As the Lakers look to fill out the remainder of their roster, a ballhandling point guard appears to be one of the main areas of focus. The team worked out the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Mike James and Darren Collison in search of options to fill out one of their final three spots on the roster, though likely only two of those spots will be filled.
The delay in transactions for the Lakers, who have not made an exteneral signing after the opening 24 hours of free agency, could also signal a wait-and-see approach for other rosters across the league. One particular situation of note that may be drawing the Lakers attention is Memphis.
As it stands, the Grizzlies have 20 guaranteed contracts set for their books this summer. While training camp rosters can be as large as 20, rosters on Opening Night must be trimmed down to 15. Recently-acquired Rajon Rondo meets many of the pre-requisites for a buyout candidate as he’s on a big contract, is a player well into the back end of their career who won’t want to play on a non-contender and still has something left into the tank to offer a contending team.
On Thursday afternoon, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN appeared on ESPN 710 in Los Angeles and talked about the possibility of the Lakers signing Rondo should he be bought out.
“Rondo could be a nice fit in Memphis. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed in Memphis. I think of all the buyout candidates you’ve mentioned, Rondo is probably the strongest candidate to end up back with the Lakers. Like, if he gets bought out, I think he goes right back to the Lakers.”
Shelburne’s answer included a lot of hedging and little actual reporting — almost certainly intentionally — but the interest will exist all the same. After two frustrating regular seasons with the Lakers, Rondo was magnificent inside the bubble during the Lakers title-winning season.
Rondo missed the first round of the playoffs due to injury but once he returned to the court, he averaged 8.9 points and 6.6 assists while playing in all 16 games over the final three series. Most impressively, Rondo, a career 32.3% 3-point shooter, shot 40% from range on over three attempts per game.
Rondo left for the Hawks following that strong playoff performance, signing a two-year, $15 million deal with the Hawks. He was then traded in-season to the Clippers before being part of a package deal this summer that landed him in Memphis for Eric Bledsoe.
Now, Rondo is due $8.25 million this season for a Grizzlies team that earned a spot in the playoffs through the play-in game last season. With a chance to recoup a good chunk of money on a veteran’s minimum contract on a contender this season, Rondo could take a reduced buyout in Memphis, which would then open the door for a return to the Lakers.
There is a non-zero chance that Rondo stays in Memphis as well. With a history as a great mentor, Rondo could be seen as the perfect veteran to take Ja Morant under his wing. Even if he doesn’t want to play in Memphis, the Grizzlies have a history of holding out until the right deal comes to them, a la Andre Iguodala in 2019-20.
In search of one more option in the backcourt, Rondo’s situation in Memphis will certainly be one the Lakers will be monitoring leading into and potentially throughout the upcoming NBA season.