The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed to sign Rajon Rondo to a one-year, $9 million contract, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. So continues a curious series of moves. Since securing the commitment of LeBron James, the Lakers have reportedly come to terms with Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Rondo. What was once a superteam starter kit is now one of the strangest rosters in the league.
Signing Rondo does not preclude the Lakers from pursuing other stars, though it does force them to manage a complicated fit. Rondo puts more demands on a team’s composition than most any other point guard in the league; his game is so lopsided that teams have to structure their entire rotation around what he cannot—or will not—do. Those that do so successfully can reap the dividends of Rondo’s vision and instincts. His talents are indisputable. At issue, as always, is the basketball cost that comes with them.
In that regard, the Lakers are a stranger fit than most. If there were one quality vital to building a successful offense around LeBron, it would be spacing. Yet between Rondo, Stephenson, and Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles now has three ball-dominant guards without the shooting ability to keep defenses honest. Even some of the Lakers’ better shooters in theory, like Caldwell-Pope, have spotty track records beyond the arc. There is a tried-and-true formula to building a contending team around James. The Lakers operate now in willful ignorance of it.
Their approach is not without its benefits. If there is one quality that LeBron values in a teammate above all others, it’s intelligence. Not shooting, not defense, not motor. Intelligence. James respects players who can find the right play in the haze of competition. For as much as he looks to control the action, LeBron craves relief. “We need a f***ing playmaker,” he pleaded last season, after summoning a select group of reporters. He was right. There is something to be said for shooting, but James knows the weight of an offense well. He knows where his creation alone can take a team and where it can’t. That’s where this move makes sense. Rondo, if nothing else, is a f***ing playmaker.
Perhaps that will be enough. The issue is less Rondo than it is the overlap between Rondo and Stephenson and Ball and James and even Brandon Ingram. Given where the Lakers are—and how much uncertainty surrounds their roster, still—it’s impossible to cast any final judgment. Ball might not even be on the roster by the time the season starts. Stephenson could well wind up a benchwarmer. Fit is fleeting. Nothing in Rondo’s game makes him an ideal choice for the Lakers, but one move—like, say, a trade for pining Angeleno Kawhi Leonard—could change so much of what surrounds him.