LOS ANGELES — When exactly Rajon Rondo will make his season debut for the Lakers has been an open question for basically the entire season. He was a game-time decision way back on opening night with the calf injury he sustained during the preseason, and has publicly appeared to be getting closer to play multiple times over the nearly month since then.
Nowhere was this weird stop-and-start routine more on display than last weekend, however, when Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports first reported that Rondo was planning to play on Sunday against the Toronto Raptors, a report he then shot down himself the next day.
This much we know: Rondo went through a five-on-five workout on Saturday, but evidently something was still off enough (either his response or how he looked out there) that led the Lakers to believe he’d be better off sitting another game. So what’s going on? That was the question posed to head coach Frank Vogel before Sunday’s loss to the Raptors.
“He’s getting closer,” Vogel said of Rondo. “The calf is feeling better, (but) he’s still not all the way there yet, and we’re not going to put him out there until he’s ready.”
That’s a sensible approach — especially when even in the wake of last night’s loss to the Raptors the Lakers are still cruising with a 7-2 record — but it’s one that Vogel’s chuckle when asked how Rondo has dealt with his lengthy recovery revealed has not always sat well with the veteran guard.
“He very much wants to be on the court,” Vogel laughed. “That’s the simplest way to put it, but he’s aligned with us in terms of being intelligent and doing it at the right time.”
Sunday night, Rondo seemed just as eager to return as Vogel’s reaction made it seem, actively consulting on replays with his teammates during timeouts, and even not letting wearing a full suit stop him from fluidly dribbling a loose ball that made its way over to him in the middle of one such stoppage.
But with Rondo so visibly champing at the bit to play, what’s resulted in his return seemingly getting so close only to be stopped so many times? Has the process been more complicated than the Lakers expected? As an injured player, Rondo hasn’t spoken to the media in a few weeks, but Vogel has his own read.
“It’s tough to say. With a soft tissue injury, you never know how quickly those things are going to heal,” Vogel said before the game on Sunday. “You want to have the mindset where you can ramp up activity and get through it with no pain and no soreness. And if that doesn’t happen then it can be delayed. So it’s not that unusual in my mind.”
It’s worth noting that Vogel never really criticizes this team publicly, so it’s unlikely he was ever going to say anything that would contradict him being excited to get Rondo back into the lineup, even if it complicates the team’s crowded guard rotation and isn’t a guarantee to fix problems without creating others.
Still, when asked when Rondo might return, Vogel said “hopefully soon,” and it’s fair to wonder whether finally taking a loss made both coach and team a little more eager for Rondo to come back.
“He’s day-to-day. He’s picking up his activity, and with each day that he picks up his activity we gotta make sure that there’s not pain and soreness after that enhanced work. Then it’s about making sure he’s in the right condition by playing 5-on-5 full court as much as we can, and then he’ll be ready. But it’s still day-to-day.”
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.