If the Los Angeles Lakers really wanted Rajon Rondo, they could have had him a long time ago (kind of). Jordan Clarkson's strong play to end the season should be the final reason the Lakers' front office needs to pass on the mercurial point guard once again.
It's only fitting that the first-round draft pick used to select Rondo was originally owned by the Lakers. It was conveyed to the Celtics, who then sent it to the Atlanta Hawks, who passed it to the Suns, and then it was finally lobbed back to the Celtics all before Rondo played a single game. Rajon has become a four-time All-Star, appeared in two NBA Finals, and won one championship over his nine NBA seasons since that inauspicious start.
The list of transactions Jordan Clarkson has been included in is much shorter (he was selected by the Washington Wizards with the 46th-overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, who then sold his rights to the Lakers for $1.8 million), and his pedigree and resume are much less esteemed. But NBA games are not won or lost based on what's on your resume (ask the 2012-13 Lakers about this sometime), it's what can you do now. And in that aspect, Clarkson is better suited than Rondo for the Lakers multi-year rebuild to come.
The arguments that many have made to sign Rondo seem to come down to two main points: The acquisition of a "proven talent" like Rondo would make Kobe Bryant happy and aid him in one last quest for ring number six, and a "star player" like Rondo is the type of player that can be used to recruit other blue chip free agents.
Trying to "win a sixth ring for Kobe" is a moot point; a lineup of Rondo/ Bryant/ Randle / Draft pick x/ Free Agent x (plus Jordan Clarkson thrown in there somewhere) might make the playoffs, but still would be the third-best team in the Pacific Division at best. The idea of Rondo as some siren song for desirable free agents seems like another dubious assertion. Players want to play with other talented players. That means players who can win now and going forward, not players who won long ago.
Clarkson is a more attractive piece to that end. He is on a dirt cheap contract and is showing potential to grow into a solid player. That, in addition to showing the Lakers' front offices' ability to nail the type of late picks free agents hope to be generating for their teams, also allows these prospective recruits to not have to take less than their true value to join up with him.
What would they be joining? Since his move to the starting lineup on January 23rd, Clarkson has led the Lakers in points (15.3) and assists (4.9) per game, to go with 4.3 rebounds and a PER of 16.74 (second among all rookies).
Since that same date, Rondo has averaged 8.3 points, six assists, and 4.1 rebounds with a PER of 13.29. Clarkson has also shot a tick higher from the field (Clarkson 45.6 percent, Rondo 45.2 percent) on significantly more attempts (13.1/8.6). Rondo (2.9) has also averaged slightly more turnovers than Clarkson (2.2), on a lower usage rate (Clarkson 24.4/ Rondo 20.7). The same advantages hold for Clarkson in free-throw percentage (Clarkson 83.9 percent, Rondo 52.9 percent ) and three-point percentage (29.5 percent, 26.1 percent), in more attempts from both areas (Clarkson attempts 2.6 threes and 3.1 free throw attempts per game to Rondo's 0.8 and 0.6, respectively).
What all of those numbers essentially paint a picture of is Rondo using less possessions, less efficiently than a rookie second-rounder who was thrown into the fire to play on a crappy team after barely seeing the court over the first half of the season. That is at least as difficult as learning a new playbook, as Rondo had to do when moved to Dallas.
Did you enjoy the Ronnie Price starting point guard experience this season? Because if those numbers do not scare you away from Rondo, maybe this cold shower hidden away in Zach Lowe's piece on the Orlando Magic's backcourt just might (emphasis mine):
Oladipo remains a below-average shooter and ranks toward the bottom among shooting guards in gravity and distraction scores — proprietary SportVU tracking stats that measure how closely defenders stick to players (gravity) and how willing defenders are to drift away from those same players (distraction). Payton has the third-worst distraction score among all guards in the NBA, ahead of only Rajon Rondo and Ronnie Price, per data from STATS provided to Grantland. When Payton doesn't have the ball, his defenders tend to ignore him to block Oladipo's path to the lane; Oladipo and Monta Ellis could have a fun conversation about that.
So according to SportsVU, the only player defenders respected less than Rondo was a journeyman on a veteran's minimum who probably should not have even been getting minutes on the team with the fourth-worst record in the NBA. Even with a rising cap, is any of the above really worthy of a maximum contract at all, much less from a team with a young stud at the same position who will make $845,059 next season before entering restricted free agency?
To make a cinema analogy for a town known for the silver screen, the Lakers giving a max contract to Rondo while having Clarkson would be like if the producers of "The Hunger Games" had recast Lindsay Lohan as Katniss Everdeen halfway though production because she was a "bigger name" at the time, and had Jennifer Lawrence spend the rest of the movie playing Prim.
After looking at all of the numbers above, put me on "Team Clarkson," or more accurately, "Team Not-Rondo."
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All statistical data is courtesy of NBA.com