Rondo has served as the Lakers’ backup point guard for the last two seasons, and while his production on the court has been disappointing, he’s been a great vocal leader on the bench, and during a conference call with reporters on Monday, Danny Green said he expects Rondo to continue to be a commanding voice on the sidelines while he nurses his injury.
“It’s never a good sign when some of your players get hurt,” Green said. “When he’s aggressive, making plays for us and our team, when he scores 10-plus points, you know the statistics, you know the record for us, so we need him to come off the bench and give us a little spark. But I know he’ll be on the sidelines for us, coaching his ass off and letting our young guys know — and also ‘Bron, myself and AD — what he sees and what adjustments we need to make.”
Green said Rondo looked like he was in great shape, a sentiment head coach Frank Vogel echoed.
“We were all very impressed with how his body looked,” Vogel said. “It was clear that he worked his tail off over the quarantine to stay in great shape.”
If the initial timeline for Rondo holds true, the latest he’ll be back is the second round of the NBA Playoffs. While a lot can change in two months, Vogel still expects Rondo to play a big role for the Lakers in the postseason.
“Losing Rajon is a huge loss for our team, but we expect Rajon to be a part of our playoff run,” Vogel said, adding that even though Rondo will leave the bubble to have surgery and start his rehab, the Lakers expect to see him on the court again.
“We’re very confident that he will be able to get back and be a major factor in our playoff run,” Vogel said.
Until then, Vogel will be forced to work with what he has, and what he has isn’t bad.
While there is no one on the roster that can do exactly what Rondo did, they have a few players on the roster that are capable of handing the ball, and Vogel is especially interested in seeing what Dion Waiters can bring the team in that role.
“More will be needed in that regard [playmaking] from Alex (Caruso) and Quinn Cook,” Vogel said. “We have the ability to use our bigs like Kuz, and in particular having the ability to bring it up and handle and initiate offense. But I also like the prospects of seeing what Dion Waiters can do.
“We’ve got two really good basketball players that we added late in our season that do different things, but equally as important, with J.R. (Smith) being able to shoot from the perimeter and be a big time catch-and-shoot player, and Dion having the ability to make plays off the bounce. Losing Rondo puts more of a need on Dion’s skillset. I look forward to seeing what he can do more as we get into games, but all of those guys will pick up the slack.”
Waiters hasn’t played much in recent seasons due to a combination of injuries and suspensions, but when he has played, he’s shown that he can prolific bench scorer in large part due to his ability to handle the ball. The most recent example of that came when the Miami Heat saw the Clippers in January.
In 17 minutes against the Clippers, Waiters scored 14 points, including eight fourth quarter points, on 4-9 shooting from behind the arc. It was the first of the three games he played this season.
Waiters’ extended time away from the court raised concerns about his conditioning initially — so much so that the Lakers originally wanted to see him get reps in the G League before he suited up for them. Now, it seem Waiters is up to speed with the rest of the team.
“He’s looking pretty good,” Green said. “Him and J.R. have been shooting the ball well. The guys are looking good. Nobody is out of shape. They’re looking good, doing well, and learning the system pretty quickly.”
Green echoed that Waiters can help fill the void left by Rondo because of his ability to handle the ball. However, in addition to Waiters’ handles, he can shoot from just about anywhere on the floor. The same can’t be said of Rondo, who’s made just 34.2% of his jump shot attempts this season, including 32.8% of his 3-point attempts.
Waiters’ skillset will allow him to play with a few different units, but he’ll be most valuable to in second unit, where he’ll likely play next to Alex Caruso. After the year Lakers fans have had, nothing would be better than see Waiters and Caruso lock up Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the postseason.
That may sound like a joke, but both of them have had big games against the Clippers.
17 more days.