The Rajon Rondo Conundrum
The Lakers are nearing the midseason mark and although they sit with the West’s best record, it’s time to address their bench issues. For one, Rajon Rondo has not looked the same so far this season coming off the bench. On offense, Rondo is still getting his usual bag of dimes a game and had a great three-point shooting streak (which will lead us to our other problem) as well. But defensively, we have seen some pretty subpar stuff from Rondo trying to matchup with much younger guards. It works great in theory and did for a while early in the season. Who would be better to run the offense when LeBron James takes a breather than Rondo?
Earlier in the year, we saw the veteran point guard hitting threes at will where he shot close to 60% over a stretch of 11 games, where the Lakers lost just one game. Rondo has cooled off since that stretch and has shot 17% from behind the arc. The staff can arguably let this problem go since no one expected Rondo to be a perennial outside shooter, but it leaves the bigger problem of little to no outside threat for the Lakers bench. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been the Laker bench’s only real threat from deep, which should concern most fans. Coincidentally, Pope is shooting just short of 60% from three over his last ten games. The bench would be an absolute mess without the resurgence of KCP as a 3&D player.
Kyle Kuzma provides great inside scoring off the bench but is yet to develop solid consistency from the outside, and the same can be said for Alex Caruso. Troy Daniels was brought in solely for his three-point shooting, but has struggled to fight his way into the rotation. The bench has plenty of scoring options, but no serious threats from outside.
The Lakers will have trouble finding a trade partner for Rondo, who possesses a no-trade clause, should they choose to try and deal him before the deadline. Ideally, his good outweighs his bad enough to retain Rondo for the time being if the no trade clause wasn’t enough incentive to not deal him. The connection between Rondo and Davis nearly compares to that of Davis and James.
The best option right now, which most fans would probably agree on, would be 32-year-old Darren Collison coming out of retirement to take control of the Lakers’ bench unit. Collison, a pass first guard, was not a heavy three-point shooter but was a solid one. The veteran shot over 40% from behind the arc in each of his previous four seasons. He also would be a notable defender off the bench. Having Collison in the lineup could send Rondo to the bench and clear up some space on the interior with more of a deep offensive threat. The two do have the potential to coexist since Collison could play offball and allow Rondo to handle the ball handling duties, sending Caruso to the bench. The addition of Collison could do wonders for Kuzma and he should flourish with the team finally being dangerous from behind the arc.
Another option that keeps getting tossed around would be trading for the Magic’s 32-year-old point guard D.J. Augustin. Augustin is most remembered for looking unstoppable in his first game against the Lakers last season, finishing with 22 points off seven of nine shooting and seven assists. Augustin is offensively close to Collison statistically. The downside would be the potential trading of Kuzma as Orlando will need more than just Quinn Cook and DeMarcus Cousins. A second-rounder or two might get the deal done with Kuz remaining a Laker.
While Laker fans will beg for Andre Igoudala, the team would have to give up a solid haul for the 35-year-old who is currently a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. The trade would require multiple pieces including at least one mid-major rotation player to match Iggy’s $17 million contract and keep Los Angeles under the cap. The turnaround could be great (just like any other trade) but with the veteran getting up there in age it’s up to the staff to determine if his upside can help deliver a championship before he begins deteriorating.
If the Lakers’ rotation remains the same, the team will still inevitably find themselves in the playoffs as a high seed. The team is packed with veterans with playoff experience, including Rondo and six other teammates with NBA Finals experience. However, to make the jump to midseason form, be a clear step above the pack and to finally beat the other team in Staples, the issues must be addressed with head coach Frank Vogel and general manager Rob Pelinka. Having a championship contending team in the modern NBA with just two consistent outside threats is absurd, but the team is still getting it done for now.