With the Los Angeles Lakers on the verge of their 35th loss, this time at the hands of the Denver Nuggets, ESPN cameras caught a glimpse of a rather unorthodox image: Rajon Rondo was sitting well away from the team’s bench, by himself, next to fans sitting court side.
Just as noteworthy as where Rondo had placed himself in that scene was the looks on the Lakers coaching staff’s face as he did so.
my favorite part of this Lakers season has been putting Larry David in all of their awkward bench photos pic.twitter.com/YZoOYC6dOg— Grant Goldberg (@GrantGoldberg) March 7, 2019
Wait, wrong image. Sorry... Here we go.
Does that look like a group of guys in on the joke? Does Luke Walton and his staff (and Marco Nuñez, head trainer) look like they gave clearance for Rondo to sit down there? It doesn’t to me, and that’s why — contrary to what Rondo believes — this was a big deal.
After the game, Rondo was asked about his choice to join the Chainz family court side (via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN):
“I’ve done it like maybe eight, 10 times this year,” Rondo said. “I don’t know why it’s a big deal now.”
To provide full context here, Youngmisuk offered another example in which Rondo did this, though it doesn’t necessarily help his case that this is normal behavior:
Rondo did the same thing earlier this season toward the end of the Lakers’ 136-94 loss at Indiana on Feb. 5. Rondo sat in a courtside seat next to head athletic trainer Marco Nunez, who typically sits on the other side of the Lakers’ coaching staff. The internet buzz after that game was about LeBron James sitting at the end of the Lakers’ bench with three empty seats between himself and the nearest Lakers teammate during an embarrassing blowout loss.
Rondo told the Los Angeles Times after that game that he likes sitting in courtside seats during games but that they’re just typically full at Staples Center.
So, the two examples we can concretely point to Rondo doing this happen to come in blowout losses? In those two games combined, he was a -46 overall. So not only was he worthless in both those games on the court, but that mentorship everyone has pointed to all year long was just as absent as any type of positive production.
This was a big deal, and anyone who says otherwise (including Rondo) is missing the point.
Yes, the Lakers are on the outside looking in on the playoff picture. Sure, they don’t have much to play for at this point. But the Lakers have a culture problem. Namely: there isn’t one.
What two things would you identify most over the last half-decade of Lakers basketball? Losing, and roster turnover. Brandon Ingram is currently the longest-tenured Laker. Players have come and gone at an alarming rate and all that time, they’ve tried to get by with castoff veterans on one-year deals so as to maintain flexibility for the next available superstar.
After missing out on Paul George last summer, the remaining $31 million in cap space that was leftover from signing LeBron James was spent on Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson.
All those guys were touted as winners and possible mentors for a young core that has probably been asked to do too much (especially if you ask LeBron). And yet, Beasley had that reported confrontation with Walton and was eventually traded away and immediately waived. McGee moped so much that the Lakers reportedly traded Ivica Zubac because he dared play well enough to earn a starting spot. Lance has been, well, Lance. And then you get this from Rondo.
In all honesty, if the Lakers were serious about building a culture and sending a message to players not only on this roster but across the league, they would’ve cut Rondo after last night’s stunt. He showed up his team (and apparently not for the first time). If we’re going to credit Rondo’s leadership this season more than his actual level of play has been knocked, then we also have to point out when he acts like an ass, and last night, he did.
As things stand, Rondo remains a Laker, and probably will through the end of the year. So long as that remains the case, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka’s promises of a reinvigorated Lakers culture ring completely hollow, as do most of the other grand proclamations they made upon being hired.