It seems that Rajon Rondo is running out of chances. The former Celtic served a one-game suspension last week stemming from an argument with Bulls assistant coach Jim Boylen.
Rondo, who said the argument showed his passion for the game, reportedly later apologized to his teammates, and he played in Thursday’s win over the Spurs.
The Bulls gave Rondo a chance to be a significant contributor after two years of relative obscurity with the Mavericks and Kings. The only things that got Rondo noticed during those two seasons were an ugly dispute with Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle that got him benched for the remainder of the playoffs and a suspension for calling official Bill Kennedy a homophobic slur during a Kings game in Mexico City.
In one season with the Kings, Rondo averaged 11.9 points and a league-leading 11.7 assists, but as usual the Kings didn’t win. Rondo became a free agent and signed a two-year deal to help the Bulls rebuild, although the second season is not fully guaranteed.
Rondo’s numbers are down this season, and the Bulls have been inconsistent. Rondo’s 7.1 assists per game mark his fewest since he averaged 5.1 during the Celtics’ championship season of 2007-08.
Rondo prides himself on distribution because he never fully developed his offensive game, and this season he is shooting just 39.9 percent from the field.
But what age and injuries haven’t robbed from Rondo are his fiery style and desire. He wants to win and he wants to win his way. What can’t be challenged is his basketball intelligence. He is one of the more intelligent basketball players of his generation, so much so that it has rubbed some teammates the wrong way and perhaps caused rifts with coaches.
Rondo believes he knows best because he’s out there on the floor, and he has no issue challenging coaches on that. But Rondo is nearly 31, and he has never been quite the same since tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament in January 2013 in a game in Atlanta that he actually finished.
With his athleticism no longer elite, and his offense having never fully developed — unless the game is on national television, his critics may say — his value has decreased. In Chicago, he just needs to be a distributor with Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler as his teammates, a role Rondo is OK with.
But the Bulls are 4-6 since an 8-4 start, and the issue has been defense. The Bulls have allowed more than 100 points in seven of their last 10 games, and Rondo was especially angry after a disheartening road loss to the Mavericks, who were 3-15 at the time. His passion is unquestioned, but at this point in his career teams will pass on the off-the-court theatrics because that elite distributor is no longer as consistent or productive.
In a season when reputed ball hog James Harden is leading the league in assists because he has focused on sharing, assists alone perhaps have dwindled in value. Rondo is ninth in the league in assist average, with players such as LeBron James and Draymond Green ahead of him.
So if Rondo isn’t going to amass eye-popping assist numbers and is a liability on offense because his free throw percentage is in the 50s, then perhaps he can’t be as vocal as he used to be.
Point guard is the most difficult position in the NBA, and when he is right Rondo is a master, instructing teammates where to be on the floor, realizing the exact spot where each wants the ball, and putting them in the best position to score.
It has been a pleasure to watch Rondo. He was a top five point guard in his prime, chasing down rebounds, making floaters, and finding teammates with pristine passes. It was beautiful basketball and that’s why perhaps he was allowed to be so vocal.
But when the contracts are shorter, the investments are fewer, and the patience is shorter, it may be time for Rondo to adjust his approach. He has matured. His community work in Chicago has been commendable.
There are good sides to Rondo. But the NBA is a league where roles constantly change, egos have to be deflated, and sometimes opinions tempered. Rondo may not have too many chances left.
For those who truly enjoy his game, let’s hope he takes advantage of the precious opportunities that remain.
IT WON’T BE EASY
Challenges for Joerger’s Kings
It seems like it’s the same ol’ Kings. DeMarcus Cousins puts up big numbers. The Kings lose most of their games. The veterans who surround Cousins never fulfill expectations. And the Kings return to the draft lottery.
The new coach is former Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who has the Kings playing better defense, but their bouts with inconsistency and complacency remain.
The Kings ended another five-game trip (it would have been six if not for the postponement in Philadelphia because of the wet floor) with a victory at Dallas on Wednesday. Sacramento already has had two five-game trips in its first 22 games, which is a difficult schedule.
Yet they entered Friday 2½ games out of the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, which is shaping up to be perhaps a five-team race for the final two spots. You’d assume the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Rockets, Grizzlies, and Thunder are locks. So that would leave the Jazz, Blazers, Lakers, Kings, and perhaps Nuggets competing for the final two spots, with the Jazz and Blazers the favorites.
That means the Kings will have to do some serious work in the second half, although 20 of their final 33 games will be at home. But some things will have to change if the Kings are going to make a push. After playing a strong game in a losing cause against the Celtics in Boston Dec. 2, Sacramento fell behind by as many as 21 in New York two nights later and lost to the Knicks.
And the fact that Cousins and teammate Matt Barnes were reportedly involved in a brawl at a New York nightclub following that loss doesn’t help the perception that the organization isn’t serious about winning. But there’s still a chance for Joerger.
“In Memphis we had guys there a long time together,” Joerger said of his time with the Grizzlies. “We had Marc [Gasol] and Mike [Conley] and Zach [Randolph] and added some other guys. You had the continuity and you kept adding to it.
“It’s all new [here]. It’s a new terminology. It’s a new system and seven new players. So it just takes time.”
Like most of Cousins’s previous coaches, Joerger said his center is mostly misunderstood.
“I think he doesn’t get enough credit for the way that his approach to the game and the way that he’s carrying himself and conducting himself has greatly improved,” said Joerger. “He’s a good person. I coached against him and seeing things from the other side and now being with him, I’ve seen improvement over the last three years and the way he goes about his business, that’s been positive.”
Joerger understands that trade rumors will surround Cousins as long as the Kings struggle and Cousins continues to amass impressive numbers. Cousins’s contract expires after the 2017-18 season.
“I can’t say I don’t worry about it because it’s people’s lives and families, but I just try to say if I know something’s close I’ll tell you, because you’re a grown man and you’ve got a family and you deserve to know that stuff,” said Joerger. “It shouldn’t come out of left field. So basically, if I’m not telling you that it’s really close, then it’s probably not very accurate.
“You just build relationships with your guys individually over the course of time. That’s new with being here. The relationships are all at zero. And obviously I had worked with Rudy [Gay] before, Kosta [Koufos]. We won 55 games with Kosta [in Memphis]. Building relationships and getting to know guys takes time.”
Cousins said a new coach in Sacramento is “nothing new.”
“The adjustment has been good,” he said. “Dave’s system has been good for us so far. We’re still trying to perfect it.”
Warriors are getting along
One of the more surprising developments a quarter into the season is that not only are the Warriors dominating, they are in complete harmony with the addition of Kevin Durant. There was speculation that cohesion would be an issue with one All-Star joining three more in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
Yet the four are extremely close, seemingly taking turns having a standout game, such as last Monday against the Pacers when Thompson scored a whopping 60 points in three quarters. Warriors coach Steve Kerr was asked how he developed team chemistry when Durant arrived.
“The fact they were all in the same room in the Hamptons before he signed with us, they got to tell him face to face [about the team],” Kerr said. “In fact, they went on their own and I don’t know what they talked about but I assume they talked about who’s going to have the ball and how’s this going to work. So they all know what they were getting into.”
The chemistry is apparent on the floor, with the players sharing the ball and rooting for each other to flourish. It seems Durant joining a trio of All-Stars has done little to affect his scoring. What’s more, he has been even more efficient.
Compared with last season, Durant’s shot attempts are down 2.4 per game, but he is shooting better from the field (54.9 percent compared with 50.5 last season), better from the 3-point line (40.7-38.7), has rebounded slightly better (8.5-8.2), and has averaged more blocked shots and steals. Through 23 games, his player efficiency rating was 29.4, just 0.4 off his career best. (An average NBA player has a player efficiency rating of 15.)
“I think the good thing is the circumstances were right,” Kerr said. “We’ve got a group of guys who have all been heralded individually. We did win one championship, but we lost last year. I think they all have the same thing in mind. They want to win. And they’ve all gotten enough attention individually. I don’t think they’re that concerned about that. Everything that’s happened has proven that to me. These guys, there’s no ego involved. They’re just getting out and playing and playing together.”
|Golden State Warriors||.501||.571||.380||119.3|
|Portland Trail Blazers||.452||.498||.363||109.1|
|Los Angeles Clippers||.461||.502||.372||108.3|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||.458||.509||.336||107.0|
And there is definitely motivation after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers in last season’s NBA Finals. The Warriors set an NBA record with 73 regular-season wins, and Curry hit 400 3-pointers and was a unanimous choice as league MVP, but there was no championship.
“We did all kinds of wonderful things but it didn’t end the way we wanted it to end,” Kerr said. “So, what can we do to get better? What can we do to improve? I’ve heard people call it a humiliating failure. I have heard that. I laugh at that. What we accomplished last year was incredibly difficult and special and it took an incredible amount effort by our guys and sacrifice to do it. But [expletive] happens.
“To me, there’s a certain amount of perspective you have to have in this game. If you go out there and you do everything you can to win, you don’t have regrets. The other team is really good, too. Cleveland’s a great team.. They got us. We got them the year before. Both teams have experienced the joy and the heartbreak, and that’s all part of the process.”
Said Curry of Durant: “We knew exactly what we were getting and he’s playing as advertised. It’s fun to watch when he’s in the groove and we’re flowing out there as a unit, whether he’s out there on the floor or not. Things are going pretty well. Obviously there’s a lot of things to work on, but I like the trajectory we’ve been on. We’re playing better every night. It’s a long season, but understanding the process and things that show themselves early in the season, we’ve addressed them.”
So, how do Curry, Thompson, and Durant get enough shots? And how do they incorporate other teammates, such as Green, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston?
“We try not to force-feed anybody and let the play unfold,” Curry said. “The ball usually finds the right guy. The good thing for us, we’re not a team that isolates too much, so whether you get a shot or not you’re going to touch the ball every possession, pretty much. That helps keeps rhythm.”
For those wondering if the Bulls were going to use former Celtic R.J. Hunter in their rotation, the answer is no. Hunter has been shuttled back and forth to Chicago’s NBADL affiliate and has played in three games this season for the Bulls, a total of nine minutes . . . Celtics second-round pick Abdel Nader is averaging 24.3 points through eight games for NBADL Maine, while training camp invitee Jalen Jones is averaging 21.3 as the Red Claws are off to a 7-3 start. Demetrius Jackson has averaged 19.6 points, 6.5 assists, and 5.9 rebounds in eight games . . . The struggling Hawks will be boosted by the return of Mike Scott, who has just reported to the team’s NBADL affiliate. Scott missed training camp and the first six weeks of the season with a sore left knee. The Hawks ran off to a 9-2 start and looked to emerge as the primary contenders to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, but then lost 10 of 12 games. Scott will provide toughness and long-range shooting for the Hawks, who have dealt with an injury to Paul Millsap and the recent struggles of Dwight Howard. In his first three games this month, Howard was 7 for 19 from the floor with seven turnovers. He responded in Wednesday’s win over the Heat with 23 points and 17 rebounds . . . The Mavericks are making a swift run to the draft lottery, starting 4-17, with injuries to Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, and J.J. Barea, and an offense that has trouble scoring. The Mavericks entered Friday last in the NBA at 92.1 points per game and they don’t have a lot of young players. Nowitzki has missed most of the season with a sore Achilles’, while Williams missed eight games with a left calf injury. So the question is, what do the Mavericks do to improve in the future? Andrew Bogut, a free agent after this season, could be a trade chip for a team needing a rim protector, while Williams will also be a free agent, though his trade value would be moderate at best. The question for owner Mark Cuban is whether he will continue to build for the present to try to get Nowitzki, 38, one final shot at a title. The Mavericks signed Harrison Barnes to a maximum deal and he leads the team in scoring, but he has been the lone bright spot. There was a chance that Cuban’s dedication to Nowitzki was going to backfire, and it has.
After a slow start to the 2016-17 season, Klay Thompson has found his groove. This is evidenced by his performance on Dec. 5 in a win over Indiana; the guard notched a ridiculous 60 points in 29 minutes. He is the only player in NBA history to net 60 points in less than 30 minutes, and is only the third player since 1983-84 to put up at least 60 points in less than 35 minutes.
|Klay Thompson||Kobe Bryant||Karl Malone|
|Date||Dec. 5, 2016||Dec. 20, 2005||Jan. 27, 1990|
|Result||142-106 W||112-90, W||144-96, W|
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.