In a world where professional athletes have every incentive to make themselves vanilla, he is unapologetically true to himself. Wherever he goes, an interesting story follows. Match him with Kobe Bryant in Bryant’s (presumptive) final year?
Nobody would be bored.
So while on a professional level the Los Angeles Lakers can do me and my working media brethren the rockest of solids by bringing him in, that doesn’t make it a good idea.
The Lakers need to stay away from Rajon Rondo. Definitely if he’s expensive. Even if he’s cheap.
Asked Wednesday if he expects Rondo, who played 10 horrible minutes in Tuesday’s Game 2 loss to Houston, to suit up for the Mavs again, coach Rick Carlisle said, “No, I don’t.” Technically, Rondo is out with a bad back. If that’s the case, it was injured when Carlisle shoved him out of the facility. His four point, four foul performance was a depressing cap to a disastrous trade, and a reminder that big swings can mean big misses (certainly the Lakers understand.) But mine isn’t an opinion formed in the wake of that game, or a better-but-inefficient nothingburger of a Game 1, or even the last few weeks of his tenure in Dallas.
It was a bad idea before Rondo even left Boston.
At a most basic level, it’s a matter of resource allocation. Rondo is a declining player. Even assuming he’s better than the completely pedestrian numbers posted in Dallas – and some of them were actually better than how he started the year with the Celtics – his numbers have declined sharply since posting a 18 PER in 2012-13. His shooting, never all that good, is down. He neither takes nor converts as many shots at the rim, and overall his free throw rate (FT’s per FGA) has cratered. That could be because he’s afraid of getting fouled, with good cause. Never a good free throw shooter, Rondo has fallen off a cliff at the stripe this season, making Dwight Howard look like Mark Price.
Or maybe it’s a physical thing. Injuries have robbed Rondo of his pop, and if the best predictor of future injury is previous injury, it’s reasonable to assume Rondo is going to miss time in any deal he’s given. The 68 games he played this year match his game totals from the two seasons prior. In 2011-12, Rondo missed 29 games.
The point isn’t that Rondo is horrible — he’s still a brilliant passer — but that he’s a horrible fit for the Lakers. For starters, he’s almost surely on the wrong side of his career, descending instead of improving. Likely, it’ll take a couple years for the Lakers to round into true contention, assuming if everything goes very well. How good is Rondo going to be at that point? His likely career arc doesn’t fit where the Lakers currently live.
A short term contract doesn’t solve the problem, either. Rondo is the type of player around whom you have to focus an offense. To be most useful, he needs the ball in his hands, because when he’s not holding it his team plays 4-on-5 offensively. Opposing defenses can, and will, happily ignore him on the perimeter. Sign him for a year, and it’s a year in which the development of Jordan Clarkson is, if not stunted, definitely altered. It lessens the incentive to find another young point guard that might grow with the team, whether in the draft, through free agency, or in a trade, and anyone they find would have the same problem as Clarkson.
There’s an opportunity cost, as well. Money and roster space spent on Rondo isn’t used somewhere else. Short of using a one-year deal and hoping Rondo restores some trade value, far more trouble than its worth when showcasing him likely means sacrificing growth for younger players around the roster, a short contract only delays the question of whether the Lakers should want to sign him long term.
My answer is no. And if I don’t want him around long term, there’s little reason to have him at all. Particularly given his limited value as a trade chip. It’s a whole list of reasons to avoid Rondo, and I haven’t even reached mentioned his personality, and the potential problems it could cause. Some guys are good enough to have that kind of volatility, or even the threat of it, hanging in the ether. Rondo, fascinating as he may be, no longer is. And there’s the question of free agency. Does having Rondo on your roster really make it easier to lure high end talent?
Were he inserted into a reconstructed roster ready to win something, it’s possible to see the appeal. Dallas certainly did, and while it didn’t work for them, maybe it could for a different team with a different offense and a strong belief in positive outcomes. Overall, though, Rondo clearly isn’t a good risk with big dollars, and isn’t a guy to be signed if the price gets low enough, either. You have to want him, then figure out the money after.
The Lakers, still under construction, should find a different path.
Rajon Rondo Jokes Kobe Bryant Blew Him Off, ‘He Bailed On Me Again’