It’s fair to say that most Lakers fans were wary of Rajon Rondo when the team signed him in the summer of 2018, but they weren’t the only group that had concerns about the veteran point guard.
Rondo’s reputation had taken a hit after his time in Dallas in 2015. Brought in as another veteran to help the Mavericks make a postseason push, Rondo instead clashed heavily with head coach Rick Carlisle. The incident that got the most play was when Carlisle called timeout and ripped into Rondo on the sidelines when Rondo walked the ball up instead of running the play that Carlisle had called, and their relationship never really improved. Rondo wasn’t even on the bench during the postseason, and Mavericks players voted not to give him a playoff share.
As a result, Rondo had difficulty securing his next contract even though he was just five years removed from arguably being Boston’s best player in the 2010 NBA Finals. It got so bad that Rondo told Rachel Nichols of ESPN that he was considering hanging it up.
Nichols relayed the story on “The Full 48” podcast:
“He told me he almost retired a few years ago because when the catastrophe in Dallas happened between him and Rick Carlisle —and we can assign all kinds of blame for that— he said that only two teams called him that offseason, and that he was sort of thinking, ‘Well maybe I just don’t want to do this anymore.’ He could have been out of basketball.”
Rondo ended up signing with the Sacramento Kings that offseason on a one-year deal, and he once again faced a bleak market for his services in 2016. He told Jackie MacMullan of ESPN that he could feel the league turning against him.
“After that, only one or two teams were calling, and I said, ‘I’ve seen this story before,’” Rondo says. “Ever since Dallas, guys were trying to get me out of the league. So many players get blackballed because of their supposed attitude. All of a sudden, nobody wanted to touch me.”
Rondo ended up signing with Chicago that summer thanks to a relationship he had built with the son of the Bulls international scout while Sacramento. He was on to New Orleans the next year, and then finally Los Angeles, marking his sixth team in five years. When he re-signed with the Lakers last summer, it was the first time since Boston that he had spent more than one year with the same franchise.
The investment the Lakers made in Rondo paid off for him, and for the team. He finally had some familiarity with his teammates (though the bond with Davis was created when they were on the Pelicans), and his veteran savvy was put to use in the postseason, when he became one of the team’s best players.
The Lakers would not have won this championship without Rondo’s contributions, which makes it surreal to think that there was a point when Rondo wasn’t even sure that he would still be in the NBA. Rondo hit a fork in the road after the Dallas incident, but instead of letting that curtail his career, he powered through some dark years until landing in a place where his skills were appreciated once more. Now, he’s a two-time champion.
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @sabreenajm.