One way or another, Rajon Rondo tends to find his way to championship contenders. The veteran point guard is one of only two players in NBA history to win championships with both the Lakers and the Celtics, and after a disappointing stint with the Hawks, he nearly added a third ring to his collection following a midseason trade to the Los Angeles Clippers. Now, Rondo again finds himself on a non-contender, though it doesn’t seem as though he’ll remain with one for very much longer.
The Clippers dealt Rondo to the Memphis Grizzlies in a package to acquire another veteran point guard, Eric Bledsoe. The primary motivation of the deal for the Grizzlies was to acquire Patrick Beverley, whom they later flipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves for former lottery pick Jarrett Culver. The Clippers included Rondo in the deal to get off of his $8 million salary and to save a spot on a roster that had become overcrowded. The Grizzlies were willing to take Rondo, but with Ja Morant and Tyus Jones at point guard and such a logjam at shooting guard that they needed to deal Grayson Allen, there just aren’t minutes waiting for Rondo in Memphis.
In fact, there probably isn’t a roster spot. The Grizzlies have 19 players under contract and will need to trim that number to 15 by opening night. According to Drew Hill of the Daily Memphian, that means Rondo is unlikely to start the season with the Grizzlies. Although a trade is possible, few teams have the cap flexibility, the roster flexibility and the need at point guard to take on his $8 million salary. In all likelihood, that means a buyout is coming.
Rondo probably isn’t worth $8 million at this stage of his career. The myth of “Playoff Rondo” finally appeared to reach its conclusion last season when Rondo, after a stellar 2020 postseason with the Lakers, averaged only 4.2 points and 3.8 assists per game in a very limited postseason role as a Clipper. Ty Lue removed him from the rotation entirely for the last three games of the Western Conference finals, and if he isn’t capable of raising his game for the biggest moments anymore, his regular-season drawbacks make him, at best, a minimum-salary player.
But for the minimum, contenders will surely take a look. The Golden State Warriors tried to sign Patty Mills with their taxpayer mid-level exception to back up Stephen Curry, but were ultimately rebuffed as Mills joined the Brooklyn Nets instead. They haven’t signed any other options and will likely open the season with Jordan Poole as their backup point guard. Poole impressed last season, but if the Warriors want a more experienced option, Rondo would make some sense. Steve Kerr loves high-IQ players for his complicated motion offense, and Rondo would fit right into it.
The Philadelphia 76ers have also sought out guards this offseason, but Daryl Morey tends to place an emphasis on shooting. If Ben Simmons is going to remain on this roster, adding shooters will be crucial, but otherwise, the fit between the two might be awkward. In fairness to Rondo, though, he has shot 35.8 percent from behind the arc over the past six seasons, roughly the league average. His low volume still limits his off-ball gravity, but he’s not the non-shooter he once was.
The Lakers know that well. They won a championship with him in 2020, but they’ve added a number of guards already this offseason. Russell Westbrook will start at point guard, and Kendrick Nunn, Malik Monk and Talen Horton-Tucker all need the ball. That suggests that Rondo would struggle to find minutes, but the Lakers have worked out a number of guards hoping to find one more for depth purposes. Their comfort with Rondo suggests that he would be on their list if he becomes available.
Rondo is nearing the end of his career, but counting him out entirely has proven foolish on multiple occasions. Rondo resurrected his career after a disastrous stint in Dallas. He proved that Playoff Rondo was very real after two disappointing regular seasons with the Lakers. Now, he’ll hope to prove he still has something left in the tank, and even if an obvious home hasn’t presented itself, some contender is almost certainly going to bet that he can still contribute this season.