TEMECULA, Calif. — The Los Angeles Lakers have repeatedly praised Rajon Rondo for the level of communication he’s brought to training camp. At Sunday’s shootaround ahead of the Lakers’ preseason opener against the Denver Nuggets, Rondo offered up praise of his own — rather than instruction — for L.A. forward Brandon Ingram.
“He’s a lot better defensive player than I thought,” Rondo said of the young player entering his third season. “You don’t think much of him as a defensive player, at least I didn’t, but for this team in particular it’s big for us. He should lead us in steals, deflections, blocks. He can do it all. Switch 1 through 5. I’m very impressed by the way he plays defensively. He’s only getting stronger.
“He’s 21 years old so like I said he’s definitely one of, should be one of the next best defensive players we have in our league.”
Walton has placed a priority on defense in camp and veterans Rondo and James have amplified their coach’s message on that end of the court.
“You try to be the second line of defense behind him,” James said of his chemistry with Rondo, before comparing them to retired NFL duos. “I try to be the Derrick Brooks to his Warren Sapp, he is the guy right there in the front and he is going to get in there and then if guys are able to break the first line, I try to be that Derrick Brooks right there, that second line of defense. Or that Ray Lewis to the Ed Reed. So at the end of the day, we want to protect each other. With Rondo being the point of attack, it is my job as the safety or linebacker to protect him.”
Last season James leaned on another football analogy for his and Dwyane Wade‘s roles with the Cleveland Cavaliers, likening the 2003 draftees to Joe Montana and Steve Young. The idea was James was the quarterback of the first unit, while Wade came in to lead off the bench and the Cavs never skipped a beat – much the same way the San Francisco 49ers had a seamless transition from Montana to Young.
Of course, Wade ended up being traded in February and Cleveland went on to rank 29th in the league in defense, so perhaps focusing his football comparisons to stops instead of scores was a proper course correction.
Rondo also shared praise for James, who he’s faced as an opponent for more than a decade, including four playoff series with their respective teams split 2-2.
“I played against him for 13 years now,” Rondo said. “Obviously what you hear and when you actually sit down it’s a little bit different, but he is who I thought he was. He’s probably a better leader, especially on the floor telling everybody where to go and directing traffic. I’m so used to doing that myself so it’s kind of refreshing. I don’t have to talk every possession on the floor because I have someone that can do the same thing that you can obviously trust.”
Walton said input from James and Rondo has been more than welcome.
“Their communication is brilliant,” Walton said. “They know all the schemes, the coverages that are NBA sets and they talk. They talk it all out. They’re good with pulling young guys to the side and telling them what to look for. So, overall I’d say the communication that they’ve brought to the practice and the team has been really impressive.”
And Rondo, who actually was a QB in high school, ran with the defensive comparison that the former high school wide receiver James made.
“The way he put it in words, a lot of things he’s been putting into words lately I’ve been agreeing with,” he said. “So I’m going to agree with this one as well.”