On Thursday evening, we wrote that with the Lakers getting healthier meant that the team was going to be faced with some tough roster decisions if they wanted to keep replacement players like Stanley Johnson or Darren Collison when Rajon Rondo returned from the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Well, it seems like Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka was a little bit ahead of us, as about 30 minutes later, multiple reports indicated that the team was in talks to send Rondo to the Cleveland Cavaliers to open up a roster spot. And on Friday morning, Shams Charania of The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN confirmed that the trade is happening:
The Lakers are trading guard Rajon Rondo to the Cavaliers, sources tell @TheAthletic @Stadium. Important and timely acquisition for Cleveland to shore up the point guard position amid injuries. https://t.co/9cRpKcmnOl— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 31, 2021
ESPN Sources: The Cavaliers have agreed to trade Denzel Valentine to the Lakers to acquire Rajon Rondo. The Lakers are expected to waive Valentine’s partially-guaranteed deal and create an open roster spot.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) December 31, 2021
Why would the Lakers want to do that? Well, likely because of how valuable Johnson has looked as a defensive option on the wing, or even how much better than Rondo that Collison has looked. The reality is that Rondo just hasn’t been that good this season, and was always going to be one of the names potentially on the chopping block if the Lakers looked for upgrades.
On the season, the Lakers have been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better when Rondo is on the bench than they are when he plays, a number that matches the eye test. Playoff Rondo will be a Lakers Legend forever, but nearly 36-year-old Regular Season Rondo is a player this team has much better options than. And, crucially for this ownership group, trading this version of Rondo rather than cutting him helps them save significantly on luxury taxes.
If the Lakers acquire and waive Denzel Valentine today he will count as $847k in dead money. Gives the Lakers net savings of $3.7M between payroll and luxury tax combined.— Yossi Gozlan (@YossiGozlan) December 31, 2021
Getting off Valentine leaves Cleveland $3.3M below the luxury tax. https://t.co/4KpamdKya9
And for the point-guard starved Cavaliers, Rondo may be seen as an upgrade on their current options in the wake of Ricky Rubio’s torn ACL, so if them taking on Rondo allows the Lakers to keep a player who has been more helpful to them — and, frankly, just fits better — like Johnson, this could be a win-win move between two teams with a history of working well together on trades (see, the Larry Nance. Jr. and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas trade, or the JaVale McGee salary dump).
Additionally, trading Rondo to the Cavaliers not only gives the Lakers a roster spot, it also potentially stops a team that might have tried to sign someone like Collison at the end of his current 10-day deal to fill said gaping hole at point guard.
And with the Lakers needing to clear a roster spot if they want to keep Johnson or Collison past their current 10-day deals, moving on from Rondo — a player who is not in the every-night rotation when the Lakers are whole — just makes some degree of sense, especially if they plan to actually play whichever player they’d sign to his roster spot moving forward. And on the Cavaliers, Rondo could actually have an opportunity to play a consistent role, so this move could be a win for all parties involved should it go through.
Wojnarowski wrote that Rondo is excited about the deal for that reason:
Rondo is eager for the chance to play a bigger role with an ascending Cavaliers team in the absence of Ricky Rubio, sources said. He’s been positive on the deal since it was presented to him as an option on Thursday.
Still, it’s hard not to feel like this is a slightly sad day. While Rondo obviously has not been great this season, he is also one of the most unique and idiosyncratic players in NBA history both on and off the court, one of the best teammates of all-time, and just a true one-of-one. And Lakers fans should know better than anyone that you can never completely rule out an improbable activation of Playoff Rondo when the postseason rolls around.
But even if he’s gone now, and no matter how frustrated I know many of the people reading this were with his minutes this year, once a Lakers champion, always a Lakers champion. The Lakers will never have a player exactly like Rajon Rondo again, a man as likely to set up a playoff game-winner as he was to pick up a broadcast camera to start filming a game from the bench or punch Chris Paul.
There will never be another Laker exactly like Rajon Rondo. We'll never forget you, legend. pic.twitter.com/gsFjncTLkx— Silver Screen and Roll (@LakersSBN) December 31, 2021
you SOB im going to miss you......— Mia Faigen-Agraviador (@MiaAgraviador) December 31, 2021
Here are all my favorite Laker Rondo moments pic.twitter.com/eBqKleK8xX
Long live Rajon Rondo, and best of luck to him in Cleveland.
We may update this breaking news story with more analysis and reaction as it continues to develop. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.