Back in 2016, former Kentucky guard Rajon Rondo made headlines for an oddly successful inbounds play to end a game against the Atlanta Hawks. Rondo, who played for the Sacramento Kings at the time, directed DeMarcus Cousins to an empty corner of the court to defend with just two seconds left on the clock.
Cousins, who was visibly confused with Rondo’s orders, shuffled to the corner and sat watching while the play developed. The Hawks set up a double screen for forward Paul Millsap, who passed two defenders and sprinted the baseline, hoping to catch the ball in the corner for an open look at a potential game-tying jumper.
Instead, Cousins was there to break the play up, leaving the Hawks confused and scrambling for another option. They panicked.
Rondo knew the play, and the Kings pulled out the victory as a result.
Take a look:
NBC Sports Boston released a documentary last week revisiting the 2008 Boston Celtics and their impressive title run. Nicole Yang of Boston.com wrote a rundown of the documentary, where she mentioned one very interesting segment on Rondo’s time with the Celtics and his ability to read opposing teams on the go.
Former Celtic Brian Scalabrine said in an interview that Rondo called out the Golden State Warriors mid-game for shouting out a bluff play, knowing it wasn’t in the team’s playbook.
After retirement, Scalabrine became an assistant for the Golden State Warriors. When he returned to the TD Garden for a regular-season game, Scalabrine said head coach Mark Jackson shouted out a call, “42 cross,” for his team. But the play was a bluff. The Warriors didn’t have a “42 cross” in their playbook — and Rondo knew.
Rondo looked at Mark, and then he looked in the air and said, ’42 cross, 42 cross,’ and then he looked back at Mark and said, ‘You don’t have a 42 cross.’ I was like, ‘How the hell did he just know that?’ Somehow, some way, he knew that. And they’re not a rival. It wasn’t a playoff series. It was an insignificant game during the middle of the week. He was the smartest player I’ve ever played with and it’s not even close.
Maniacal. Basketball. Genius.
Rondo has said several times in the past that he has big plans for himself when his basketball career eventually comes to a close, hoping to one day become a head coach.
“I want to be a general manager, and I want to be a head coach,” he told Marc Stein of the New York Times. “Definitely both.”
And Rondo’s current head coach with the New Orleans Pelicans, Alvin Gentry, certainly has his back. In fact, Gentry said he lets Rondo run the team at times because he’s so smart, similar to what we saw with Tyler Ulis at Kentucky in 2015-16.
“When you have a point guard this smart, you should let him run the team,” Gentry said. “You can’t go in that locker room and talk to one guy that doesn’t believe in him. I’d coach him again and again and again.”
Rondo has a history of butting heads with head coaches, including Doug Bibby in high school, Tubby Smith at Kentucky, Doc Rivers in Boston, and Rick Carlisle in Dallas. He has a tendency to take the “my way or the highway” approach, telling coaches that he sees and feels the court better than they do standing on the sideline. He told Bibby as much.
“But Bib, I’m on the court, I feel the game because I’m playing,” Rondo would say. “‘My insight is better than yours’ – that’s what he was basically telling me,” Bibby said.
It rubs people the wrong way, and it’s been a big reason he has bounced around from team to team throughout his 12-year NBA career.
But man, Rondo is good at what he does, and it certainly showed this season with the Pelicans, leading the team to their first playoff series victory since 2007-08.