Rajon Rondo’s Departure Is Further Proof the Los Angeles Lakers Got at Least 1 Move Right

As a 17-19 team in search of answers, the Los Angeles Lakers made their first trade of the 2021-22 season. LA sent veteran Rajon Rondo to the Cleveland Cavaliers, freeing up a much-needed roster spot in the process. But don’t expect the Purple and Gold to use that spot on an outside option. That’s because Stanley Johnson is in line to earn it, giving general manager Rob Pelinka at least one transaction to hang his hat on.

The Los Angeles Lakers sent Rajon Rondo packing

There was a reason the Lakers brought Rondo back for a second stint. The 35-year-old holds a reputation as a leader with championship pedigree, having won titles with both LA and the Boston Celtics. But the 16-year veteran has become less and less utilized as the season goes on, appearing in only 18 games all year.

Late Thursday, reports confirmed the Lakers’ plans to send Rondo to the Cavaliers. The 20-15 Cavs are among the most surprising teams in basketball but have a desperate need at guard in the aftermath of Ricky Rubio’s season-ending ACL injury. In exchange for Rondo, Cleveland will send former first-round pick Denzel Valentine to the Lakers.

Valentine, who signed a two-year deal with Cleveland in September, is expected to be waived upon the deal being finalized. That would naturally free up a roster spot for LA, though the person expected to fill that opening is already wearing the purple and gold.

Stanley Johnson is one signing the Lakers got right

LA’s roster moves over the past several months have been met with a fair amount of criticism. While the Russell Westbrook trade has been the subject of much ridicule, veteran minimum deals for DeAndre Jordan and Kent Bazemore also haven’t gone according to plan. Even 10-day contracts for players like Isaiah Thomas haven’t resulted in long-lasting productivity.

On December 24, the Lakers signed veterans Darren Collision and Stanley Johnson to 10-day contracts. While Collision has been quiet, Johnson has quickly proven his worth and then some.

Through three games, Johnson is averaging a modest 7.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.0 steal. But his value lies in things that aren’t necessarily quantifiable on a stat sheet. Namely, defense and effort.

At 6-foot-6, Johnson has the size to guard multiple positions. As presently constructed, the Lakers have lacked a versatile defender to take on opposing players along the wing or down low. In addition, his hustle and passion have been evident on every possession. While it may not seem like much, LA has had far too many lackluster efforts through its first 36 contests.

Johnson, the Detroit Pistons’ first-round pick in 2015, already earned a start on Tuesday, serving as the 4 with LeBron James receiving his first career start at center. It wouldn’t be surprising to see more starts ahead for the Southern California native.

The Lakers might not be done making moves


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Nothing is official yet, but many expect Rondo’s roster spot to go to Johnson, the seven-year veteran now playing for his fourth team. But given LA’s tumultuous campaign, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more moves in the coming weeks.

Much of their roster became trade eligible on December 15. Jordan and Bazemore, along with Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza, and Wayne Ellington, are among the newly-acquired players LA can put in any trade. If the Lakers want to part with younger players, they can ship out Malik Monk or even Talen Horton-Tucker, who’s trade-eligible on January 15. They could even flirt with a jaw-dropping Russell Westbrook trade.

Johnson fits a need for defense and forward depth. But the Lakers also need shooters and perhaps a small-ball center. LA can use their trade-eligible players to acquire outside help or to free up spots for a future buyout candidate.

Regardless of what the future holds for the Lakers, it looks like Johnson will be a part of it.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.