At this point in his career, Rajon Rondo may be known more for his temper and clashes with coaches than his accomplishments. Since Rondo was traded to the Mavericks in December of 2014, it has been a bumpy road. Even when he puts up respectable stat lines he can’t seem to find a long-term home. This season, Rondo finds himself as a Los Angeles Laker, his fifth team in five seasons.
When it comes to basketball IQ and ability, Rondo is no slouch. He has made a career off of dazzling passes and deceptive moves around the rim. As a result, he has led the NBA in assists three times (2011-12, 2012-13, and 2015-16), is a four-time NBA All-Star, and was the starting point guard of the 2007-08 champion Boston Celtics.
It’s hard to imagine that a player with these accolades would have any trouble finding a long-term contract. Unfortunately, Rondo’s attitude and issues with teammates and coaches have become expected and seem to impact his performance. Drama reached its peak for Rondo when he played in Dallas and Chicago where he regularly butted heads with teammates and coaches. This is also when we see Rondo’s numbers take a dip.
It would be easy to say that Rondo’s performance issues were exclusively a result of his bad attitude. The only problem with that is even in Sacramento, where Rondo referred to the locker room as tense and called his teammates a bunch of bums, he performed relatively well. I believe that the explanation that shows why Rondo played well in Sacramento is revealing of what causes him to be successful in general. Rondo needs to be surrounded by talented teammates to produce at his highest level. His best seasons were when he was paired with the Boston Big Three and in Sacramento with DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Darren Collison.
This might make you question why Rondo didn’t put up better numbers in Dallas when he was paired with Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis. The answer stems from the issues between him and Head Coach Rick Carslile. Rondo saw inconsistent playing time and averaged less than 30 minutes per game for the first time since his second year in the league (2007-08 where he averaged 29.9 MPG). He was on a team and in an environment that didn’t give him the playing time or support he needed to succeed. Rondo saw similar issues with playing time in Chicago when he was benched for an extended period of time and regularly fought with veterans Dwayne Wade and Jimmy Butler.
Looking back at Rondo’s stats tells an interesting story. Though Rondo’s worst seasons seem to come when there was the most drama he has proven that he can still perform at a high level when given the opportunity. He led the league in assists when he played in Sacramento and posted respectful numbers in limited minutes as a Pelican.
To determine whether or not Rondo is a good fit for the Lakers we need to look at the environment he would be in as well as the players around him. Head Coach Luke Walton was hired when the Lakers were dealing with the aftermath of the issues between D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young. Long story short, he should have an idea on how to deal with locker room drama. If Walton isn’t enough to keep Rondo’s attitude in check, maybe LeBron James, the likely team leader, will have the respect of the former All-Star and ability to keep him in line.
As far as the roster goes, there may not be a dominant big-man like in Rondo’s previous successful seasons, but there is no lack of talent. Players like Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have demonstrated the ability to score and stretch the floor leaving space for Rondo to drive the paint where he is most effective scoring. Rondo should have plenty of targets for his dazzling dimes.
It seems the only barrier to success for Rondo will be how the Lakers decide to split minutes among guards. With up and coming talents like Lonzo ball, Josh Hart, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, it may be hard for Rondo to earn the minutes he would need for a chance to return to All-Star production. Even though the Lakers will likely be able to handle Rondo’s attitude, it seems that Rondo will not be a part of the Lakers long-term plans. In my opinion, once Ball is able to return to his regular workload, Rondo will see limited minutes (under 30 per game) to allow for the development of younger prospects and will serve more as a veteran with experience to offer.