Rajon Rondo has been a... polarizing... presence on the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
Rondo draws rave reviews from inside the building, with his coaches and teammates exalting his locker room presence, basketball IQ and ability to be a traditional floor general. Still, many fans and analysts (rightfully) point out that while Rondo started the season shooting the lights out, he has regressed and is far from the player he once was, and probably not good enough at the things he’s supposed to help with to play against good teams.
It’s been just one part of what has been a multi-pronged point guard problem for Los Angeles, but as it turns out, there was almost a world where Rondo didn’t come back to the Lakers for a second season at all. Rondo recently told Kyle Goon of the O.C. Register that had it not been for the Lakers getting their deal with DeMarcus Cousins done, he might have looked elsewhere:
Trading for Anthony Davis was a big move that everyone knew would be good for the Lakers, but Rondo also wanted to play with Demarcus Cousins (since injured). Rondo said he told General Manager Rob Pelinka: “If you go grab Cous, you got me.”
“Just playing with my brothers,” he said. “I want to play with guys who obviously I know have my back and are willing to get into the fight.”
Rondo was not exaggerating about the Cousins part. It was reported that he had agreed to terms with the Lakers less than 20 minutes after the first report that Cousins had signed in Los Angeles. For all his basketball faults, Rondo is evidently a man of his word, we have to give him that.
And potentially due to that desire to re-team with Davis, James and Cousins — the latter of whom is progressing in his rehab but unlikely to play this season — Rondo has appeared to be just fine accepting a limited role this season, albeit not as limited of one as some fans would probably like. Rondo is averaging a career-low in minutes per contest (21), and has only started one game this season, but he told Goon that the Lakers prepared him for that possibility when they were trying to get him to come back:
“Very transparent,” he said of Lakers management and coaches. “Told me my role coming in, what they expected from me and how I could be a part of this run we’re trying to make.”
Rondo has been open about his love for this coaching staff before, from his respect for Jason Kidd to how much he is learning from Frank Vogel, both as a player and as someone who might want to coach one day.
Would that respect translate if the Lakers were to acquire another player and want him to play over Rondo, like, say, Darren Collison for example? Would Vogel even want to reduce how much Rondo plays given how open he’s been about liking what Rondo brings to the Lakers?
If Vogel did want to reduce Rondo’s role — and to be clear, there are no signs yet that he does — there are reasons to believe he could communicate the effectively.
Dan Burke, Vogel’s former assistant coach with the Pacers, recently said that Vogel is great at having hard conversations about minutes with his players, and he explained when Vogel developed that skill to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times:
One thing I heard over and over again from players was that Vogel is good about having difficult conversations with players about minutes, starts and their roles in general. Burke helped me understand the roots of Vogel’s comfort with that.
“It took him a while to really get used to it,” Burke said. “That’s part of growing, that’s part of learning. Stuff you don’t want to do. You get out of your comfort zone, and he got to where he was good at it. When he first took over, we had some disgruntled guys. There were guys he’d try to take off the court and just tell them like it is.”
We’ve seen some evidence of that ability in action with the way Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels seems to have accepted the way they were excised from the rotation, but with all due respect, Rondo has a lot more cache here. Would he be as accepting of similar circumstances? Him respecting the openness of a coaching staff he clearly has a lot of love for is a start.
Rondo came back to Los Angeles for a second season on a veteran’s minimum deal after they brought Cousins in alongside his two other close friends in James and Davis. It’s clear he’s willing to sacrifice to be here, and that the Lakers were where he wanted to be. While he wanted to “play with his brothers” when he re-signed, it’s possible that he might just accept winning a title with them too, even if it comes with a reduced role.
The Lakers still have to sign another point guard to make that possible, but at least if and when they do, and if and when that leads to a reduction in Rondo’s minutes, he seems to be coming from a place where he really just likes this team, and wants to do whatever he can to help. We’ll see if that stays the same if he sees his role reduced further, but there are at least some signals that optimism about such an outcome isn’t entirely misplaced.