LOS ANGELES (AP)When Rajon Rondo saw the opportunity to add his youth and energy to a championship-contending team, the 35-year-old point guard jumped at the chance to return to the Los Angeles Lakers.
”I’m most excited about not being the oldest guy on the team anymore,” Rondo said with only the slightest grin. ”I’m actually probably bottom five now, so that’s a big step for me, going from two months ago I was the oldest guy on the team, and now I’m considered one of the young guys. I’m looking forward to it.”
The extremely experienced Lakers announced their latest deal with a 30-something veteran Tuesday, bringing back Rondo on a one-year contract. Less than a year after Rondo played an important role as a reserve and a team leader on Los Angeles’ 17th NBA championship team, the veteran point guard is back in purple and gold to provide the same leadership in another title chase.
”We didn’t get our parade, but coming off not even a year being a champion, want to do it again,” Rondo said. ”(We) want, obviously, a parade here in LA, and this is a special team that could possibly make that happen.”
The Lakers have assembled an eye-raising roster stacked with seasoned talent around LeBron James and Anthony Davis heading into the new season, which begins with training camp in four weeks.
Los Angeles acquired former league MVP Russell Westbrook in a trade with Washington to join Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Wayne Ellington, Dwight Howard and returnee Marc Gasol.
Rondo, Howard, Ariza, Ellington and Bazemore are all former Lakers returning to the team. The Lakers also could still re-sign 34-year-old wing Wesley Matthews.
While their fortunes are likely to hinge on the health of their well-traveled core, Rondo says the group is highly motivated to reward the Lakers’ faith in their experience.
”I look forward to proving people wrong and understanding that age doesn’t make a difference,” Rondo said. ”A lot of the guys on the team still have a lot left in the tank, and (we’re) going against all odds and getting it done.”
Rondo’s past nine months have been awfully busy: The four-time All-Star signed with Atlanta as a free agent last November shortly after winning a ring with the Lakers, and he was traded to the Clippers last March ahead of their run to the Western Conference finals.
The Clippers traded Rondo to the Grizzlies two weeks ago along with Patrick Beverley in the deal sending Eric Bledsoe back to LA. Rondo agreed to a buyout with Memphis last Saturday and quickly rejoined a title contender.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel told Rondo that the team missed his voice in the locker room last season, which ended with a first-round loss to the Phoenix Suns after James and Davis both missed extensive playing time with injuries in the second half.
”I think I’m one of the most competitive guys in the league, and I love to win,” Rondo said. ”Being put in a situation now where we have an opportunity to win a championship, and it’s only a few, a handful of teams that can say it in the beginning of training camp, and we’re one of them this year.”
Few NBA players can surpass Rondo’s playoff experience. He has appeared in 134 postseason games for six franchises, averaging 12.5 points and 8.5 assists.
Rondo was a role player for the Lakers during the coronavirus-interrupted regular season in 2020, but his responsibilities increased sharply in the postseason. He averaged 8.9 points and 6.6 assists per game while hitting 40% of his 3-pointers in the Florida bubble, winning over many of the Lakers fans that didn’t like his ball-dominant playing style.
Rondo will have even less of the ball when James or Westbrook are on the floor with him, but he is looking forward to being a teammate of Anthony and Ariza for the first time in their lengthy careers, and he intends to test his new teammates in practice.
”We’ve had a lot of great battles, a lot of these guys that’s now teammates,” Rondo said. ”I’m looking forward to putting everything in the past and putting it together for the greater good of the team and winning a championship here.”
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