Rajon Rondo for Julius Randle trade?
How the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans can both rectify their biggest mistakes from last summer’s free agency
It’s not often teams get a second chance to rectify a major mistake they made in allowing a valuable player walk away for nothing in free agency but that’s the exact situation facing the Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans.
Last summer, the Lakers and Pelicans essentially swapped key free agents. The Lakers stole point guard Rajon Rondo, who’d been the catalyst behind New Orleans’ strong finish and playoff run last season, inking him to a 1-year $9 million contract, while the Pelicans poached power forward/center Julius Randle, who’d arguably been Los Angeles’ best player last season, signing him to a 2-year $18 million contract, with a player option for the second year.
You could make a strong argument both moves turned out to be mistakes. The Pelicans desperately miss Rajon Rondo’s leadership at point guard while the Lakers have been unable to replace Julius Randle at small ball center. Both teams have struggled in the early season and are currently tied for 10th in the Western Conference with subpar 5–6 records. But come December 15th, the Lakers and the Pelicans will have an opportunity for a mulligan.
A midseason trade of Rajon Rondo for Julius Randle could be exactly what the Lakers and Pelicans both need to right their ships the rest of this season. While Elfrid Payton has been a serviceable point guard, he hasn’t been able to replicate the magical chemistry the Pels had last season with Rajon Rondo. Signing Tyson Chandler has solved part of the Lakers’ backup center dilemma but the team’s major weakness is still not having a capable small ball center.
Last season, the Lakers best 5-man lineups were Randle-led small ball squads. This season, they’re getting killed every time JaVale sits or an opposing team forces them to go small. There was initially hope LeBron was going to fill that role, or Michael Beasley, Kyle Kuzma, or Moe Wagner. Now, it looks like the Lakers will try to stay big as much as possible, which frankly is a potentially fatal mistake for a team that wants to push pace and run foes into the ground.
The Lakers made a huge mistake letting Julius Randle walk and, while Rajon Rondo is a terrific backup point guard, he’s not as valuable or irreplaceable to the Lakers as an elite backup power forward and small ball center. Right now, the Lakers have one too many guards and one too few forward/centers. Yes, they’re going to have to find a new backup point guard but that’s not as vital as making sure that they can still dominate when opposing teams go small.
The Lakers played small ball over half the time last season, some of it at their option but much of it when opponents forced them to go small. You’re not going to dethrone the Warriors unless you can match up when they go small.
While the Lakers were not willing to offer Randle anything but a 1-year deal last season as they worked to free $38 million in cap space for next summer, I believe they would be wise to reconsider their position and trade for Randle, even though it could cost them $9 million if he exercised his player option. The reality is Julius is unlikely to exercise his player option as there’ll be a surplus of cap space next summer so he’ll earn more by being a free agent.
While the Lakers have considered their cap space for next summer as sacred, sometimes opportunities arise that demand that you adjust your grand plan. Even if Randle exercised his option, the Lakers would still be able to make the small moves to free up the $32.7 million in cap space needed to sign any free agent other than Kevin Durant a max contract. They’d have the cap space to sign Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson, or Jimmy Butler.
Randle’s play this season has been one of the Pelican’s bright spots. He’s now coming off the bench behind Mirotic and bullying opponents with his unique mix of power and athleticism much like he did with the Lakers. Honestly, it’s painful watching him play, realizing what a perfect fit he would be back on the Lakers playing alongside LeBron, JaVale, Lonzo, Brandon, Kyle, and Josh. The Lakers should seriously consider prioritizing trading Rondo for Randle.
Trading Rondo for Randle would strengthen the Lakers’ impressive young core as well as giving the team a potentially valuable trading chip for next summer should they decide to trade for Anthony Davis or a third superstar.
Of course, there are also reasons why the Lakers and Pelicans might not want to pursue a Rondo for Randle trade, including the reality doing so would be an admission they made a mistake last summer. The Lakers never seemed to appreciate Julius Randle and maybe the Pelicans’ front office might not want Rajon Rondo back after he spurned them last summer. Then there’s the issue that Rondo has been playing well for the Lakers and Randle for the Pelicans.
But a midseason Rondo for Randle swap could be as important to the future of the Lakers as whom they sign as a free agent this summer. The Lakers were built to play small ball. Just as you can’t win today unless you can shoot the three, you can’t win today unless you can play small. Right now, that’s the Lakers’ greatest weakness and they should realize they let the perfect solution walk last summer and be smart enough to make a big move to get him back.
Swapping Rajon Rondo for Julius Randle would be win-win situation for both the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Pelicans and would let both teams rectify their biggest mistakes from last summer’s free agency.