The Los Angeles Lakers beating the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night might not have been a happy occasion for those rooting for L.A.’s lottery odds, but on its face, it would have seemed to be a bright spot for a team that has only won 32 other times this season.
And the night was positive for the group, in some senses. Lance Stephenson and his teammates cracked jokes and had laughs about his ankle-breaking crossover on Jeff Green, and JaVale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope talked about why they’ve been playing better of late.
Somewhat lost in all of that, though, was Lakers head coach Luke Walton clearly not being super thrilled about how a few things in the game went, from his uncharacteristically crotchety reaction to Stephenson’s highlight play, as well as his answer when he was asked about a late interaction between himself and Rajon Rondo.
Walton — who seemed vaguely surprised that Rondo “only” had three turnovers in the game — revealed that he’s trying to get Rondo to be a little more careful with how he passes the ball.
“I’m trying to get him to go back to old-school, fundamental chest passing. As opposed to the wind-up, loop-around passes that he’s been doing. But he’s quick to remind me that he’s got a lot more assists in his career than I do,” Walton said. “But just, chest passes. That’s all I want. Solid chest passes.”
Walton finished his career with 1,317 assists, while Rondo has 6,907 and counting, so Rondo isn’t wrong, but that also doesn’t necessarily mean that he shouldn’t have to listen to what his head coach is saying. If players more accomplished at basketball than their head coaches are didn’t need to heed their coaches’ instructions, then about 90 percent of NBA players would never have to listen.
For his part, Rondo seemed relatively contrite about the exchange while speaking with reporters about it.
”I talk a little trash to my coach, but he killed me tonight. I can’t really say on camera what he told me, but we’ll just leave it at that,” Rondo said.
Walton and Rondo communicating through the media so tersely has been far from the norm this season, a campaign in which Rondo has been one of the few veterans on the Lakers’ roster to publicly go to bat for the coach repeatedly. Walton and Rondo seem to have a healthy mutual respect for what each other bring to the table.
One night definitely doesn’t meant that type of relationship is over for them — tensions run high after games — but this coldness is worth taking note of as the season winds down. Walton has played Rondo a bunch down the stretch of the year with Lonzo Ball injured, even with Alex Caruso thoroughly outplaying the veteran floor general, while Rondo has constantly defended Luke in the media.
Given that neither seem likely to be back next season this may not matter for the Lakers, but it would be a sad way to see one of the more positive relationships on the team end if Tuesday night was truly a falling out of some kind for the two. We’ll see more on that front soon.
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