As the Lakers brought in a parade of new players this NBA offseason, including guards Dennis Schroder and Wes Matthews, plus big men Montrezl Harrell and Marc Gasol, along with little-used wing Alfonzo McKinnie, they were in the difficult position of having to send away key contributors to last year’s championship.
None, perhaps has been missed so much as Rajon Rondo, especially with the Lakers almost entirely lacking a backup point guard. And as the Lakers faced the Hawks on Monday night in Atlanta, where Rondo now plays, coach Frank Vogel admitted as much.
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“We’ll be ready for a classic Rondo night,” Vogel said on Monday in a videoconference with reporters. “He is going to be orchestrating on both sides of the ball. But I will say that we really miss him around here. He was a big part of what we did last year, a big part of our culture and he is definitely missed.”
Rondo’s Absence Has Hurt Lakers’ Fast Break
Rondo, who turns 35 this month, is averaging 4.0 points in 14.8 minutes per game, backing up and mentoring Hawks star Trae Young. He is shooting 41.0% from the field and making 36.8% of his 3-pointers.
After helping he Lakers to last year’s title, Rondo signed a two-year, $15 million deal with Atlanta that the Lakers, limited by the salary cap and luxury tax, could not match.
Without Rondo, the Lakers have patched together a point-guard rotation that has Dennis Schroder and LeBron James, both starters, splitting the duties over much of the game. When reserve guard Alex Caruso checks in, he has been handling point-guard duties, though he is a more natural shooting guard.
When the Lakers dip their toes into the player-acquisition game in the coming weeks around the March 25 trade deadline, a backup point guard is expected to be one of their targets.
One way the Lakers have felt the loss of Rondo has been in transition, where his ability to chuck accurate, long-range outlet passes so often benefitted LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers rank 18th in the NBA this season, scoring just 19.1 points per game on the fast break. Last year, they were sixth with 22.5 fast-break points per game.
Vogel on Rondo: ‘He Was so Vital to Our Championship Run’
Vogel said the Lakers have missed Rondo’s savvy on the bench, especially his ability to run the game on both sides of the ball:
We know what his strengths and weaknesses are. We want to try to approach him as just another player as much as possible, to lock into this game. Obviously he was so vital to our championship run last year, really orchestrated the game on both sides of the ball, his ability to switch from man to zone—we like to joke that sometimes he had our guys in ‘mone’ defense, a couple guys in man, a couple guys in zone. Nobody quite knew what we were in but the offense didn’t either and it worked for us.
I shot him a text today that we got our man defense ready from him, we are going to try to shut him down.