Jameer Nelson and Rajon Rondo’s careers intertwined at pivotal points, making him an authority on Rondo’s credentials. Nelson’s Magic defeated Rondo’s Celtics on their quest to repeat as champions in 2009, a victory that propelled the young Magic to the Finals.
The Celtics got revenge in 2010, then to close 2014 they got dealt for each other as part of a December blockbuster trade, before both landing on the same Pelicans team as veterans 2017-18.
Rondo’s career spiraled after the trade and despite building one of the best starts to a young point guard’s career with the Celtics, injuries and personality clashes seemed to doom his chances to join the greats at his position. After reestablishing his reputation between the Bulls, Kings and Pelicans, Rondo won his second title with the Lakers this season, though Nelson considers that secondary to what he considers Rondo’s hall-of-fame resumé.
“He’s pretty much part of all the game plans,” Nelson said on his CLNS Media podcast that’s out in full on Monday. You could see on the bench he’s got the clipboard, he’s got the iPad. He’s doing things in the course of a game that a coach would do and he’s actually translating it to the court … he’s definitely a student of the game and to me he’s definitely a Hall of Famer. How do you not?”
Rondo passed Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen, Steve Nash and Larry Bird for all-time playoff assists in NBA history with 1,086 this postseason, only trailing five other players including Magic Johnson and LeBron James. He ranks 15th all-time in assists, with six seasons ranking in the top six of the NBA. He also holds the 12th most triple doubles, ranks 52nd in steals and seventh in assist percentage. According to Basketball Reference, he holds a 60.6% Hall of Fame probability. That’s higher than Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson’s chances and like them Rondo gets ensuing seasons to add to his case.
The knocks on Rondo’s career stand equally staggering to his passing and defensive prowess. He missed over half of his games (51.6%) between 2011-14. The Mavericks sunk to a 4-1 first round exit after acquiring him and he floated around as a role player after. He’s since averaged 9.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 8.1 assists with four teams.
“He got a bad rep for whatever reason, Nelson said. “That’s when people started to shy away from Rondo a little bit, but I was still a fan. I personally knew when he went to Dallas, when I was in that trade, I could just tell personality-wise it was going to be a fit … just hearing how he demanded things form his team, I knew it wasn’t going to be a good fit in Dallas.”
Landing in Los Angeles changed Rondo’s fortune and notoriety by joining LeBron’s pursuit of a fourth ring. The pair missed the playoffs in 2019, but Rondo could get James off the ball, fit the team’s salary cap maneuvering and filled a veteran role on a young team. He became a league-average three-point shooter. Then Anthony Davis arrived in an overhaul trade.
Rondo remained the team’s regular point guard into bench lineups as the trade gutted LA’s depth, allowing the Lakers to play tighter rotations and challenge opposing guards like Jamal Murray. He challenged LeBron publicly for his body language toward the team’s younger players and shot 40% from three after suffering a thumb injury.
Championships boost a player’s Hall of Fame status in popular discussions. The NBA’s lighter standards that allow for wider impacts beyond statistics to pull players like Yao Ming into the Hall, and Rondo’s role in the lone title for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and its impact in Celtics history could stand tall enough with the Lakers chip during the historic bubble season solidifying it.
Rondo’s individually great passing prowess also enters him into the conversation in a way that international careers, peak performance and Olympic production do for others. Those factors likely allow Rondo’s teammate Dwight Howard to enter the hall despite his similar castoff years and inconsistency.
“I’m a big fan of Rondo,” Nelson said. “I always was and always will be. Just because of how he competes. We have a lot of battles when I was in Orlando and he was in Boston. It was fun. After the game we’d dap each other up, go our separate way. When we got on the same team in New Orleans, it was just fun to see how he processed the game. It was fun to see how he worked and how he thought about things.”