While it wasn’t exactly a ‘shock’ when rumors surfaced of the Los Angeles Lakers’ apparent desire to continue pursuing soon-to-be free agent point guard Rajon Rondo over the summer, there were some of us left asking the same, legitimate question: why?
No, that isn’t a knock against the four-time All-Star and All-Defensive Team member or intended as even the slightest bit of disrespect. But the reality is that acquiring Rondo would have made a lot more sense three or four seasons ago than it would for this particular team. Not as in, “Why would you want Rondo?” but more of questioning the exact motive behind such an acquisition and determining whether it would also lead to someone else? At least before the mixed results we’ve seen from his time in Dallas, Rondo would seemingly be a player that is best-suited to join a team in pursuit of a title rather than one clearly in the middle of a rebuild.
Not only has he missed 105 total games over just the past three seasons, but unless the front office is able to find a way to bring in a significant influx of offensive firepower this summer, Rondo’s addition would appear to be another step along the path of simply not being able to let the past go.
Rondo has always been a player you’d want to surround with as many established scoring threats as possible in order to fully capitalize on his skill set. There’s also the reality that regardless of how much Kobe Bryant wants or even “deserves” (according to some) to play alongside a competent backcourt-mate in what will likely be his ‘Swan song’ around the league, we have seen what happens when attempting to pair him with another ball-dominant guard. And are you really (still) making long-term decisions wrapped solely around the goal of pleasing your aging star if you’re the Lakers’ front office?
Now, leaving room for a ‘devil’s advocate’ argument in favor of a hypothetical signing, perhaps the Lakers could know of additional free agents or potentially available players specifically interested in playing alongside Rondo that would make the idea more sensible. For instance, if you still have interest in a guy like Kevin Love and if bringing in Rondo means you also have a guarantee of partnering the two, then clearly you would at least have to consider the idea.
The trouble is, at this stage in his career, you’d want Rondo (30 by this time next season) at somewhere between $8-10 million per year for a few seasons. But there is no guarantee a team like the Sacramento Kings – also rumored to have interest – doesn’t up the ante with an offer somewhere in the range of $12-14 million. Of course, the Lakers could always decide to match any offer if they knew it also meant he was coming along with another ‘Super “Adjacent” Friend’ (nod to LandOLakers.com’s Brian Kamenetzky) as well. Connecting the dots even further down the line, you’d also hope it wouldn’t eventually interfere with the opportunity to pursue players like Russell Westbrook or Anthony Davis in a couple summers.
Meanwhile, let’s take a moment to review what you already have in the very promising Jordan Clarkson. Although some have questioned the weight of his impressive productivity throughout March that earned him Rookie of the Month honors, those of us that have watched his development can absolutely verify he’s been every bit as good as his numbers (15.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 5.2 APG ) have advertised. He’s gone toe-to-toe with guards like Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, and showed great poise down the stretch of several games (Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves) over the past couple weeks alone.
After being labeled a “tweener” heading into the year, the coaching staff actually did a great job of working him along steadily throughout the first half of the year and really allowing him to develop and grow as a player over the last 35 games or so. He’s now a player that has shown an ability to actually play both backcourt positions effectively, so the idea of pairing him alongside Bryant, or eventually Rondo, would actually be very intriguing. At 6’5, Clarkson is still quick enough off the dribble to get into the lane with regularity, but should really be able to take advantage of his size and athleticism as he continues to develop with another summer of strength and conditioning.
Of course, as all young guards have to learn, the league will find a way to adjust to what you do best. The most encouraging aspect to Clarkson’s development so far is that it appears he is already fully aware of this, as there are already clear signs of secondary moves, a greater understanding about tempo and how to manipulate the pace of the action with his speed.
More than anything, Clarkson’s development has been a rare sign of positivity for a team and fan base that has endured the first back-to-back 50-loss seasons in their history. When you combine what you hope will be another top-five talent and Julius Randle’s return alongside the promise that Clarkson has shown, suddenly the future doesn’t look nearly as dim as the present stretch has been for the Lakers.
That combination of talent could wind up being the perfect foundation to build upon and develop somewhat organically while leaving the space to lure future free agents, or it could very well be used as packageable assets to move in favor of established players like Rondo or Love. Either way, for the first time in quite some time, the future is actually starting to look brighter in the land of the ‘Purple and Gold.’
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