The story of the Clippers and Rajon Rondo had the makings of quite the love story, to say the least.
After the Clippers lost three straight games to the Denver Nuggets in their tragic 2019-20 playoff run, the team’s lack of play-making and leadership was spotlighted. In turn, names of proficient playmakers like Chris Paul, Lonzo Ball, and Rajon Rondo decorated the Clippers’ offseason and free agency. Yet, the Clippers’ front office passed on player after player, not addressing the elephant in the room — at least not until the very end of the season.
On March 26, 2021, the Clippers parted ways with three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams and gave up two second-round picks and cash considerations to acquire the 35-year-old lead playmaker.
The Clippers were smitten with the veteran point guard; it was love at first sight. Rondo could answer all the lingering questions from their playoff run in the bubble: he could run the offense at the highest level, he knew how to lead a team to the promised land, and had experience working with Clipper head coach Tyronn Lue back in Boston. Not to mention, he was hot off a championship run with the Los Angeles Lakers in which he stepped up as their third-best player behind superstars Lebron James and Anthony Davis, averaging 8.9 points, 6.6 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game while making 40 percent of his threes.
His all or nothing mantra also seemed to bode well for the Clippers: in his first interview as a Clipper, he firmly declared that he sees this season as either a championship or a bust. Even seven-time NBA All-Star Paul Geroge took his hat off Rondo in an interview after their win against the Lakers on April 4, proudly sharing that “[he] look[s] at him as a leader of this group.”
It didn’t take long for his mentality to manifest on the hardwood. In just his third game in Clipper colors, Rondo gave Clipper fans a taste of Playoff Rondo in a hard-fought 113-103 win against the Phoenix Suns. In a little under 20 minutes, he shot 5-for-8 from the field, draining 3-for-4 from deep. His elite playmaking was on full display, too: he recorded nine assists without a single turnover.
That was the last of Playoff Rondo, however. He couldn’t quite find that mojo the rest of the season or in the postseason. In the first round, his relatively small stature rendered him helpless against the bigger and taller superstar in Luka Doncic, and the Mavericks liberally helped off of Rondo to clog the offense for his Clippers teammates. In the second, he was sloppy with the ball and couldn’t facilitate the way he was expected to.
In the Western Conference Finals, it looked as if he might be finding his rhythm. In the first game, he created easy looks for those who got it going early — namely, he looked to long-time friend DeMarcus Cousins in the post, who finished with 11 quick points near the rim. Rondo also did his part and finished the game with seven dimes. In the following games, however, he did not have much of a presence on the floor. His stat sheet for Game 3 had zeros all across — other than his three turnovers, that is. That game looks to be his last for the Clippers.
Considering what the Clippers needed heading into last season, Rondo seemed like the Clippers’ soul mate. But that proved not to be the case, as Rondo’s faults outweighed his skills in the postseason.
Now the Clippers once again have their eyes on another playmaker — in this case, former Clipper Eric Bledsoe — who may prove to be a more prudent decision. A new chapter with an old flame begins.