When it was announced that LeBron James was planning on joining the Los Angeles Lakers last year, many thought that he was taking the circus with him.
Any team with LeBron on it usually has a media circus from his brand alone, but the other Lakers additions that came with him were laughed at. Lance Stephenson? Michael Beasley? Javale McGee? Was LeBron trying to start Team “Shaqtin’ a Fool?”
But there was one signing that made a lot of sense – the addition of Rajon Rondo. At least, from LeBron’s point of view, this made a ton of sense.
Rondo may not have had any long-term security since his days as a Celtic, and his reputation as an enigma would make him a good fit among the other who the players brought in that summer. Nonetheless, LeBron has seen firsthand what your team gets when they bring the Rajon Rondo experience. It’s not always pretty, but it gets results.
LeBron would know this because he’s seen Rondo’s efforts firsthand as his opponent. During James’ earlier days with both the Cavaliers and the HEAT, he’s seen Rondo almost single-handedly swing the momentum of a playoff series – first when the Cavaliers and the Celtics squared off in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2010.
Then, he traded blows with Rondo in what had to be the finest performance of his career when the Celtics and the HEAT battled in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012.
He’s even seen Rondo beat him in a playoff game with just one functional arm (Warning: This video shows Rondo hyperextending his arm. It’s quite graphic).
You know how players get criticized for shrinking on the game’s biggest stage? Rajon Rondo is the complete opposite. When he was in his prime, Rondo always saved his best for when it mattered the most. In fact, when he and the Celtics went to war against LeBron and whichever team he was on back in the early 2010’s, there didn’t appear to be much of a drop-off between those two when they shared the floor as rivals.
Of course, that sounds weird now seeing how Rondo’s production has taken a dive following his unfortunate ACL injury back in 2013. Rajon hasn’t garnered nearly as much All-Star recognition since then. Plus, before re-signing with the Lakers this summer, the last time Rondo stayed on a team for more than one season was with the Celtics. That dates all the way back to 2015.
He’s 33 right now, and he’ll be 34 when and if the Lakers – who are presumed to be among the league’s best teams – make the playoffs this season. Not much was made about when he came back to the Lakers for relatively cheap value. With that in mind, we may come to regret sleeping on him. Because Prime Rondo may be gone, but Playoff Rondo has shown himself to be alive and well in the past few years.
Before we start, there will be no mention of the fallout he had with Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks in that infamous 2015 disaster. Any Dallas fan will probably tell you that they’ve never heard of Rajon Rondo. Honestly, it might be better that way, so let’s begin with Rondo’s tenure with the Bulls.
When Rondo made his pilgrimage to Windy City, no one had much of a problem with it. He was coming off of a productive season with the Sacramento Kings, so in his case, it couldn’t have hurt to put him on a team that had Jimmy Butler, Robin Lopez and Nikola Mirotic.
But when the team signed Dwyane Wade shortly after that, the public laughed in Chicago’s face. There was no way that Rondo and Wade, two guys who even in their prime were not renowned for their shooting, were going to work well together. That did not stop Chicago from believing that their talent would overcome their clunky fit together.
Narrator: It did not. The Bulls were dysfunctional the entire season. They weren’t an awful team, but with the talent they had on their roster, they badly underachieved. Yet at the same time, just about everyone knew this was coming.
The Bulls somehow still made the playoffs even though their roster makeup proved to make absolutely no sense. When facing the Celtics as an eighth seed, many thought Chicago wasn’t even interested in playing in the postseason, so this would be an easy sweep.
But that wasn’t what happened. Not only did Chicago show up ready to roll, it took the first two games against the Celtics in Boston. At the center of it was Rajon Rondo. Rondo’s stats were as good as you could expect from him, as he averaged a near triple-double with 11.5 points, 10 assists and 8.5 rebounds.
His impact on the court was undeniable. In his two playoff games, Chicago was plus-29.4 with him on the court. With him in the game, the Bulls dominated on both sides of the floor. He played every bit like the floor general he had always played. His stats may not have looked as good as they did when he was a Celtic, but Rondo still looked like the best player on the floor.
It’s not a coincidence that after a thumb injury took him out of the series, the Bulls crashed and burned. With Rondo, they had an offensive rating of 114.2 and a defensive rating of 104.7. With him gone, the offensive rating plummeted to 98.1 and the defensive rating rose to 113.5. With Playoff Rondo, the Bulls looked more like the team they had hoped for in the beginning. Without Playoff Rondo, they looked more like the team everyone thought they would be.
From there on out, Chicago thought the best course of action was to rebuild, so Rondo was left to find a new team. Enter New Orleans.
When Rondo signed for dirt cheap with the Pelicans, the response was pretty neutral. It wasn’t hated. It wasn’t loved. It was a “what could it hurt” type deal.
Much like in his lone regular season with the Bulls, his stats were pretty pedestrian. Averaging 8.3 points, 8.2 assists and four rebounds were merely okay numbers for being the other guard in the Pelicans’ starting lineup.
Yet again, when the playoffs rolled around, Rondo gave the New Orleans its money’s worth. Remember when the Pelicans shook the entire league when it not only beat the third-seeded Trail Blazers, but swept them with ease? Rondo wasn’t the one leading the way, but he did his fair share of the damage.
In that series alone, he averaged 11.3 points, 13.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds, and that included performances in which he dished out 17 and 16 assists in two separate games. Yet again, Playoff Rondo had shown himself.
He didn’t have the same output against the Warriors, but he did leave all he could on the floor. New Orleans lost to the Golden State juggernaut, but Rondo managed to put up a career-high in assists in a playoff game (21) in the lone win the Pelicans had over the Warriors. When you’re talking about Rajon Rondo – whose calling card as a basketball player is his passing abilities – that is impressive.
Rondo may not have been as dominant as he was in his previous year with the Bulls, but he didn’t have to be. He was excellent in the role that New Orleans gave him. The Pelicans were plus-9.7 with him on the floor, which was fourth behind Mirotic, E’Twaun Moore and Holiday. For a guy who was getting paid $3.3 million, Rajon was more than worth every penny.
Rondo’s productivity in his two most recent outings in the playoffs – even with all the setbacks he’s had to endure – is probably why both LeBron and the Lakers have had such a keen interest in him for the past two summers. Sadly, we didn’t get to see LeBron and Playoff Rondo play together in this most recent postseason for various reasons.
Team dysfunction rose from a lack of continuity and endless trade rumors involving Anthony Davis. Now that all of that is behind them, the Lakers have a lot to look forward to, with one of the plot lines that’s fallen under the radar being the expected arrival of Playoff Rondo.
Rondo won’t be counted on to be the same player that went toe-to-toe against the likes of LeBron, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard in his prime. Then again, he won’t have to.
He has two magnificent toys to play with beside him with both LeBron and Anthony Davis. They will shoulder most of the load on both sides of the court. Rondo’s experience and leadership should give LA a better edge than people think.
Not to go all 2008 on you, but if the Rajon Rondo that we’ve seen comes through for his team in the playoffs just like he’s almost always done, then the NBA just might get “Rondo’d.”
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