There are plenty of criticisms to make about the way Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo has handled this season. From his often less-than-focused defense (the main critique) to how poor of a fit he’s proven to be with LeBron James, and even his recent antics of sitting in a courtside seat in a moment he claimed was no big deal despite literally no other players doing that, there have been drawbacks aplenty of late.
Still, the one unimpeachable plus to Rondo’s Lakers stint has been his willingness to mentor his younger teammates. From the very beginning of Rondo’s tenure, we have heard story after story of him spending extra time watching film with their younger players like Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, habits that have made him a beloved locker room presence and leader on the team.
He has also been one of the few veterans to remain bought into the coaching staff for the entire year, which can’t go understated as a factor in how this team has stopped short of complete implosion.
In an appearance on the “Arrive Early, Leave Late” podcast, Rondo talked to Tania Ganguli of the L.A. Times about why it’s so important to him to serve as a guiding presence for his younger teammates, and when in his career he started doing so:
“When I became the older teammate (laughs). I’ve always wanted to share, but obviously as a young player in the league, I just wanted to be a sponge and learn as much as I could from so many older players. I played with a lot of older veteran guys that was willing to pass me the knowledge and give me any information I asked them (for), so it’s only right I do the same thing.
“What was given to me, I feel like I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have the knowledge from the veterans that cared about me and helped me become the professional that I am. I feel like I’m in a situation now, 32 years old and 13 years in, it’s time for me to do the same.”
Again, you can take issues with Rondo, but given how many problems this team has had with the veteran supporting cast, that’s an admirable mindset.
Rondo and Ganguli’s next exchange was also really endearing:
Ganguli: The young guys on this team seem to really respond to you. It seems like they’ll always bring you up when they talk about who’s teaching them. They seem to really like you.
Ganguli: Has it been like that on the last few teams you’ve been on?
Rondo: “I would say so. I think they like me. They seem perceptive. They ask questions, and I tell a lot of guys from day one when I first meet them, ‘if there’s anything I could help or teach, I’m willing to give it to you. If you want it.’
“Sometimes people may think I talk too much... But the older you get, the more life experiences you have, and if you’re willing to share it, it’s there for your information. It’s humbling to know that young guys do look up to me, or they do respect or respond what I’m saying to them, so it always comes from a good place of me wanting the best for the young guys, and it’s time for me now to pass it down.”
Then, Rondo got into a bit more specifics about how exactly he’s tried to help the team’s younger players (including the previously unreported Brandon Ingram and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) using film:
”Zo, Kuz, B.I., Pope, we’ve had sessions where we just watch it as a team, ourselves. I would do a little bit of talking, but I like to hear what those guys think as well. You don’t always want to have one voice from a guy who thinks he knows it all, so I kind of want to hear what those guys think, or how they’re breaking down the game and I just try to add my two cents in at some point.
“Film is always hard to watch. That’s the best thing about it, it’s the ugly truth, and maybe right after the game when people ask you questions, it’s like you don’t really know because you may feel one thing, but once you watch the film you may understand that you can play a lot better or you played worse, so it’s different. Film doesn’t lie. It tells you the truth about everything, the way you move, the way you play defense or offense, so to me it’s the best thing that you could possibly do.”
Rondo’s play on the court this year — in the limited games he’s been healthy for — has obviously not been what the Lakers hoped they would get out of the veteran. However, things like this are still worth noting, because Rondo is helping the young Lakers build the types of habits that could pay off for the team if they keep the young core around long enough to see the results of it.
There is no guarantee that will be the case, but if it is, Lakers fans should (at least in part) thank Rondo for his role in these young players’ growth.