LA Clippers banking on Rajon Rondo to help snap playoff hex
By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer
A highly intriguing partnership was forged at the NBA trade deadline Thursday.
A franchise with one of the NBA's most tortured playoff histories acquired a player synonymous with postseason success when the LA Clippers acquired veteran point guard Rajon Rondo from the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Lou Williams and two second-round picks.
It makes for a risky and interesting gamble.
The Clippers have never made it past the second round of the playoffs in their 50-year history. Now, they have a postseason legend.
And, well, a regular-season napper.
This season, Rondo, 35, has averaged career lows in points (3.9), field-goal percentage (40%), assists (3.5) and minutes (14.9) for the Hawks.
Basically, the Clippers placed a wager on "Playoff Rondo," the mythical creature who hibernates during the regular season and awakens when stakes are highest, transforming into a difference-maker.
Even though Rondo has long dismissed the notion of "Playoff Rondo," his actions have belied his words.
Last season for the Los Angeles Lakers, Rondo averaged a sleepy 7.1 points and 5.0 assists. But in his first few playoff games after missing nearly eight weeks of the resumed NBA season because of a fractured right thumb, he made a huge impact for his team.
In Game 2 of the Lakers' first-round series against the Houston Rockets, Rondo had 10 points and nine assists, finishing with the highest plus/minus rating of anyone on the court (+28). In Game 3, he had 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including making three 3-pointers. In Game 4, he had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
After Game 3, Rondo's teammates couldn't help but weigh in.
"Playoff Rondo is real," Anthony Davis said.
Added LeBron James: "Being able to make adjustments on the fly, and being able to see how defenses are playing, and being able to see how the game is being played, and being able to see how the flow of the game is being played — there’s not many guys that can do that in our league. And in the postseason, it’s gigantic."
The Clippers finally filled their "true point guard" hole, giving Kawhi Leonard and Paul George an experienced playmaker and floor general. But the 17-year veteran didn’t come cheap, as Williams is a three-time Sixth Man of the Year (2015, 2018 and 2019) who, even in a down season, posts better numbers than Rondo (12.1 points on 42.1% shooting).
Giving up a productive player for one who could help the team months down the line is a gamble for the Clippers.
But for a franchise that always seems to struggle in the postseason, the move makes sense.
Last year, the Clippers were widely regarded as title contenders before an epic flameout in the second round of the playoffs, as they blew a 3-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets.
They were mortified by the collapse. They put their tails between their legs and vowed to be better. Rondo is a two-time NBA champion who will hold the Clippers to their word and prevent mental lapses.
James has long called Rondo one of the smartest players in the league, even before they were teammates.
During the 2018 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, James mentioned three players whose basketball intellect stood out to him: Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Rondo.
"Everybody knows how to put the ball in the hoop," James said at the time. "But who can think throughout the course of the game?"
Rondo has proven that's what he does best. He's a four-time All-Star and a two-time All-Defensive first-team member.
He knows how to do everything, but above all, he knows how to win, something the Clippers haven't been able to figure out.
According to the Warriors’ Green, the Clippers won the day.
"Rondo to the Clippers .... best trade today," Green tweeted.
Williams, of course, had to quarantine for 10 days in the NBA bubble after he was photographed visiting Atlanta strip club Magic City to eat chicken wings during an excused absence to attend a funeral.
Besides a local legend who first came to prominence as a high school star in nearby Snellville, the Hawks gained a nice scoring punch in Williams. They'll be better now, a good move for a team in sixth place in the wildly gridlocked Eastern Conference, in which seven teams are within three games of one another.
And the Clippers gained a wild card who won’t make them better in the regular season.
But then again, that isn't when they're banking on the deal to pay off.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.