It has been disappointing season for the Los Angeles Lakers. The 16-time champions sputtered to their worst start in franchise history with just one win in 10 games, and there are few encouraging signs that the team will make a meaningful run at a postseason berth, even with a Kobe Bryant leading the league in scoring.
Things even got ugly for L.A. in recent road games. The Lakers failed to cut into the Washington Wizards’ fourth-quarter lead in a 111-95 loss on Wednesday, while on Friday the Boston Celtics trounced their long-time rivals, 113-96.
The major topic surrounding Friday’s matchup was the fate of Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. The 28-year-old is currently in the final year of his five-year, $55 million contract, and ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne reported from sources that the Lakers and Celtics had brief discussions about Rondo a few months ago, though there are no active talks.
Fueling speculation was a breakfast Rondo and Bryant had together on Thursday, with the suggestion that Bryant was looking to lure Rondo out West. Bryant was coy about the meeting, saying the breakfast was “delicious” and that he hadn’t had thoughts about adding future teammates.
"We just talked about the game, we talked about the league,” Bryant told reporters. “We talked about good old memories of playing in the series against each other, stuff like that -- different strategies and things they tried to do against us and things we tried to do against them.
There is well-documented mutual admiration between the two guards. Bryant has openly stated that he appreciates Rondo’s style of play, and Rondo appreciates Bryant’s competitive spirit.
"You don't want Rondo? Send him my way," Bryant told ESPN columnist Jackie MacMullan in Feb. 2013 when on the topic of Boston possibly shelving a then-injured Rondo for the remainder of the 2012-2013 season. "I love everything about him. Everything. I love his attitude, I love his chippiness, his edge, his intellect, his know-it-allness. All of it. That's what makes championship players.”
In January, Rondo told reporters he appreciated Bryant’s playful comment that Rondo was “an a--h---, like me,” and that he shares Bryant’s hatred for losing. The comment is particularly telling at the moment considering how both the Celtics and Lakers have struggled, though the Celtics are just 1.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the East with a 7-11 record.
A trade between the Lakers and Celtics before the Feb. 20 deadline does not seem destined to happen due to an obvious stumbling block: The Lakers lack players the Celtics want other than draft picks. The Lakers have a protected top-five overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, otherwise the first-round pick would go to the Phoenix Suns as part of the Steve Nash trade. But the Lakers also have the Houston Rockets’ first round pick.
“There isn’t much there you’re going to give up a lot for,” one general manager told Sporting News, about the Lakers’ trade bait.
Sources told Shelburne that Boston is looking to re-sign Rondo in the offseason, and that a trade with the Lakers was merely informational.
Rondo, who is earning $12.9 million this season, could receive a deal worth five years, $107.4 million from the Celtics, or four years, $79.66 million from another team. The Lakers have Bryant under contract next season, but have committed just $11.17 million to other players, which means they would have the cap space to add Rondo in the offseason.
Rondo is averaging an impressive 11.3 assists and 7.4 rebounds a game this season, but is shooting just 40.4 percent and is eighth on the team in scoring (8.6 points per game).