'Tis the season for guards in New Orleans.
Just two weeks after investing in a five-year, $126 million contract for Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans added veteran point guard Rajon Rondo to play alongside of him.
The four-time All-Star received a one-year deal, league sources confirmed to The Advocate. Rondo met with general manager Dell Demps on Saturday to hammer out the final details of the deal.
The Pelicans sent a contingent, which included Demps and coach Alvin Gentry, to Louisville last Thursday to pitch the free agent. Several sources, from both sides of the meeting, lauded a shared vision between the team and the point guard.
A league source also indicated Pelicans All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins played a “pivotal” role in recruiting Rondo, convincing him to spurn reported interest from the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks. The pair became close when they played together in Sacramento during the 2015-16 season, and sources said it’s likely Rondo accepted less money to join Cousins in New Orleans.
“The way we compete and the type of competitors we are, it’s hard for us not to get along,” Cousins said of Rondo to Yahoo Sports last summer. “We damn near think alike all the time. I’m soaking it all I can. He’s a champion. I basically look up to him.”
Rondo’s leadership qualities — and his ample playoff experience gained in nine seasons with the Boston Celtics — played a significant role in the Pelicans’ pursuit, according to league sources. The team also valued his decision-making on the ball and on-court intelligence.
But, it’s still not known exactly which version of Rondo the Pelicans are getting.
The four-time member of the NBA’s All-Defensive team hasn’t performed at All-Star levels since the 2012-13 season. He’s played for four teams over the past three seasons, including last year’s stint with the Chicago Bulls, where he averaged 8.8 points, 6.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds in 69 games.
But, even as his numbers dipped, Rondo’s passing, driving and defensive skills are still well-regarded in the league. And they could mesh alongside the aggressive Holiday, who the Pelicans have expressed an interest in playing more as a shooting guard to fully take advantage of his offensive skills.
“I just don’t want to put all of the ball-handling stuff on Jrue, because I think when we do, it takes away some of the best stuff that he does. It takes away some of his aggression,” Gentry told The Advocate in June. “I want him to be able to be Jrue, and I think he’s a guy who will handle the ball and make plays. But if he’s partnered with someone who can handle the ball, it takes some of that pressure off of him.”
Rondo fits that description.
However, he doesn’t meet the Pelicans’ most glaring need: shooting. Both Anthony Davis and Cousins command double-teams in the post, meaning either should be able to routinely pass out of traps to find an open teammate standing on the perimeter.
The problem last year for the Pelicans is too often those open 3-point attempts were missed, a leading cause of owning the league’s fifth-worst offensive efficiency. And Rondo isn’t the solution to that particular problem.
The nine-year veteran is a dismal 30.4 percent 3-point shooter in his career, and defenses routinely sag off of him at the arc, allowing open shots in exchange for limiting his driving and passing lanes. Although, Rondo’s numbers have improved recently, converting 35.7 percent of his 3-pointers since the 2014-15 season, it’s come on just 1.9 attempts per game.
“We have to add shooting,” Gentry said in June. “We have to have some guys who are knock-down shooters because that is going to be important with two guys who are going to demand double teams and because of that we are going to have to swing the ball and knock down shots to continue to keep the floor open.”
While the Pelicans’ offseason plans aren’t yet complete, the team’s finishing five has come into focus. Holiday and Rondo at the guard spots, flanked by Solomon Hill at the wing with Cousins and Davis covering the big positions.
It’s a group that can be smothering defensively on the perimeter, and has three strong scoring options, but will have to answer spacing questions offensively as well as discover the most suitable style of play in a short timeframe.
“I’m excited for this group,” Demps said after signing Holiday. “I think we have a lot of the pieces in place.”