Rajon Rondo's Lakers Outlook

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

During a conference call with Lakers media on Friday afternoon, Rajon Rondo offered some insight into why Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka brought him to Los Angeles.

“They kept a close eye on me throughout (last) season and loved my performance and what I was able to do with the young core and help the Pelicans go where they were last year,” he said. “I think I’ve done a pretty good job the last couple seasons, going into the mentor stage of my career, helping young guys develop not necessarily on the court but off.”

As for that on-court stuff ... rewind back to 2016-17, when New Orleans won just 34 games, missing out on the playoffs despite adding DeMarcus Cousins – who played 17 games – at the trade deadline.

Move up to 2017-18, when Rondo was the only real offseason addition to get big minutes. The Pelicans did get 48 games out of Cousins before he tore his Achilles and added Nikola Mirotic at the trade deadline, and with Anthony Davis in the MVP conversation, went on to finish the season 48-34, good for sixth in a tough Western Conference. Then, most impressively, they swept third-seeded Portland in Round 1 before falling to eventual champion Golden State in five games.

Rob Pelinka was watching.

“We are thrilled to have Rajon bring his off-the-charts basketball IQ to the Lakers,” said Pelinka. “He has a proven ability to play at an elite level during playoff and championship runs, and that is a highly valued skill. Rajon is also respected around the NBA as an extremely hard worker and relentless competitor and that mentality is key to how we want build our roster.”

Rondo said the Lakers are “expected to win now,” and thinks he’ll have something to do with that.

“They have me here to help win games, any way possible, whatever situation I might be in,” he said. “I think they have plans, me being here along with other guys they brought in along with this great young core that we have.

Last year, Rondo averaged 8.3 points on 46.8 percent shooting and 33.3 percent from three with 8.2 assists (fourth in the NBA) with 4.0 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 26.2 minutes in the regular season, before upping his production to 10.3 points on 41.3 percent shooting and 42.1 percent from three, 12.2 assists, 7.6 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 33.6 playoff minutes per game.

I asked the 31-year-old where he thinks his game has evolved the most in the last few years.

“My decision making,” he answered. “I take a lot of pride on my assist-to-turnover ratio the last couple seasons. Obviously taking care of the ball in the fourth quarter. With the ball in your hands as the point guard you want to be able to control the game and take care of it. Other than that, you know what you’re getting with me. I’m going to compete every possession. I’m going to bring it every night. I know I’m a winner.”

Rondo, in fact, ranked sixth in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.53) last season.

When reports first came out about Rondo’s signing on July 1, there were questions about whether he’d come off the bench behind Lonzo Ball, or start. Rondo said he’s not worried about it.

“I’m not so much caught up in the starting and things like that,” he relayed. “I’m caught up in just winning a championship.”

Rondo said he “didn’t see much” of Lonzo until they actually played head-to-head, which happened only once with each player missing one game due to injury.

“From what I’ve seen, I’m excited to get a player at that age and try to help him as much as I can, as far as understanding the game and getting his game up to speed at a high level,” said Rondo. “Especially with the amount of pressure now the organization has every night, we’re going to get guys’ best shots. As far as understanding that night in and night out, that’s what separates good players from the great players.”

Rondo was also asked what stood out to him about the current roster.

“The versatility. The length that we have at a lot of positions,” he offered. “I think we can do a lot of things defensively with our length and guys buying into the defensive end of the game.”

On the other end, it’s more about ball movement and playmakers.

“We might have a roster where there’s five ballhandlers on the court at one time,” he shared. “Five guys that can play make and create offense for each other versus just one dominant ballhandler. So we’re very versatile, and I don’t think you’ll be able to scout and stick to one game plan as far as trying to stop a certain player.”

With more and more threes being taken every year in the NBA, I wondered what Rondo thought about the makeup of the roster, considering the aforementioned ballhandlers and playmakers as compared to more of a sharp-shooting squad.

“Obviously a lot of teams are shooting the three ball,” he responded. “But I think it’s kinda crazy if you think you’re going to outshoot Golden State at this point. They proved it three or four years straight that no team can really shoot with them. There’s other ways you have to try and beat those guys, and I think we’re going to try and crack that code.”

That’s not to say the Lakers won’t shoot a lot of threes. Far from it. In fact, they got better in terms of efficiency as last season went on, with several players shooting it well after the All-Star break: Brandon Ingram (46.2 percent); Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (42.3); Josh Hart (39.3); Kyle Kuzma (38.5); and Brook Lopez (36.7).

Rondo will try and figure it all out with his new head coach, Luke Walton, whom he spent 20-30 minutes with while checking out the UCLA Health Training Center.

“He’s going to play fast,” Rondo recalled. “We’re going to get up and down and get after it. Push the pace. We’re going to defend.”

Rondo also mentioned Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant as new sources of basketball information he’s quite excited about.

“I am looking forward to learning … I look forward to soaking as much knowledge as possible,” Rondo offered. “I believe you learn every day. I am nowhere near where I want to be as far as learning the game, as far as understanding from different guys’ perspective. I am looking forward to that. The object of the game has changed. I want to kind of break down Magic’s brain and his mindset and how he thought the game back in the day versus now and there are so many great players that have played in this organization, I am sure I will get the opportunity to talk amongst a lot of them and pick their brain.”

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