You might think that Magic Johnson’s main goal coming into the offseason was signing LeBron James, especially given that that’s exactly what he did.
But to hear Johnson talk at his press conference days before his team started training camp, he actually had a different item No. 1 on his to-do list.
“My main thing this offseason was ‘how do we get somebody to mentor Lonzo?’” Johnson said.
And while Johnson was probably being hyperbolic and actually did have “sign superstar” at the top of his summer checklist over “find mentor,” it doesn’t really matter what his first priority was, because he says he’s managed both of those goals.
“I got the right mentor because Rondo, his basketball IQ is off the charts,” Johnson said, and at Lakers media day, Rondo responded to a question about if he’d accept such a teaching role as if a reporter had asked him if the sky is blue.
“Yeah. Yeah. That’s obvious,” Rondo said. “What I’m here to do is help young guys as much as possible and make the game easier for young guys.”
Rondo started that process by watching film of his young teammates, and then by watching defensive clips with Kyle Kuzma. He also sat down to go over film of his matchups with Ball from last year with Ball and Johnson, creating an almost dream-like scenario in which the greatest point guard in Lakers history was sitting with one of the NBA’s most cerebral players ever, and attempting to mind meld with the franchise’s point guard of the future and pass on two generations of knowledge to a player the Lakers hope will help lead them in this new era.
“If that was a pay-per-view event, I think it would’ve sold a million tickets,” said Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka.
But Ball didn’t have to buy a ticket. He got in for free, and says the opportunity was as cool and informative as one would think.
”Me being 20 years old and being able to sit down with the best point guard ever, in my opinion, and then Rondo, who has been doing this for a long time at a high level, it was kind of crazy. Just sitting in there listening to those guys speak, it’s very powerful. When Rondo talks, you gotta listen, and when Magic talks, you gotta listen,” Ball said.
The start of any good relationship is respect. It sounds like Ball certainly has that for Rondo.
The feeling is mutual.
“I love that he can do it all, and I love that he’s a very unselfish player. People don’t really understand that the ball gives you energy. If you’re a point guard that shoots the ball 28 times a game or you’re dominating the ball every time down the court and guys run the lane three or four times and haven’t touched the ball in a while, the body language can start to drop, and now defensively they’re not giving you the energy that you need,” Rondo said.
“So watching a young guy at that age ... being able to share the ball is very refreshing to understand that there are still point guards coming up that want to play the game the right way.”
If Rondo sees something “right” in the way that Ball plays the game, it might be because he sees a little of himself.
It turns out that might be no accident.
”I watched Rondo a lot growing up, especially when he played for Boston. Rajon is usually the smartest dude on the court, so just watching him play pickup, 5-on-5 is crazy because he’s talking the whole time,” Ball said. “I want to be more of a vocal leader, so he can definitely help me with that.”
So for all the concern that Rondo wouldn’t be willing to defer to ball, that the presence of another point guard on the roster would stunt his development, it sounds like Johnson might have known what he was doing when he put getting Ball a mentor so high on his offseason agenda.
Ball could have groused at the thought of a veteran taking his minutes a year after he was selected second overall in the draft, and Rondo could have looked at Ball as competition for precious playing time that he needed to get an edge over, rather than a young player in need of tutelage.
Given that Rondo will reportedly start over Ball at first, whether both players remain content and supportive of one other will be worth monitoring going forward, but at least during media day, it appeared that Rondo has found an eager pupil, and Ball has discovered a willing teacher.
“I’m definitely going to learn a lot from him this year,” Ball said.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.