While Rajon Rondo’s on-court impact on the Lakers wavered during his first tenure in Los Angeles, his off-court impact never did. Possessing one of the highest basketball IQs in the league, tales of Rondo’s intelligence have been shared even pre-dating his arrival in Los Angeles, ranging from diagnosing and calling out plays from opponents to memorable film sessions.
As the saying goes, you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone, a lesson the Lakers appear to have learned the hard way this season. During Tuesday’s press conference officially announcing Rajon Rondo as a Laker for the second time in his career, Rondo revealed that the trio of head coach Frank Vogel, LeBron James and Anthony Davis recruited him to return, with Vogel speaking on how much the lack of his voice impacted the locker room last season.
“Obviously everybody wants to be wanted,” Rondo said. “But having Coach Frank, I talked to him earlier this morning as far as his expectations for me, and understanding that he missed my voice last year in the locker room, which meant a lot. Understanding that I do have value here, and wanted to be wanted, so Frank was a big key.
“Obviously, I talked to LeBron and AD, we keep in touch all the time. Rob has been true to me from day one, even the first time I signed with the Lakers. So having those old relationships and not burning bridges in the past and having great things come together (was key).”
It’s easy to look at the “burning bridges” comment and look around at who that might have been targeted at, but it’s also worth noting that Rondo felt like a valued part of the Lakers and was open to a return as a result. After losing Jared Dudley, the Lakers have a hole in their roster for a veteran voice in the locker room, with Rondo adding the ability to be an on-court contributor as well.
Considering how wild the last 12 months have been for Rondo in the NBA with stops in Atlanta, Los Angeles with the Clippers and Memphis, coming back to a team that views him as a valuable player certainly would make sense as a reason he’d want to return to the Lakers.
The Lakers’ history of not burning bridges is also worth noting this summer as well with so many former players returning to the team, particularly Dwight Howard and Rondo. Both players were important parts of the title-winning team in 2019-20 and left following the season on good terms with the Lakers. Now, both return this offseason looking to replicate their impact — and the championship that resulted from it — once more.
There’s a value to maintaining good, honest relationships with players and not, say, begging them to come back, signing them to a long-term contract and trading them six months later — cough Clippers cough — or allowing them to play injured in the postseason then trading them away the following offseason — cough Celtics cough — while treating said players as assets.
While the Lakers were oft-criticized even during their tanking years, their relationships with players have hardly ever been the subject of that criticism. That approach helped the team land a player that can still be a valuable contributor off, and even potentially on, the court this season in Rondo as they look for title No. 18 this season.