The Cleveland Cavaliers have been one of the best stories of this strange NBA season, and as the calendar turns to 2022 they sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference at 21-16 But last week they suffered a major loss when veteran point guard Ricky Rubio went down with a torn ACL that will keep him out for the rest of the season. In need of another point guard -- in particular, a veteran to help with their young roster -- the Cavaliers have made a deal with the Los Angeles Lakers to acquire Rajon Rondo, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Cleveland originally sent forward Denzel Valentine to Los Angeles for Rondo, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. However, the Lakers are reportedly sent Valentine to the New York Knicks, and the Knicks waived Valentine shortly after acquiring him, per Charania.
Rondo, who entered the league's health and safety protocols on Dec. 26, has struggled so far with the Lakers, putting up just 3.1 points and 3.7 assists per game on 32.4 percent shooting from the field and 26.7 percent shooting from 3-point land. At this stage of his career, the 35-year-old Rondo isn't the most exciting acquisition and will be a downgrade on Rubio. But the Cavaliers don't have too many options in the middle of the season, and Rondo will at least bring some similar qualities. He's still a capable defender who will fit in with the Cavaliers' defense-first style, and will always be able to run an offense.
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Rondo is excited about the chance to play a bigger role with an emerging Cavs team, per Wojnarowski. He's reportedly viewed the trade in a positive light ever since it's been mentioned to him. Even if Rondo can bring some of the same skills, it will be difficult for him to replicate Rubio's impact. The Cavaliers have been much better with Rubio on the court this season.
|2021-22 Cavs||Rubio On Court||Rubio Off Court||Difference|
There are also the intangibles that Rubio brings in terms of leadership and camaraderie.
"I think this team is so close, so it's like an extended family member goes down and it just pains you," Kevin Love said after Rubio was injured. "It just hurts to see anyone go down, but especially a guy like Ricky, who has been so consistent for us and brings so much to this team for so many different reasons."
Now with Rondo joining the team, it will be interesting to see if the Cavaliers can remain at the top of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They are also already without Collin Sexton for the season due to a torn meniscus, which will put extra responsibility on young guard Darius Garland to lead the way in the backcourt.
As for the Lakers, it's not surprising that they moved Rondo. Not only has he played poorly this season, he doesn't fit on this roster. Moving him opens up a roster spot that they could use on another shooter or more frontcourt depth. Here's how both sides graded in the deal:
- Open roster spot
Los Angeles trade grade: A-
This is a very simple calculus for the Lakers. They wanted to clear a roster spot. Doing so by waiving Rondo would have left them with roughly $7 million in dead money between his salary and the luxury tax. This is a Lakers team that let Alex Caruso walk because of the tax. Savings like this matter, especially if they're going to pursue upgrades elsewhere at the deadline. The Lakers got those savings by trading a player in Rondo who had fallen out of the rotation before COVID forced their hand. They can now use this roster spot to retain Stanley Johnson, who has played well on a 10-day contract for them at a position of need in forward. Essentially, swapping Rondo for Johnson at minimal cost is a free upgrade so long as Johnson maintains his recent productivity.
Cleveland trade grade: C
Cleveland couldn't have lost Rubio at a worse time. In a normal season, the Cavs might have signed a free-agent point guard to serve as a stopgap backup while they sought out a longer-term solution … but the league-wide COVID outbreak significantly drained the available talent pool. That made Rondo perhaps their best short-term option, and that's not saying much. Rondo has been ineffective this season and hasn't been even an average regular-season player since at least the 2017-18 season. Cleveland probably shouldn't expect much of Rondo for the long haul, and should continue to seek out upgrades in other trades, but this deal didn't even cost the Cavs a second-round pick. It's an ultimately harmless move that gets them a better stand-in than they could have found in free agency. Rondo isn't ideal, but he's better than nothing.
Knicks trade grade: B
The Knicks are getting $1.1 million by getting in on this deal at the last minute, and all they had to do was give up the draft rights to two players who aren't expected to play in the NBA, so not a bad deal at all by those terms. Unsurprisingly, New York waived Valentine so he can join another team for the remainder of the season. This deal was mainly about the Lakers making a roster spot available for the buyout market, or if they do decide to sign Johnson to a standard contract for the remainder of the season, and the Knicks happily helped in that matter and got some cash back in the process.