Rajon Rondo has missed the first eight games of the season for the Los Angeles Lakers while dealing with a calf injury. Now, it seems as though he is close to a return. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported Saturday that Rondo is aiming to make his season debut for the Lakers on Sunday as they battle the Toronto Raptors.
Rondo is the final injured Laker set to return to the fold. Kyle Kuzma, who had also been out to open the season, returned last week against the Dallas Mavericks and has settled back into a role in the Lakers’ rotation. Fitting Rondo in, however, is going to be a more difficult proposition.
The Lakers have not lost since then. James is leading the NBA in assists, but more importantly, the Lakers have the No. 1 defense in the NBA. That defense has become the team’s identity during this seven-game winning streak, but Rondo’s presence jeopardizes that. Last season, the Lakers allowed 113.3 points per 100 possessions when Rondo was on the floor. That was the worst figure on the entire roster. When he sat, the Lakers allowed only 105.8 points per 100 possessions. Rondo was a renowned defender at his peak, but last season he was dreadful on that end of the floor.
He has always been a dreadful shooter, and that is a trait the Lakers aren’t equipped to work through. Though their defense has been excellent, they are currently ranked No. 17 in offense. They hit only 31.7 percent of their 3-point attempts in their first seven games, good for 27th in basketball, and then proceeded to go 8-for-32 in Friday’s win over the Miami Heat. Adding Rondo and his 31.5 career 3-point percentage is only going to further cramp their spacing.
The Lakers could use another ball-handler to take pressure off of James, but the question from there becomes: Who needs to sacrifice minutes to accommodate Rondo? If Rondo is indeed going to be a starter, is that extra ball-handling worth sacrificing Avery Bradley’s tenacious point-of-attack defense? Even in a bench role, Quinn Cook is too important as a shooter to lose his minutes, while Alex Caruso’s all-around game has become a crucial component of the Lakers’ bench. Right now, there just aren’t minutes to be had at point guard.
The Lakers could play all three, and players such as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Troy Daniels have struggled enough this season to potentially justify eschewing the shooting guard position off of the bench, but both bring specific and necessary skills that Rondo does not.
Finding a way to integrate him into the rotation without sacrificing the incredible momentum that this team has built is going to be Vogel’s first major test as coach of the Lakers. If the Lakers can keep their winning streak going while satisfying both Rondo and their current rotation players, Vogel will be a serious contender for Coach of the Year. If he can’t, the team is going to have to make some difficult roster decisions. Rondo is a big name, but if he can’t produce up to the level of the players that are thriving in his place, he shouldn’t have a spot in this rotation.