Two-time NBA champion point guard Rajon Rondo has been traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Lou Williams and two second-round draft picks. The deal was first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski shortly before the NBA’s trade deadline on Thursday.
The 35-year-old Rondo has played sparingly this season with the Hawks in a backup role to rising superstar Trae Young, averaging 3.9 points and 3.5 assists in just under 15 minutes per game.
Though undoubtedly past his prime, the Clippers expect Rondo to bring smarts on defense and steady playmaking to an L.A. backcourt that can no longer rely on starter Patrick Beverley’s health or on Reggie Jackson to produce consistently. When healthy, Beverley is an elite defender, but he has missed more than a third of the season with injuries, including the team’s last six games, and his offensive deficiencies have long been an issue.
This year and last, the Clippers have regularly suffered from offensive stagnation, particularly in the fourth quarter, often not moving the ball effectively and relying too heavily on isolation plays.
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Playoff Help Wanted
The Clippers are also hopeful Rondo’s locker room leadership and playoff credentials will help them overcome their well-publicized postseason woes.
Dating back to the 2015-16 season, the Clippers have been bounced from the playoffs three times in the first round. Last season, despite adding superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the roster, the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals.
Rondo, on the other hand, has played an important role in two championship runs over his career. The first came with the Boston Celtics in 2008 as the fourth cog behind the juggernaut trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.
More recently, he helped the Lakers win the title last season, contributing 8.9 points, 6.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds in 16 playoff games. That included a 16-point, 10-assist performance in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat and 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting in a decisive Game 6.
In fact, Rondo has thrived in the playoffs throughout his career. In 121 postseason games, he has averaged 13.3 points, 9.0 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals — all better than his career regular season numbers.
Rondo Is a Well-Traveled Veteran
Following his sophomore year at Kentucky, Rondo was drafted 21st overall by the Phoenix Suns in 2006, but was traded on draft night, along with Brian Grant, to the Celtics for a 2007 first-round pick (which later became Rudy Fernandez). In nine seasons with Boston, Rondo was a four-time All-Star selection and led the league in assists per game in 2012 (11.7) and 2013 (11.1) and in steals in 2010 (2.3).
Traded from Boston to the Dallas Mavericks in 2014, Rondo has bounced around the league ever since, mostly as a gun-for-hire. In addition to his recent stints with the Los Angeles Lakers and Hawks, he has also spent time in Sacramento, Chicago and New Orleans.
Anticipating issues at point, the Clippers had looked into acquiring Rondo last offseason, but ultimately they were not interested in outdoing Atlanta’s two-year, $15 million offer. But now, by sending out Williams’ $8 million this year, the Clips will actually turn a half-million-dollar profit on Rondo this season (with what to do about next year’s $7.5 million installment still up in the air.)
Williams, a three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year over his 15-year career, will now reunite with the Hawks in his hometown of Atlanta, where he played two seasons from 2012-2014.
Upon being traded to the Clippers in June 2017, Williams had been a key piece off LA’s bench the previous three campaigns, averaging 20.4 points and 5.4 assists. However, his production has dropped precipitously this season and more times than not, his 12.1 points per game don’t justify the liability he presents on defense.
That said, in acquiring Williams, Atlanta gets a valuable extra scoring threat with their second unit, and, perhaps most importantly, frees up $7.5 million of cap space for next season by moving off the second year of Rondo’s contract.