Pelicans fans will remember him well, that fiery, frank veteran point guard the team let walk after New Orleans’ run to the second round of the playoffs in 2018. He’s now played on six different teams over the last five seasons, the memories of his championship with the Celtics in 2008 and his four consecutive All-Star selections as distant as can be.
He’s seen a lot – some on the best teams in the league, some on ones that weren’t close to making the playoffs, some where he was seen as a distraction and one this year where he was the victim of a tainted locker room situation that he couldn’t control.
Recently, Rondo sat down with Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher to detail his ever-winding NBA career, and he didn’t hold back on just how badly the saga surrounding Anthony Davis’ trade request and the public haggling back-and-forth, dangling Lakers players’ names as trade bait in the media, tore apart what could have been a promising season.
“Even some of the old guys were affected,” Rondo told Bleacher Report. "I can't say a name, but I remember me and the guy were on the bench for the Atlanta game right before the (All-Star) break. The guy was cussing and talking bad about the situation during the game. I was like: 'Snap out of it. That shit is over with. We'll get through it. As vets, we have to move forward and not focus on what the young guys are focusing on. Set an example.' It was a little crazy to see a vet distraught over that."
It's easy to forget, but the Lakers were at one point a projected top-four seed in the Western Conference nearing the halfway point of the season. They blew the doors off the Golden State Warriors on Christmas, 127-101, to move to 20-14, but lost LeBron James to a groin injury, and he missed 18 of the team’s next 19 games.
Once he returned the team was now hovering around .500 and dealing with the fallout of Davis’ request on Jan. 28 that many around the league believed to be an attempt to land with James with the help of the pair’s shared agent, Rich Paul. In order to make the move, Los Angeles would have had to ship away a large chunk of their awkward combination of veterans on one-year deals and budding young stars.
With James seemingly at the center of it all, players who grew up idolizing him and those who considered him a close friend found themselves in awkward territory.
"Every guy on our team, LeBron was their favorite player growing up," Rondo says. "Everyone had the shoes, his jersey. You're the biggest fan in the world. It's like you're playing with MJ, and then you get there, and it's like your mom and dad, or the person that you looked up to and idolized, doesn't want you. And then to have that sitting in your gut, not knowing."
The Lakers, famously detailed by this ESPN story from Baxter Holmes, imploded, finishing 37-45 with James inactive for seven of the team’s final eight games of the year. Magic Johnson abruptly resigned hours before the end of the team’s season. They fired head coach Luke Walton before eventually hiring Frank Vogel to take the reins, with Jason Kidd as his assistant.
Rondo, along with several others, is again in limbo waiting for free agency to begin, wondering if he’ll have another shot with another revamped Lakers roster or if he’ll have to find yet another team looking for a veteran guard who’s seen it all.
But he said he won’t be surprised if another half-hearted exit interview, which he said he received before he wasn’t able to resign with the Pelicans last summer, leads to moving once again.
"They're blaming my age," he said. "Nah, I don't believe that's the case. Guys at 33 are getting four-year deals. It seems like there's a GM exit pitch: You compliment on this, this and this. You don't really get to the nitty-gritty but say, 'We love you, and good luck.' ... Then, when July 1 comes, things change. But I don't have a clue what it could be."