Rajon Rondo enjoyed a bounce-back season in 2015-16. The point guard signed a one-year deal with the Sacramento Kings last summer, and after a brief but positive alliance now looks towards free agency once again in a very different position than he was in just 12 months ago.
Back then, Rondo was somewhat tainted after a disastrous stint with the Dallas Mavericks. His stock was already declining amidst injuries and a rebuilding Boston Celtics team, and a trade to Dallas just made things worse.
Rondo left Texas to enter free agency and subsequently agreed a deal with the Kings in order to prove himself again. After performing well in Sactown, he now finds himself in the same place but in a different position. Free agency - yes, but his stock now boosted, if not completely restored.
Have your say on GiveMeSport - NBA by taking part in our survey here: https://gms.to/1ZIq9kk
Rondo led the league in assists during the regular season with 11.7 dimes per game. Something he has now done three times in his career. Whilst six of his 11 seasons in the NBA have seen the point guard in the top five for assists.
The 30-year-old averaged a double-double, adding 11.9 points per game to his league-leading assists tally. Rondo also sat in the top 15 for double-doubles (37). Third overall in triple-doubles (6) and second in rebounding amongst point guards with six boards a game.
The jump shot remains a let down, however, as a 45.4 field goal percentage from just 10.9 shots per game shows. As does 36.5 percent shooting from three-point land. All that was topped off with 58 percent free throw shooting. Statistics unlikely to change at this point in his career.
But overall, after a return to good form, the 2008 champion now presents an intriguing prospective pickup for a lot of teams. A man at the one spot who plays as an extension of the coach on the floor, has a high basketball IQ, surgical passing ability and championship-winning experience is nothing to be sniffed at. It's easy to forget what Rondo has been capable of in his career.
Once upon a time, Rondo was a top-five point guard. There were players like Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Steve Nash fighting for supremacy of the one spot jungle back then. But there was also a lion by the name of Rajon Rondo.
Alongside the 'big three' in Boston - Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen - he captured his only ring. He then played in a further four post-seasons for the Celtics, where he almost averaged a triple-double in the 2009 playoffs with 16.9 points, 9.8 assists and 9.7 rebounds per game.
Rondo averaged a double-double in three of his regular seasons in Beantown - 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13. It was almost five seasons in a row, but the two book-ending seasons - 2009-10 and 2013-14 - fell just short of double digit assists. This was the Kentucky native, though, most seasons. A triple-double threat. A double-double machine.
The team suited his style with Garnett being a big able to step out and shoot a jump shot, Allen being a three-point shooter and Pierce being able to pick his spots in the team's offence. Rondo was able to dominate the ball and run the offence without restraint. Pass when he wanted. Drive to the basket when he wanted. The decisions were his.
A NEW ERA
But once they left the C's and a new era began, Rondo no longer had the same impact on the team. Injuries didn't help matters, either. A torn ACL resulted in a year on the sidelines between January 2013 and January 2014. When he finally did return to the team, Rondo found things were no longer the same.
The summer of 2013 welcomed a new era for the Celtics. Head coach Doc Rivers upped for Los Angeles and the Clippers. Whilst the two remaining members of the initial Big Three also exited the club, with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce both traded to the Brooklyn Nets.
Now it was supposed to be Rondo's era. He was now, in theory, the stalwart of the team. The leader. It just never played out that way, in reality. Brad Stevens took over from Rivers and made Rondo captain upon his return from injury.
But that didn't stop the Celtics trading Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks a year later. His trade value trumping his current on-court value for a team rebuilding. Stevens wanted to play a more up-tempo style, with Rondo tending to excel in a slower, more set-play dominant style.
TROUBLE IN TEXAS
The trade to the Mavericks seemed like a Mark Cuban masterstroke at the time. The Mavs were at the lower end of the playoff seedings and the acquisition elevated Dallas into potential dark horses to emerge from the West in the eyes of some. In the end, though, seventh spot is all they could muster.
Used to being the floor general in Boston, Rondo struggled under the no-nonsense leadership of Rick Carlisle. No longer handed the playbook and given free reign, Rondo had it read to him on a nightly basis.
Additionally, the make-up of the team didn't help. Predominantly, Dirk Nowitzki liked to isolate in the post and create his own shot. Whilst Monta Ellis wasn't the type to play off-the-ball, either. Somebody's game was always going to suffer as a consequence. Rondo was that guy.
Ultimately, the Mav's were dumped out of the playoffs in the first round by the Houston Rockets. A 4-1 series defeat signalling the end of the Mav's season. The end of Rondo in Dallas, too.
THE RIGHT FIT
That setback, however, paved the way for a comeback. Was Rondo just a victim of circumstance in Dallas? A bad fit on a team already set on it's path that year?
Rondo is a player to build around in order to get the best out of him. He's certainly no final piece of the jigsaw. He has his strengths and he also has his obvious weaknesses. The right team will bring out the good attributes in him. But the wrong team will bring out the worst ones. There is no middle ground.
Dallas got themselves the worst of Rondo. Sacramento got themselves the better version. Dallas had players who like to play on-the-ball and create for themselves, like Ellis and Nowitzki. While Sacramento were more happy to let Rondo run the show and create for shooters Rudy Gay, Ben McLemore, Marco Belinelli and Omri Casspi.
Even DeMarcus Cousins is a big with a jump shot who does not always need the ball in his hands. This is what Rondo needs. He needs to be the primary handler and have players around him who can dance to the beat of his drum.
With his ineffective shooting, Rondo can't play any other way. With his passing and vision, why would you want him to?
Rondo has been linked to a couple teams already ahead of the offseason. Most notably the New York Knicks. The first thing to consider with the Knicks is obviously Carmelo Anthony. Anthony likes to often isolate defenders and make plays for himself. Not ideal for somebody like Rondo, you wouldn't think. Although Anthony himself disagrees.
With Phil Jackson in New York, the triangle offence is supposed to be in effect. But it's fair to say it's taking some time to get the system over to the players. Returning to Sacramento could be another option. The Kings are still searching for a head coach, but the roster houses some good pieces, and Rondo knows he is in sync with many of them.
Outside of that, the guard has to decipher what he actually wants.
Is it a role of any description on a strong playoff team? Is it to just enjoy playing the game at this stage of his career? Is it money? There should be plenty of that swimming around with the new NBA TV deal about to kick in.
What he should have learned throughout his career is that he is a very specific player who needs the right type of guys around him. He has one way of playing. That's it. It's great when you get the best out of Rondo, but it can be catastrophic when you don't.
Whilst he may well not quite be what he once was, he's still good at the things he's always been good at and, for that matter, bad at the things he's always been bad at. 30 years of age is not particularly old for a point guard who relies on IQ and passing ability more than he does athleticism.
The thing he relies on more than anything, however, is having free reign in a team that plays directly to his strengths and attributes. It's paramount to his effectiveness. Mandatory, even.
NBA teams, take note.