Rajon Rondo Is Kobe Bryant's Best Chance at 1 Final NBA Title

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistNovember 7, 2014

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 9: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers helps up Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics on February 9, 2012 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2012 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Tis the season for five-time champions to pursue what may be one final shot at title glory.

Yet there are significant differences between Tim Duncan's quest for a very plausible repeat in San Antonio and Kobe Bryant's far less certain future with the Los Angeles Lakers. New head coach Byron Scott has no silver bullets given the roster he's been dealt.

In turn, the Lakers have stumbled to their worst start (0-5) since moving to Los Angeles. Iconic point guard Steve Nash is finished for the season—and likely forever—on account of nerve damage. Prized rookie forward Julius Randle will likely miss the season while recovering from a broken leg.

The Lakers aren't giving up on the 2014-15 campaign just yet, at least officially. As Bryan told reporters after a 112-106 loss to the Phoenix Suns:

Big wow...We've got to win these games.  Games that we have that are close, that could go either way, we need to figure a way to get these done. It's a learning process but it's very, very frustrating. It's upsetting, but we have to be determined. I have to stay determined. Guys have to stay determined and try to turn things around.

If we're being realistic, however, things probably won't turn around anytime soon. Not without some help.

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LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 04: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands on the court during a game against the Phoenix Suns at STAPLES Center on November 04, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
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So it's only natural to begin asking whom general manager Mitch Kupchak might target in 2015, when his Lakers get another shot at the free-agent market after whiffing on recent pursuits of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.

SI.com's Chris Mannix recently reported that, "There is one player who makes sense in LA next season: Rajon Rondo. Several rival executives believe the Lakers will make a strong run at Rondo next summer, and it's easy to see why."

It is easy, especially when accounting for an otherwise underwhelming crop of available talent. It won't be easy to pry restricted free agents like Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler away from their respective clubs. Odds are LaMarcus Aldridge will stay with the Portland Trail Blazers, so the cream of the unrestricted free-agent crop includes a select few including Marc Gasol and Greg Monroe.

And Rondo.

The Lakers could certainly use another big man, but the point guard position has remained a source of instability since the departure of Derek Fisher. Jeremy Lin becomes a free agent at season's end, and there's no telling whether he'll have endeared himself to the front office by then.

Given the Lakers' imminent financial flexibility and that the NBA's salary cap is poised to increase significantly, landing Rondo and potentially others would be economically feasible.

Rondo is a proven commodity almost single-handedly capable of keeping an offense humming. While his scoring efficiency took a hit during the 30 games in which he played a season ago, there's no doubting his elite floor vision and playmaking ability. Just four games into the young 2014-15 season, the 28-year-old is averaging an unsurprisingly gaudy 12.5 assists per contest.

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 29: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics during the game against the Brooklyn Nets on October 29, 2014 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using t
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

The Lakers can score points, playing at a pace that ranks sixth league-wide (per Hollinger Stats), but they need a facilitator who can improve the looks Bryant and others are getting. Los Angeles' 101.7 points per 100 possessions ranks 17th league-wide, so the offense isn't especially efficient.

Rondo's ability to defend certainly wouldn't hurt.

It won't turn around a defense giving up a league-worst 117.4 points per 100 possessions through five games, but it would make this team's perimeter defense more respectable at the very least. 

The Kentucky product has become one of the league's premier two-way floor generals, and opportunities to land stars of his caliber are rare.

Rondo isn't a perfect player. He doesn't have a perimeter game to speak of, and that limits his ability to be an explosive scorer. But in a world where Rondo has guys like Bryant and Nick Young on the wing, he probably doesn't need to be that kind of scorer.

In short, this seems like a good fit. And it may not be the first time Kupchak and Co. decided as much.

Back in Feb. 2013, CBSSports.com's Ken Berger reported that "preliminary trade discussions" between the Lakers and Boston Celtics were focused on the potential exchange of Rondo and center Dwight Howard. Berger noted that the deal hadn't "gained any traction," but it's an indication that the Lakers brass has at least contemplated what Rondo might look like in purple and gold.

Now that Los Angeles wouldn't have to forfeit any assets (other than cap space) in order to land Rondo, acquiring the point guard at this point becomes more of a recruitment issue.

The biggest question about Rondo's fit in Los Angeles may be whether he wants to be there in the first place.

While the organization appears to be caught up in some kind of quasi-rebuild, this is still the Lakers we're talking about. As CBSSports.com's Matt Moore put it, "They could sell Rondo on being a huge part of the franchise going forward, and the LA lifestyle is always a draw for players."

Rondo will have to weigh that allure against the comfort of remaining in Boston—or perhaps more credible chances of winning a title elsewhere. He seems reasonably content to finish his career with the Celtics.

BOSTON - JUNE 17:  Rajon Rondo #9  of the Boston Celtics organization hold the Larry O'Brien championship trophy after defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 131-92 in Game Six of the 2008 NBA Finals on June 17, 2008 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massac
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

And the Lakers may again be lottery bound. There's no guarantee Rondo will have any interest in trying to fix that, not with would-be cohort Bryant turning 37 next summer.

But Kupchak has to try.

ESPN Insider's Chris Broussard (subscription required) reported in January that Rondo was "not looking to get out of Boston," but was still, "looking forward to becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in the summer of 2015."

So yes, this could happen.

If the opportunity for Los Angeles to sign Rondo presents itself, it may be as close to a no-brainer as one gets in the free-agent business, especially if the bottom line is restoring the franchise to title contention while Kobe's still kicking. Bryant has one year remaining on his contract after this season. From there, there's no telling exactly how much longer he'll play.

As long as he does, Rondo would make for a capable sidekick.

Who else is going to run this offense? Who's better-suited to serving as a bridge to the post-Bryant era, assuring the franchise a cornerstone who could recruit future talent and build another generation of contenders?

Word of L.A.'s interest in Rondo comes at an appropriate time.

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 9: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the third quarter against Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics on February 9, 2012 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Bryant is coming off a game in which he scored 39 points and still lost. A game in which it took him 37 shots to get there. It's a symptom of this team's woeful lack of playmakers and its sluggish transition to a new system under Scott. Bryant can create his own shots, so it's only natural he take some of them.

Someone like Rondo could help change that, easing the load Bryant bears and making more of a supporting cast that needs a little help getting started. 

It's far too soon to say whether such an arrangement would translate into a championship, but this much is certain: The Lakers probably aren't going far without a significant upgrade at the point guard spot. 

It might not happen. And it might carry some risks.

As NBCSports.com's Kurt Helin speculates, "Kobe and Rondo? What could go wrong with those egos in the same room?"

On the other hand, Rondo may be precisely the kind of hard-nosed competitor who can take up Bryant's tradition. Maybe they'd understand one another. Maybe they could build a culture that outlasts Bryant himself.

Maybes, yes—but a chance Los Angeles has to take.


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