Lakers’ Rajon Rondo: ‘We got to be patient like teachers’
The veteran point guard discusses his new squad after their opening loss
PORTLAND, Oregon — The Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room was quiet after a tough 128-119 season-opening loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Veteran point guard Rajon Rondo said he offered words of wisdom to his teammates afterward and believes he and LeBron James will just need to spend more time as teachers this season.
“We got to be patient like teachers are,” Rondo told The Undefeated. “Every student learns differently. Everyone is on their own pace. We have to learn guys’ strengths and weaknesses and we have to play to it.”
Before the game, he recalled being the Boston Celtics’ starting point guard 11 years ago when much was expected of a squad headlined by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Allen once said it took until March of the 2007-08 season for that team to get on the same page en route to their title. Rondo acknowledged that having training camp in Rome and London that season helped those Celtics mesh more quickly.
Training camp was in Los Angeles for James, Rondo and these work-in-progress Lakers. Rondo said the Lakers players keep in touch via text message and have had dinners together but they still have a lot of work to do to mesh on and off the court.
The preseason fear for the Lakers, struggling from 3-point range, reared its ugly head in the opener. The team missed its first 15 3-pointers before finishing with seven makes out of 30. With five 3-pointers, Blazers reserve Nik Stauskas nailed more than the Lakers’ starters combined.
Los Angeles’ defense was also awful, allowing 128 points, 13 made 3-pointers and 29 free throw attempts. When 7-foot-1 center JaVale McGee (13 points, eight rebounds) went to the bench, the Lakers lacked a rim protector and were outrebounded 54-46 for the game.
James himself threw two errant behind-the-back passes to Lakers teammates nowhere near the ball.
About 45 minutes after the final buzzer, Rondo was the last Laker remaining in the locker room. He was as critical of his own play as he was of the team overall.
Rondo blamed himself for not getting Lakers starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope more than three field goal attempts and only one 3-point attempt. The four-time All-Star also blamed himself for not getting the bigs to set better screens to free the shooters.
“We got to watch film and see where I could’ve got my shooters a couple more shots,” said Rondo, who had 13 points, 11 assists and other suggestions for the team to focus on.
“Matching up in transition [defense] better,” Rondo said. “Respecting everyone on the court. Hell, Stauskas gets 18 points in the first half. Just having our antennas up and taking more pride defensively.”
James has overcome the challenge of a slow start before, although he does not have the luxury of playing with one or two All-Stars as he did in Cleveland and Miami. Still, he appears more concerned about the final chapter than the first.
“Having chemistry doesn’t happen as fast as you guys think it’s going to happen. It’s not like instant oatmeal,” said James, who had 26 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists.
No one on the Lakers has a more decorated résumé than James. But what Rondo has over James is experience playing in a big market, as he starred for the Celtics and won the 2008 NBA championship. With all due respect to Cleveland and Miami, they ain’t Los Angeles, and the Cavaliers and Heat don’t have anywhere near the history of the Lakers. Excellence is expected in a Lakers uniform.
So, while James and Rondo are trying to exude patience, let’s see if a packed Staples Center crowd will do the same on Saturday night when the Lakers face James Harden, Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets in their home opener.
“You can control what you can control, and what I control is how I lead these guys and how I prepare every day,” James said. “I come in with a championship mindset and preaching and practicing excellence every day.”
Added Rondo: “We need an even-keeled mentality. Never too high. Never too low. Regardless of what we go through, we have to stick together. We keep pushing, moving forward and improving.”