If you bleed the purple and gold blood of a real Los Angeles Lakers fan, you don’t need me to tell you how good Rajon Rondo was during the team’s run to the 2020 NBA championship. The veteran transformed into the urban legend only known as Playoff Rondo during the postseason, posting numbers that were literally history-making while playing an integral role in the team’s 17th championship. He was so good that some bloggers were forced to issue formal apologies for their previous takes about him.
Rondo would only be a one-title wonder with the Lakers, as he left the Atlanta Hawks during free agency in the offseason. And before he got to play his old team for the first time since his departure, Frank Vogel — the Lakers head coach and a man who could only describe Rondo’s impact using the word “swag” repeatedly — admitted that the team is sad that Rondo is no longer around.
“Obviously he was so vital to our championship run last year. He really orchestrated the game on both sides of the ball, his ability to switch from man to zone (defense), and we like to joke that sometimes he had our guys in ‘mone’ defense where a couple guys were in man, a couple guys were in zone, and nobody really knew what we were putting in, but the offense didn’t either, so it worked for us,” Vogel said with a laugh.
“I shot him a text today that we got our man defense ready for him to try and slow him down, and we’ll be ready for a classic Rondo night. He’s gonna be really orchestrating the game on both sides of the ball,” Vogel continued. “We really miss him around here. He was a big part of what we did last year, a big part of our culture and he’s definitely missed.”
The respect between the two was clearly mutual, with Rondo taking Vogel aside to thank the coach for always believing in him — even when basically no one in the media or fanbase did — after the Lakers won the title. And that admiration was on display on Monday with the Lakers’ actions in the game against the Hawks.
Recently, LeBron James got a ton of attention for his ability to call out opponents’ plays before they even happen, but Rondo might be just as good at doing so. Because of that — and because Rondo knows the Lakers’ system well — the team put in a few wrinkles to their playbook just to trick him.
“We just called a play after a timeout, an ATO play, and ‘Do was here last year, so he knows our plays and knows our system and everything like that, and he’s very good at scouting other teams plays and players,” said Anthony Davis after the Lakers’ 107-99 victory over the Hawks. “So we ran the play, and put him in some action and we ended up getting a foul out of it.”
The sequence working meant Davis couldn’t resist channeling his inner Courtside Karen and trolling Rondo from the bench to let him know about their deception.
“I was yelling to him and told him ‘you haven’t seen that one. That’s something new. You haven’t seen that one,’” Davis said with a chuckle. “He started laughing, we were laughing, so that was a cool moment.”
Vogel was just happy he was able to sneak something by one of the smartest players in NBA history.
“Everything we do is to try to trick Rondo. We know how smart he is,” Vogel said, smiling after the win. “We had to add some deception to our game because he knows all of our packages. So we had a few extra tricks in there for him.”
Rondo’s prodigious and potentially unparalleled basketball brain have led many to assume he’ll go into coaching whenever his career is done (he’s currently 34 and in the first year of a two-year deal worth $15 million with the Hawks). Rondo has said in the past that he’d prefer to go into a front office but is open to coaching, and Davis thinks that whatever his beloved teammate with the Pelicans and Lakers does when he hangs it up, he’ll be great at it.
“He’s a coach on the floor. Even when he’s not playing, he’s coaching. Last year in practice he was coaching, during the game and on the floor he was coaching. He’s always learning, he’s watching film, so I can definitely see him being a head coach. I think that’s what he wants to do, he wants to coach,” Davis said. “He’ll make one hell of a coach. He knows the game really well, his IQ is unbelievable, very high. And he gets along with a lot of players. He knows how to talk to players, and he knows who can be more aggressive with, who he has to kind of just take it easy on.
“I think he’s going to be a great coach in this league if that’s what he ends up going with.”
And the Lakers will continue to miss the skills and personality that would allow Rondo to do so. So while his absence is likely not some fatal flaw in the team, Rondo’s contributions are still worth remembering after the night he reunited with his fellow defending champs for one evening only. But given how much the Lakers’ fanbase loves this team, it’s a safe bet that the legend of Playoff Rondo will never be forgotten, even if he’s not around to add to it.