Lakers could lean more on Dion Waiters while hoping Rondo returns for playoff run
ORLANDO, Fla. >> For now, Playoff Rondo is on hiatus.
A right thumb fracture will shelve Rajon Rondo for six-to-eight weeks, a blow to the team’s depth that Frank Vogel acknowledged Monday was “a huge loss.” He’s scheduled to leave the NBA’s restart to have surgery this week and begin his rehabilitation outside of the bubble.
But Vogel doesn’t think that means Playoff Rondo — the 34-year-old’s world-beating, stat-stuffing alter ego which has cropped up in postseasons past — is done for good this year.
“We expect Rajon to be a part of our playoff run,” he said. “Looking at six-to-eight weeks puts us somewhere around the first, second round of playoffs. We’re very confident that he’ll be able to get back and be a major factor for us.”
The Lakers spent much of Monday imagining what their backcourt rotation will look like in the meantime. Rondo’s injury combined with Avery Bradley’s absence means the West’s No. 1 team will likely have roles for Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith, two players who have yet to record a game in Laker uniforms.
Rondo’s shoes in particular are difficult to fill because of his roles as a ball-handler and passer which, at their best, reliably helped fill minutes when LeBron James was taking a breather. The Lakers don’t have a reserve who can do either of those things at Rondo’s level, but Waiters, who was most recently with the Miami Heat, has an off-the-dribble scoring ability that could be a jolt in some of the second-unit rotations. The former Syracuse product averaged 13.9 points in four seasons in Miami, though his last season tailed off due to injury and off-court issues.
The Lakers could also use Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma to bring the ball up the court at times, Vogel said, but the backcourt players — which also include Alex Caruso and Quinn Cook in reserve roles — will get a chance to prove themselves.
“We have the ability to use our bigs, with Kuz and in particular AD having the ability to bring it up and handle and initiate offense,” Vogel said. “But I also like the prospect of seeing what Dion Waiters can do. … Losing Rondo put more of a need on Dion’s skillset, so I look forward to seeing what he can do more as we get into games.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the presumed starter for Bradley, Vogel confirmed. He has started 20 games this year, averaging 11.1 points as a starter.
Vogel said he was unsure how Rondo’s injury happened, but over the course of Sunday’s practice Rondo reported his hand being in more and more pain until finally going to trainers to have it examined. He had shown up in excellent shape, several Lakers acknowledged.
Danny Green expected that Rondo would contribute in some capacity during his injury: He’s regarded as one of the most intelligent Xs-and-Os players on the team.
“I know he’ll help coach, help teach,” he said of Rondo. “But it would be great to have him on the floor playmaking, making plays, being that floor general and actually, when he’s aggressive, making some good plays for us and helping our team.”
NBA reveals test numbers as Westbrook says he has COVID-19
As commissioner Adam Silver said last week, the NBA was expecting positive cases to keep cropping up. They have.
The league and the NBPA revealed Monday that two of the 322 players in the bubble tested positive for coronavirus since teams arrived starting July 7. The players, who were unidentified due to HIPAA concerns, never cleared quarantine and were isolated off-campus until they show no symptoms and are able to test negative twice in a two-day span.
In addition, the NBA and NBPA said 19 players total have tested positive since July 1 while teams were in market, and have quarantined out of the bubble. At least one of those players is Russell Westbrook, the L.A. native and Rockets star who acknowledged he has COVID-19 in a statement on Twitter.
“I’m currently feeling well, quarantined and looking forward to rejoining my teammates when I am cleared,” he wrote. “Please take this virus seriously. Be safe. Mask up!”
The majority of players who have tested positive since restart testing began on June 23 have not been identified. Two others, the Rockets’ Bruno Cabaclo and the Kings’ Richaun Holmes, were reported to have broken quarantine in the last week, and had entered 10-day protocols with more rigorous testing before they could rejoin their respective teams.
The Lakers have not publicly acknowledged whether they are missing players from their traveling party, though most key players such as LeBron James and Anthony Davis have appeared for interviews and on team media feeds on location.Green dealt briefly with what the team has called a testing “glitch,” an error that Green said he believed was caused by a swab that wasn’t thorough enough. He missed Saturday’s practice, but returned for the following two days. Green said he believes that some players have the antibodies to fight COVID-19, and others are in good health. The concerns generally lie not for the players themselves, but for those around them.
“Our friends and families; our kids; obviously the people on our staff that are a little older and have health issues,” Green said. “I’m not as concerned. I haven’t seen anybody take a real big hit from our league in terms of having to be in the hospital, having to be worried about their life.”