From day one, the Lakers brain trust of Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson have openly stated that they brought Rajon Rondo in to be a leader for this young core (they pursued him last summer as well), and more specifically for Lonzo Ball.
During Rondo’s time in Chicago and more recently with the New Orleans Pelicans, Rajon was heralded for his relentless tutelage and support for the younger players. One of the ways he earned that acclaim was through acts like this Instagram post, which came in the midst of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade trying to pin the Bulls’ failures on the young guys:
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My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn't pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn't take days off. My vets didn't care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn't blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn't have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn't change the plan because it didn't work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can't win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I'm not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don't deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it's the leadership.
Since Rondo’s arrival in LA, we’ve overtly heard of how he intentionally plays on the opposite team from LeBron in scrimmages so both teams have a veteran voice and leadership, with a burning desire to win in any team drill or scrimmage — like in the first 15 seconds of this clip on Backstage Lakers:
It might seem like nothing but even the verbiage “my guy” gives insight into his collectivist mindset. Further, we’ve heard about Rondo’s defensive film sessions with Kyle Kuzma, the way he’s reviewed Pelicans-Lakers games with Lonzo and Magic, and witnessed firsthand his immediate on the bench film review and feedback when he’s taken out of games (ignore the silly caption):
We’ve also seen the way he constantly talks to the refs to gain an upper-hand for the squad:
Each example is great in its own right and already paints Rondo as every bit of the leader and tutor that we’ve heard him to be. However, there are a few details about Rondo’s leadership I’ve noticed during the pre-season that have completely blown me away.
The first came during the Lakers second preseason game against the Nuggets. Kuzma received a nicely timed pass from Ingram after a slip screen, and instead of going up for a contested paint attempt against Plumlee, he laid the ball off to McGee (who got fouled).
Watch Rondo’s instant reaction:
The other two examples of how Rondo is already leading the team come from Thursday night’s game against the Kings. First, guess who’s the only guy up off the bench during a defensive possession with ten minutes left in a pre-season game (and this isn’t anything against any of the other players, this is just who Rondo is in every fiber of his being):
Second, during Brandon Ingram’s now legendary four sideline deflection sequence, Rondo is literally standing next to the inbounder, talking, and then dapping up Ingram after a deflection:
Each of these examples shows a natural, yet intent-driven style of leadership that serves to not only encourage great habits, but also reinforces a focus on having the right process regardless of outcome. Rondo doesn’t care how the play turned out, he cares that the RIGHT play was made, and cares about that on every. Single. Play.
It’s through these thousands of interactions, teaching moments and encouragement that habits and attitudes change and eventually become self-reinforcing for young players. We’ve heard so much about Rondo’s leadership over the years, and there have been times where it’s like “Ok, I get it. Enough already.” But he’s already showing that every accolade is deserved.
I’m thoroughly excited to see more of these little moments, and how they rub off on the young crew, especially in combination with LeBron. Rondo embodies leadership in every action and that speaks to how natural it is for him — he isn’t fronting or “trying” to be a leader, it’s just who he is, and the team will be so much better for it.
Oh, I’m also looking forward to more of this: