Should the San Antonio Spurs Pursue Rajon Rondo?

Mar 27, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) looks to pass against the Dallas Mavericks in the our quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Kings won 133-111. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY.
Mar 27, 2016; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Rajon Rondo (9) looks to pass against the Dallas Mavericks in the our quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Kings won 133-111. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY. /

The San Antonio Spurs have been linked to Mike Conley in free agency rumors, but the Memphis Grizzlies will be able to offer him more money. If Conley returns to Memphis, is their another free agent point guard that the Spurs should consider signing? An intriguing option could be Rajon Rondo.

Rondo has long been one of the most unique point guards in the NBA. The main knocks on him for years were his lackluster shooting ability combined with his turbulent personality quirks.

He famously clashed with Rick Carlisle in Dallas, and his reputation for having a somewhat prickly personality goes back to his Boston days.

He only spent one season in Sacramento, and although the dysfunction within the Kings can’t be heaped squarely on his shoulders, it’s very telling that every stop he has made in the NBA has involved drama of some kind, usually directly connected to him.

His enigmatic personality has cemented itself as possibly his main detraction regarding his worth as a player. He’s coming off a season where he established himself as an outside shooting threat for the first time in his 10 year career. He shot about 37% from downtown, and had previously never topped 32%.

It’s hard to tell if that’s an anomaly or not, because he shot only 58% from the free throw line last season. His career average from the charity stripe is about 61%. It’s not as if his shooting improved across the board.

The best interpretation of it is to be optimistic, though, because of the huge sample size. Rondo attempted 170 shots from downtown last season. His previous career high was 90.

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Building off of that vast improvement on perimeter shooting will make Rondo more highly touted as a point guard. He has always been a terrific rebounder for his position, and has lead the league in assists per game 3 separate times, including last season.

Rondo is 8th all time in career assists per game, averaging 8.7 during his distinguished career. 2 of the guys ahead of him in the category are active players (Chris Paul and John Wall), but 5 of the remaining 6 are NBA Hall of Famers. Rondo finds himself in very impressive company.

Rondo has always been a triple double machine throughout his career, and he ranked 3rd in the NBA last season with 6. He has 28 for his career, which ranks 12th all time in league history.

He’s also a great defender. Rondo has made 2 NBA All-Defensive First Teams and 2 NBA Defensive Second Teams in his career. He may not be quite as formidable as he was 4-5 years ago, but he’s still more than capable of being relied upon to provide stalwart perimeter defense against the best guards in the league.

The main deterrent of enthusiastically pursuing the services of Rondo is the baggage he brings regarding his past clashes with both teammates and coaches. He’s not the most cohesive locker room presence, and any team considering signing him should really think twice about acquiring not so much his talent, but his idiosyncrasies.

San Antonio as a franchise provides arguably the most team-oriented atmosphere in the entire NBA. Gregg Popovich has presided over a culture of selflessness combined with a commitment to collective well being.

In a lot of ways, it’s the perfect environment to corral Rondo’s destructive tendencies through great leadership and camaraderie from players well accustomed to the Spurs’ brand of unity. However, it’s just as likely that Rondo would infuriate Popovich as he has with past coaches, and disrupt team chemistry that is so crucial to success in the NBA.

It’s a high risk, high reward scenario. Rondo is coming off a 1-year, $9.5 million contract he signed with the Kings last offseason. He lead the league in assists last year, and combined with the league salary cap increasing, Rondo probably expects a raise. He’ll turn 31 during next season, so he’s still got a handful of highly productive years left in the tank.

The Spurs should probably avoid Rondo for the time being, and instead view him as an alternative option after other avenues have been exhausted. They’re likely going to have cap space somewhere in the mid-to-high teens, largely depending on the whether Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili retire.

Although an exact number is hard to estimate right now, the Spurs will likely have the ability to throw big money at one free agent. Kevin Durant, Hassan Whiteside, and Al Horford are guys who should be prioritized above Rondo.

Rondo is likely going to command a salary paying him over $10 million per season, and the Spurs committing that type of money to him would impede their ability to acquire a one of the elite players listed above.

Rondo should definitely be reviewed as an option, but not above guys like Durant, Whiteside, or Horford. The Spurs probably have a more pressing need at center right now. Tony Parker is on the decline, but he can still show sporadic flashes of his past self.

With Duncan’s possible retirement, the Spurs don’t have many viable options to start at center for next season. Boban Marjanovic is a restricted free agent, and Boris Diaw is best suited as a reserve.

LaMarcus Aldridge has the versatility to switch to center, but then who would play power forward? David West recently opted out of his deal to become a free agent. Davis Bertans was offered a contract, but they don’t want to throw him into the deep end too quickly.

The Spurs are much more vulnerable in the interior. Rondo probably ranks below guys like Durant, Whiteside, and Horford in a vacuum anyway, but especially in the context of the Spurs’ roster deficiencies.

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Having said that, Rondo is a great player, and an alternative to explore down the road if other signings don’t work out. It’s a risk with his tumultuous past, but very few point guards are capable of putting up the stats he produces.