The Los Angeles Lakers announced that they have officially signed point guard Rajon Rondo in NBA free agency. Per team policy, the terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but thanks to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports, we know the deal is a one-year, $9 million contract.
“We are thrilled to have Rajon bring his off-the-charts basketball IQ to the Lakers,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said in a statement announcing that Rondo had signed. “He has a proven ability to play at an elite level during playoff and championship runs, and that is a highly valued skill. Rajon is also respected around the NBA as an extremely hard worker and relentless competitor and that mentality is key to how we want build our roster.”
Pelinka’s kind words aside, Rondo’s addition was a controversial one, and not just because the veteran point guard is one of the most polarizing role players in the NBA. Rondo will reportedly be given an opportunity to earn the starting job that was Lonzo Ball’s last year, competition that Ball is reportedly “not running from,” but also a competition that many fans think is unnecessary given Ball’s status as arguably the franchise’s most promising young asset.
Should Rondo really be given a chance to force Ball to the bench when it’s clear that Ball’s progression matters far more to the Lakers’ future than the (at best marginally) better play of a player who will in all likelihood be a one-year mercenary whether he wins the job over Ball in training camp or not?
The answer is complicated, but trends towards yes. Rondo will push Ball to be better in a way that Tyler Ennis being the Lakers’ back-up ballhandler last year couldn’t. Without a realistic NBA-caliber option behind him last season, Ball was able to play through mistakes in what was the best way to develop him at the time.
Now, with LeBron James aboard, the Lakers have bigger concerns than that. It also seems as though the Venn diagram of people who believe Ball is clearly better than Rondo and the people worried about Rondo starting is a circle. That group has nothing to worry about, because if the first is true, the second won’t happen.
On the flip side, if Ball can’t clearly establish himself as better than Rondo — an undoubtedly brilliant player who also has very real flaws on defense and can’t shoot unless the closeout defender stops to do their taxes on the way to the 3-point line — then it’s indicative of deeper problems with Ball’s development.
Essentially, he SHOULD be able to beat out Rondo, and if he can’t, then Ball should have to push in practice and in games until he proves he’s a definitively better option.
The one factor to worry about here, insomuch as their is one, is if Luke Walton (or LeBron James) prefer Rondo to be the starter because he’s a veteran. Still, Walton isn’t Byron Scott, and it sounds like James is “excited” to play with Ball.
If all of this seems to be kind of ignoring Rondo, that’s kind of the point. Rondo is a useful player, and if Ball beats him out, he’ll be undoubtedly the best backup point guard the Lakers have had in years. A passing savant with one of the highest basketball IQ’s in the NBA is also exactly the type of player Ball should want to learn from, but this isn’t about Rondo.
The real story here is less about what Rondo is than what he represents: A shift towards a Lakers era in which players will be pushed for their minutes on a team good enough to justify such competition. How that battle affects the Lakers, and their locker room, will be one of the most fascinating stories to watch during training camp this season and beyond.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.