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Though Enticing, Rajon Rondo of Today an Investment Lakers Lucky Not to Make

Kevin Ding@@KevinDingNBA Senior WriterDecember 19, 2014

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LOS ANGELES — You only get so many chances to deviate from the pure rebuild in today's NBA.

If you—rightly—want a proven commodity to make you a vastly better team overnight, you—definitely—better be honest with yourself about what that veteran can't and won't do amid your excitement with the chase.

In the case of the Los Angeles Lakers and Rajon Rondo, who would've been an obvious upgrade when Byron Scott is resorting to wedging Kobe Bryant into the point position late in games, it's a very real question whether a poor-shooting guard could have been more than a championship role player.

The catchy ring to Rondo's name, let's be clear, was delivered more by Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

Lakers fans are understandably eager for their franchise to make a move for immediate talent, but patience is necessary since the league's playing field was so leveled with the last collective bargaining agreement. Rondo, who was traded to Dallas on Thursday after the Lakers' offer for the Celtics point guard was declined, is simply ill-suited to be a franchise cornerstone…and even a risky investment for a Dallas team that views him as its final piece.

The lure for L.A. was clear because the pure rebuild—with its draft picks, years of waiting, lack of star power and impressionable/immature/idiotic kids—stinks.

No one actually wants to rebuild that way. Franchises often have no choice but to invest in the future and hope some kid actually becomes their man.

Yet the working premise is always the same: Better to get someone who is ready to play a man's game than someone who has to grow physically and mentally just for a chance. (Latest example: the Cleveland Cavaliers trading all that youthful upside for Kevin Love.)

Even the Celtics, who've spent years gathering draft picks as if they're magnetically drawn to Danny Ainge's office, want surer things than the Romper Room they're building so far. The Celtics' trade of Rondo brought Ainge up to 18 picks (nine first-rounders) in the next four years, but it also brought him a trade exception that makes the Celtics, with some of those picks to offer, overwhelming favorites to acquire whoever is the next disgruntled superstar after Love to ask out.

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 17:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics handles the ball against the Orlando Magic during the game on December 17, 2014 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downlo
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Meanwhile, when you're the Lakers and you have sun to offer compared to Boston's snow, plus a Hollywood profile and history of free spending and big winning, you aren't going to consider for a moment settling for a pure rebuild.

So when someone with as many points and as powerful a name as Carmelo Anthony comes on the market, you decide you want him even as scouts in your organization have reservations about him as an elite player. When Rondo, with his past success and unique gifts, is up for trade, you envision how stunning his artistic passing might look in a flashy new uniform and gloss over the inflated number he expects you to pay him at season's end in a league deep in point guard talent.   

Anthony might be friends with Bryant, but the truth is that Anthony has never taken care of his body or attended to the finer points of his craft the way the Lakers' two-decade star has. Rondo also is a Bryant buddy, but the 25.2 percent three-point shooting for his career and incomprehensible 33.3 percent free-throw shooting this season reeks far more of Shaquille O'Neal's complacency with the unique gifts he knows he already has.

Anthony, who is 30 and back in New York, hasn't looked this season like he has the game feel or playmaking knack that erupted from Bryant and Michael Jordan under Phil Jackson's tutelage. Rondo, 29 in February, hasn't nearly been the defensive dynamo or even consistent attacker on offense he used to be despite the fact that his recovery from that 2013 torn ACL is going well.

There are even whispers now how the Cavaliers actually settled for a past-prime version of LeBron James—he turns 30 by month's end with uncommon mileage on what has long been viewed as an indestructible body—as if anyone would turn James away when he shows up at the door.

But the experience that is so much better than waiting on young player development means clubs are undeniably paying for past accomplishments that might not match future ones.

That's why time after time clubs lose out on free agents they badly want—and it turns out to be money better off not spent. In trade, those draft picks or up-and-coming players who can only be flipped so many times into veteran gambles can't be squandered—as the Lakers know well from the Steve Nash deal that just keeps on giving.

Rondo had better recapture his defensive will in Dallas, where his impact on offense will be markedly muted by how much the ball needs to be in the hands of Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons. Dallas' Rick Carlisle is one of the NBA's best coaches, so he will have some solutions to give Rondo a chance to ride some different coattails to the top.

It would have been risky business for the Lakers to surrender that one first-round pick trade asset they have from taking on Jeremy Lin last summer based on the notion of Rondo being a building block.

Conversely, doing the pure rebuild and using that pick from the Rockets at what might be, say, No. 25 overall to get some kid who might be overly impressionable, immature or idiotic, is no dream come true.

The Lakers know that. They want guys with established name and game. Rondo certainly fits in that sense—but so do many of this summer's other free agents whose arrivals would be precluded by the Lakers giving Rondo their big bucks.

 

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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