Welcome to the Hall of Fame: The case for Rajon Rondo

Credit: Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Credit: Mike Stobe/Getty Images /

Rajon Rondo picked up his second NBA title Sunday night. Did that push him over the threshold and into the Basketball Hall of Fame?

The year of our Lord 2020 will forever be known as a time when the concept of normalcy was turned on its head. But for one brief moment Sunday night normalcy, true normalcy, returned: Los Angeles Lakers were crowned NBA champions yet again.

The narratives and talking points surrounding the historic franchise’s 17th NBA title will be legion — Is LeBron James officially the greatest of all time? Will the title carry an asterisk? Has J.R. Smith put his shirt back on? — but one that deserves at least some time in the sun revolves around Rajon Rondo and his likelihood to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Rondo spent his first eight seasons and change with the Boston Celtics, in which he was named to four All-Star teams, four All-Defense teams, one All-NBA team, and twice led the league in assists per game (he would win a third assist title in 2016 as a member of the Sacramento Kings). He won his first title in 2008, playing fourth banana to Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and the Anything is Possible Celtics and would start all 92 of Boston’s playoff games from 2007-2012.

However, the enigmatic point guard has become a journeyman since being dealt from Boston to the Dallas Mavericks during the 2014-15 season — appearing on six teams over the last six seasons — do in large part to his own antics. The Mavericks couldn’t wait to end their relationship; the Sacramento Kings did not renew his contract after he called referee Bill Kennedy, who is gay, a homophobic slur; the Chicago Bulls suspended him for “conduct detrimental to the team” and later waived him after being bounced from the playoffs.

Rondo latched on with the Lakers in the summer of 2018 and has appeared in 94 regular-season games since, vacillating between being a shell of his former self and being completely cooked.

That is until the 2019-20 playoffs.

Rondo came off the bench in all 16 games and averaged 8.9 points, 6.6 assists, and 1.4 steals per game on .455/.400/.684 shooting splits. He provided Los Angeles with a steady hand off the bench and was rewarded with his second NBA championship ring as a result, joining Clyde Lovellette as the only two players in league history to win a title in both Boston and L.A.

So now the question is raised: Is Rajon Rondo bound for the Basketball Hall of Fame?

The question may come off as ridiculous at first blush, but a precedent has already been established and multiple players with resumé’s approximating Rondo’s have eventually found their way to the corridors of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Richie Geurin (six-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA) and Mitch Richmond (six-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA, one-time champion) are two such examples, and his career numbers — particularly when viewing them from a per 100 possession lense — aren’t too dissimilar from that of Paul Westphal or Mo Cheeks.

But, at the end of the day, Rondo’s pedestrian scoring numbers and lack of games played may be the biggest hurdles for him to climb in the eyes of voters. While Cheeks, much like Rondo, wasn’t a prolific scorer, he did appear in approximately 250 more regular-season games and all the other Hall of Famers mentioned above were best known for their offensive acumen and impact. Additionally, Rondo was never “the guy”; at best he was one of “the guy’s” younger brothers or one of his many sidekicks.

According to Basketball-Reference, Rondo has a 60.6 percent chance of being inducted into the Hall of Fame, a percentage that jumped nearly 20 points after the Lakers took home the 2019-20 title. Without a doubt, he’s an imperfect player with an imperfect track record, but the Basketball Hall of Fame — rightly or wrongly — doesn’t necessarily care about that.

Induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame is primarily based on what the player accomplished throughout their entire basketball career, not just their time in the NBA. Rondo was part of the number one rated recruiting class in 2004, a first-round draft pick in 2006, and a cog on multiple NBA championship teams over 10 years apart. He’s a multi-time All-Star and All-Defense Team member and won titles in both the Eastern and Western Conference in an age when doing so is reserved for a select few (namely Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James…and Danny Green).

Rondo would likely not be inducted the first time his name appears on the ballot if he retired today. One could argue that his resumé is still missing something – another title, one more All-NBA selection, a couple more All-Star appearances – but, based on precedent, its still likely strong enough for his metallic bust to be placed in the Hall of Fame someday, even if it means that he supplants Richmond as the “This guy is in the Hall?” guy.

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