The Los Angeles Lakers will miss out the injured Rajon Rondo and his absence places an “extraordinary amount of pressure” on LeBron James, says Heatcheck guest BJ Armstrong.
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Armstrong, who won three NBA championships along side Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen within the Chicago Bulls 1990s dynasty, joined regulars Ovie Soko, Mo Mooncey and host Jaydee Dyer to discuss the Los Angeles Lakers’ troubles as they plan the restart of the 2019-20 NBA season on July 30.
Point guard Rondo will miss 6-8 weeks after breaking his thumb during practice on Sunday. The Lakers were already without guard Avery Bradley, who thought we would sit from the season restart. Their absence means James will have to play more at point guard, with right back up from reserve Alex Caruso.
Although the veteran Rondo has played just 20 minutes a game title this season with the Lakers, he is a successful playoff performer and has a championship ring to his name from his tenure with the Boston Celtics.
As Mooncey noted: “Rajon Rondo is one of only seven players since 1974 to increase their points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals when that he gets to the postseason. When the lights are brightest, that’s when Rondo turns up. We are not going to start to see the Rondo from 2010, but we are going to visit a veteran with championship experience.
“Even when he isn’t playing, he provides immense value to the team because he will be coaching guys from the sideline and helping them step up. His impact is not just about when he is on the court. He will help elevate his team-mates even when he is unable to play.”
Armstrong noted the knock-on effect Rondo’s absence could have on James, the Lakers’ premier performer.
“Even though Rondo is not playing significant minutes for the Lakers, his veteran presence in the locker room and what he does to organise the team’s second unit is going to be missed. They are already missing a significant piece in Bradley because of what he can do on the defensive end guarding those small guards,” he said.
“I think this is going to put an extraordinary amount of pressure on LeBron James. Now, he is going to have to organise the game, initiate the offense and, on some nights, score 30 or more points for them to win. Rondo will be missed. We all know ‘playoff Rondo’ – he is battle-tested and he can organise the game. (His absence) is going to hurt more than what people have been talking about.”
Heatcheck regular Soko agreed with Armstrong’s assessment of the added burden on James.
“Experience is something you can teach and Rondo has got a lot of it at a championship level,” he said. “I think we are going to see LeBron have to play at the point guard position most of the time. He has to be worried about everyone else on the floor. He has to be the culture on the floor. This loss of Rondo is going to hurt them big time.”
Mooncey, however, backed James to overcome the excess pressure he’ll face, citing the four-time MVP’s previous playoff performances as proof.
“You are saying no Rondo equals no rest for LeBron,” that he said. “LeBron wasn’t likely to rest anyway! This is what that he does and what he’s built for. He has dragged guys like Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov to the NBA Finals. LeBron has been resting. He will probably come back refuelled and re-energised. He’ll be back better yet than before. He is likely to be playing 40 minutes a night.
“Rondo’s broken hand is only going to keep him out until the second round of the playoffs. The Lakers only have to get through one playoff series against the eighth-seeded team without him, a team they should comfortably beat. The beauty of this is that guys like JR Smith and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are going to get their reps in and get up to speed with the Lakers’ system. Rondo’s absence might help those guys get acclimatised by getting more playing time.”
Armstrong believes James playing the majority of his minutes at the point guard position could detract from his over all effectiveness.
“One of the greatest assets of LeBron James is his versatility,” said the former Bulls guard. “Now he’s playing the ability forward position on a reasonably consistent basis at this stage of his career. If I put him exclusively at the point guard position, does not that remove some of his effectiveness and how he is able to impact the overall game?
“That is what is being underestimated here because you will need team-mates to play 15-20 minutes a game to ease some of the pressure on James. If you exclusively make LeBron the purpose guard, you’re taking away components of what makes him such a special player because he does so several things over the course of the overall game.”
However, given Anthony Davis’ preference to play at the ability forward position, Mooncey insisted James’ capability to impact the overall game will not be diminished by position or workload.
“We know Anthony Davis wants to play at that four-spot (power forward). He doesn’t like being the five man. That means LeBron would be operating at the three-spot (small forward) with shooters like Danny Green and Caldwell-Pope in the backcourt. LeBron playing point guard or at the three is interchangeable because however you want to describe him – point guard, point forward – he would be (controlling the offense) anyway,” that he said.
“Will that take a toll on him against the eighth seed in what should really be a four-game series in the first round? Whether they play the Grizzlies or the Pelicans, (that series) should not be a challenge for the Lakers. And then Rondo comes back. That’s why I will be not worried.
“When Rondo comes back in the second round, he can let LeBron have that rest. He may be that primary facilitator and that primary ball-handler orchestrating the Lakers second unit. It could be different if he was out for the whole playoffs but we know he’ll come back. The Lakers have to win four games without him.”
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