Remember less than 24 hours ago? When the Lakers followed up getting the best player on the planet by surrounding him with JaVale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Lance Stephenson? Well, the most fascinating team in the league just upped the ante again by subtracting Julius Randle and adding Rajon Rondo.
Soon after the Lakers reportedly renounced their rights to Julius Randle on Monday (who reportedly wanted out and quickly agreed to sign with the Pelicans for two years and $18 million), they agreed to sign Rondo to a one-year, $9 million deal. I say this sincerely: What the hell?
The Lakers are either pulling off one of the strangest bits of all time, prepping for the near certainty that Kawhi Leonard will be a Laker before the season starts, or very quickly ruining a good thing by pairing LeBron James with a bunch of veteran nonshooters who have histories of wearing out their welcomes.
Rondo proved last season with the Pelicans that he could still serve as a steady backcourt presence. He averaged 9.7 points, 9.2 assists, and 4.8 rebounds after DeMarcus Cousins went down for the season, and Playoff Rondo reemerged in their first-round sweep of the third-seeded Trail Blazers. But his addition raises the question of what to do with Lonzo Ball. The 32-year-old Rondo shouldn’t start (Lonzo is arguably already better). But even though ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported Monday that LeBron is excited to play with Lonzo, she also tweeted that the Lakers are trying to win now. The Lakers’ holdovers are suddenly the kids in Lord of the Flies.
And then there’s Kawhi. The Lakers still have the pieces to trade for him. But if the Spurs won’t budge, or if the Lakers play hardball in negotiations, adding yet another one-year deal in the time since they came to terms with James would allow L.A. to roll over its cap space to next summer, when it can sign Leonard outright.
The Lakers’ directive is to “win now,” even if these signings seem to indicate more of a “win-in-2010” strategy. There may still yet be more offseason moves that would prove that the signings of Rondo, Stephenson, et al. were all part of a bigger plan for the Lakers. And if their strategy ends up allowing them to add Kawhi while keeping some of their best young players, they’ll have the last laugh. But if the moves are to be taken only at face value, it might be wise for the Lakers to study up on LeBron’s second tenure with the Cavs. LeBron spent his past four seasons with mostly veteran players who helped them win a title but then became too expensive and too ineffective. On the other hand, J.R. Smith made for one of the best LeBron sidekicks ever, and this Lakers locker room is shaping up to be among the most fascinating in the league. Good luck, Luke Walton.
This piece was updated after publication.