, and he understands that his maturity, leadership, and production have been questioned.
“I envision a great summer,” he said. “Hopefully I can sign me another deal and get another job. If I get another job, why wouldn’t it be exciting?”
Rondo’s season was overshadowed by the Cousins-Karl clash, but he produced one of his better campaigns. He averaged 11.9 points on 45.4 percent shooting and a career-best 36.5 percent from the 3-point line. His 11.7 assist average equaled a career best, while his average of 2 steals was his highest since 2010-11.
After struggling mightily with his free throw shooting, even to the point where he avoided attacking the basket in 2014-15 with the Celtics and Mavericks (39.7 percent), Rondo improved to 58 percent this season. Of course, there was the unfortunate ejection against the Celtics Dec. 3 in Mexico City, when he made a homophobic slur at official Bill Kennedy, an act for which Rondo apologized. But he played in 72 games, his most since leading the Celtics to the NBA Finals in 2010.
“Obviously it didn’t go the way we wanted it as an exit [missing the playoffs] but I was able to bounce back, I believe,” Rondo said. “I am very healthy. I’ve been working extremely hard on my body and my game. I’m 30 years old and I feel great.”
Rondo’s health has been questioned since he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in February 2013, and he was never quite the same in his last two seasons with the Celtics. He said he is fully recovered now.
“It took about two years fully [to return], mentally,” he said. “My body might have been OK but mentally, making certain moves, I just wasn’t comfortable with doing it. The following year, the breaking of the hand [in training camp 2014 pushed me back]. But this year in particular I was able to have a full camp and a full summer without any injuries and going into the season, the transition was smooth. This is the best I’ve felt in my career.”
Rondo said he became more of a locker room presence and mentor in Sacramento, having to tutor Cousins following his clashes with Karl. And he said his past brushes with coaches and teammates helped him mature and prepare him for that situation.
“For me to be in that situation in my 10th year, what I’ve learned and grown from in the past, I was able to handle [the chaos],” Rondo said. “I was able to handle it a lot better than maybe Year 4 or 5. A lot of people criticize and get on DeMarcus a lot, but the man is a very young man and he hasn’t had too many great vets around him to teach him how to become a better professional.
“I’ve had growing pains that I’ve had to go through and learn doing the same thing. So for me to be in that [mentoring] situation was great and humbling for me. I feel older mentally, but body-wise, no. I do yoga every day, I lift, I run. Mentally I feel older because the guys in this league are coming in 20, 21 years old and they don’t know too much about the game. I played with guys like P.J. Brown, Keyon Dooling, who taught me the game as well.”
Being from Louisville, Rondo had some heartfelt thoughts on the death of Louisville native and world legend Muhammad Ali, who was buried June 10 following a 19-mile funeral procession through the mourning city.
“This year in particular, I did a little bit of research on Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X,” Rondo said. “So I got to learn a little bit about their religion, background, the journey they went through. I learned a lot. My eyes were open this year and for him to pass was sad because I was trying to meet the man. That was a loss for me. He would have been a great mentor, with all the things he had done in the past, his legacy, the way he walked the life, what he stood for will probably never be matched again.”
Rondo watched the funeral from a hotel in Los Angeles.
“It was surreal moment. A lot of my family and friends sent pictures. It was definitely a sad day in Louisville, Kentucky,” he said. “But the man was a champ and I think they represented him really well. We don’t have any professional sports, so the biggest guy we’ve ever had to come out of Louisville was Muhammad Ali. I actually lived two blocks from 7th [Street] and Muhammad Ali [Boulevard], and we were very aware of who he was and what he did for the city and what he did for the world.”
Parish touches on a few topics
Robert Parish played 21 seasons and won four NBA championships. He knows the game. One of the great centers of his generation, “The Chief” offered his thoughts on the current NBA, losing close friend Moses Malone, and playing with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
On the lack of true centers in the NBA and lack of players with post skills:
“Well, you have to blame it on the assistant coaches, at least some of them anyways. You look at who are teaching the bigs how to play. You’ve got guards and forwards teaching centers how to play the center position, which I think is an insult to the positions. It would be like me teaching the point guard how to play the point guard position. It’s an insult to that player and you’re doing the player and the position a disservice.
“What I do like about [DeMarcus] Cousins and [Anthony] Davis, those guys do play on the perimeter a lot but they still do ‘big man’ things. They rebound. They play defense. They block shots. They run the floor. That’s what I don’t have a problem with, the way they play the center position today.”
On playing until age 43:
“I never sustained a major injury, that was first. I think genetics played a major part. Martial arts and yoga played a significant role in my longevity because of the emphasis on stretching and flexibility and mobility. Also, there was no injuries in me as an older player for whatever reason, I don’t know why. My skills had diminished significantly. I think I stole my last three years. I should have been retired, but for some reason there was still interest in me.”
On playing with the 1996-97 Bulls:
“That ’96-97 Bulls team did mirror the ’80s Celtics team I played on. You had your two superstars in Michael and Scottie [Pippen], and Larry and Kevin McHale. I guess you can say I was the Dennis Rodman [of that Celtics team]. And their work ethic and their approach. [Bird and Jordan] were the consummate professionals. And the one thing I admired about Larry and Kevin, during their premium years, they got better every year. That’s how I tried to govern myself.
“Every year I came back during my premium years, I tried to be a better player. That’s something I always respected about Larry and Kevin, they were better players and I can see the same thing about Michael, Scottie, and Dennis Rodman. [The Bulls] team mirrored the Celtics team, they were the consummate professionals.”
On being out of the game:
“I would like to be back around the game in some capacity, but [there’s] no opportunity. So I have accepted it for the most part that it’s not going to happen. I have reached out to try to be a coach, tried to be in the front office, tried to be a commentator. There was no interest, so I accept that. There are only so many jobs to be had and people that have them are not giving them up, and I don’t blame them, either.
“There’s no resentment towards the NBA. There’s no resentment towards teammates. You’re always going to have the haves and the have-nots. I’m one of the have-nots. I understand it and I accept it.”
On losing NBA contemporaries Malone and Darryl Dawkins in the past year:
“It makes you pause. It really makes me pause with Moses. They were both very, very funny men. They had the ability to keep me laughing whenever we were together. Being in the same room with Moses and Darryl, it was always a laugh a minute. It hurt me.
“I had to go sit down [when I heard about Moses]. That really made me pause.”
Lue and James can really relate
The Cavaliers paid Tyronn Lue handsomely to leave the Clippers and become an associate head coach under newcomer David Blatt. The Blatt experiment lasted 123 regular-season games before he was fired and Lue was named his replacement.
One win from bringing Cleveland its first major professional sports title in 52 years, four-time MVP LeBron James and Lue discussed their relationship and how it has changed since Lue became head coach. Lue has formed a strong bond with James, who has been through several coaches, some who weren’t to his liking.
“I think all my coaches throughout my career have had a meaningful part of my career,” James said. “Everyone’s been different in their own ways of how they philosophize the game and things of that nature, but I could talk in the present right now. I think me and Coach Lue just kind of, we connect that’s something that’s bigger than basketball, our upbringing.
“Being from a single-parent household, being from an inner-city community, being a statistic that you weren’t supposed to make it out and there’s no way you’re going to make it out. You’re going to be another one of those African-American kids, and we both made it out from tough situations growing up, and people just saying there’s no way you can do it.”
Lue played high school ball in Kansas City and collegiately at Nebraska before playing parts of 11 seasons in the NBA.
“Before we even met each other, you have a sense of that type of [bonding] feeling,” James said. “Then I came into the league and I’m a huge basketball fan, obviously, and I watched the  Finals when [Lue] was with the Lakers and seen the spark that he gave that team when Phil Jackson gave him the nod. And I think everybody’s just so caught up in the shot that A.I. [Allen Iverson] made when he stepped over him, but people don’t realize the impact that he made on that team, and the guy that just accepted his role. He’s able to win a championship.
“So our relationship has just grown over the years, and just being a competitor, going against him and then seeing him as a coach, going against him again when he was in Boston and things of that nature and with the Clippers, and then when I came back [to Cleveland] and he was the assistant coach, continues to grow.”
Lue was given the delicate responsibility of handling the best and most scrutinized player in the world. James has been considered hard on coaches, from Paul Silas to Mike Brown to Blatt. Lue said their relationship has remained respectful and positive.
“I don’t think our relationship has changed,” Lue said. “I’ve always been the same guy, upfront, telling the truth. But I let him handle it as far as the scrutiny and all that.
“I just think the guys take a liking to me because I can relate to them. I’ve been in every situation you can possibly be in. I’ve been a starter. I’ve been off the bench. I’ve not played. I’ve been injured for a whole season. I’ve been in the Finals. I’ve been on the worst team in the NBA. So every aspect of the game, I’ve pretty much been through it.
“So, I mean, it’s the same relationship [with James] I’ve had with all the guys in the locker room. Nothing’s different.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers may be seeking another assistant after longtime staff member Kevin Eastman announced his retirement. The former Washington State coach won a title with Rivers in Boston in 2008, and followed him to Los Angeles. Rivers has developed his own coaching tree with Tom Thibodeau (Bulls, Timberwolves) and Lue . . . As expected, Ben Simmons won’t work out for any team, and that includes the 76ers, Lakers, and Celtics, who own the top three picks. It is believed Simmons wants to go to the Lakers, but it’s unlikely the 76ers are going to pass on Simmons, despite his refusal to work out. Simmons is represented by Rich Paul and Klutch Sports, James’s firm. They also represent Washington guard Dejounte Murray, who has also limited his workouts for teams. Klutch Sports apparently wants Murray to go to a winning team that can give him time to develop. Murray has immense potential but is likely a few years from being an NBA rotation player . . . For the second year in a row, the NBA headquartered in San Francisco for the Finals instead of Oakland. The reason is that Oakland lacks ample hotel space for league staff and media. Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, told the Globe that Oakland A’s co-owner Lew Wolff is working to build a major hotel in downtown Oakland that will help the city host more events. The franchise is expected to move back to San Francisco for the 2019-20 season, but there has been litigation from the Mission Bay Alliance that the arena site is too close to UCSF Medical Center. The Warriors maintain they are moving to San Francisco . . . The Trail Blazers have removed three of the four members of their radio/television broadcast team, leaving only radio announcer Brian Wheeler to continue. Television play-by-play announcer Mike Barrett, color man Mike Rice, and radio analyst Antonio Harvey, an eight-year NBA veteran, will not return. Very rarely does a team remove nearly all of its broadcast staff. Portland’s contract with Comcast SportsNet expires after next season, and it could be searching for a new broadcast partner. The Blazers hired ESPN Radio’s Kevin Calabro as their television play-by-play man.
LeBron James and Kyrie Irving submitted sensational performances to help the Cavaliers stave off elimination in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Each scored at least 40 points, becoming the first teammates to accomplish that in the Finals and just the fifth duo to do so in the playoffs.