About two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Lakers elected to trade veteran point guard Rajon Rondo to the Cleveland Cavaliers in a three-team deal involving the New York Knicks, basically in exchange for nothing. The move was clearly meant to provide flexibility to the Lakers opening a roster spot, while the seldom-used Rondo would get a bigger role and playing time on a surging Cavs team that had just lost its leader Ricky Rubio to a heartbreaking ACL tear in his best game of franchise’s best season in recent history.
As a die-hard Rondo fan, it looked even for me as a painful but necessary move at the time. Stanley Johnson, who at the time recently signed on a hardship exception provided by the COVID outbreak through the league, proved to be a major addition for the Lakers. Stanley brought the much-needed toughness and defensive intensity the Lakers were lacking.
With a full 15-man roster, general manager Rob Pelinka needed to clear a roster spot in order to sign Johnson and the Cleveland situation proved to be a too good opportunity both for the Lakers and for Rondo, who, despite his vocal activity on the sidelines and leadership role in the locker room, did not have a steady chance to make an impact on the floor.
Yet, riding a two-game losing streak, an awful defense regressed to start-of-the-season inconsistency, Kendrick Nunn still to make his debut in purple and gold, and Russell Westbrook on a horrible shooting slump, trading Rondo does not seem such a smart move at the moment.
Playoff Rondo is still in the air… and the Los Angeles Lakers missed out on him.
Rondo has not failed to make an immediate impact in Cleveland, thus far averaging 10.3 points, 4.7 assists and 4 rebounds while shooting 42.9 percent from three on 4.7 attempts per game in just 21 minutes of action per game. His presence helped the young team record a 2-1 record despite Rubio’s loss, with the only defeat coming against the league number 1 seed and championship favorite Golden State Warriors in San Francisco. In his second game for the Cavs, the two-time NBA champion recorded 15 points, 5 assists and 3-for-3 from beyond the arc.
Through those three games he did not look not much different from the Rajon Rondo who won the NBA Championship with the Lakers two years ago. His team management and production were on point, his shooting lights out, and he looked as sharp as ever on the defensive end (also giving a hard time to MVP-candidate Stephen Curry).
Given the Lakers’ current situation, in particular regarding Westbrook’s poor performances, having Rondo on the roster and providing him an increased role at the expense of the former MVP would have probably proven beneficial for the team. Three games with the Cavaliers is obviously a small sample size, but it proved nevertheless that Rajon has still some good basketball left in the tank and he can run a team to victory.
His presence would have been a stabilizing one for the Lakers on and off the floor. Unfortunately, in this case a mishandling of rotations and maybe a rushed front office decision (given Johnson is for the moment still signed on a 10-day contract and there are more useless players on the roster), led to this regrettable situation.
The only solace is that in the increasingly unlikelihood that the Los Angeles Lakers win the championship this year, Rondo will receive his much deserved ring as a member of the team.