Trading Rajon Rondo helps Los Angeles Lakers' roster flexibility, coach Frank Vogel says

LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers valued roster flexibility in the moment over potential playoff contributions in the future when it came to trading Rajon Rondo, L.A. coach Frank Vogel explained Monday.

L.A. sent out Rondo, a couple of players stashed overseas and $1.1 million, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, as part of a three-team deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks on Monday. The trade landed Rondo with the Cavs; Denzel Valentine, draft rights to Brad Newley (54th pick in 2007), L.A.'s draft rights to Wang Zhelin (57th pick in 2016) and cash to the Knicks (New York later waived Valentine); and brought New York's draft rights to Louis Labeyrie (57th pick in 2014) back to the Lakers.

With Labeyrie not joining the team, the move opened up a roster spot for L.A., which had been carrying the maximum allotment of 15 full-time players, two two-way players and not to mention a handful of players who cycled through the locker room on 10-day hardship exemptions because of all the players unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols.

"Obviously the ability to have flexibility with the roster spot for what we have coming forward, which is still unknown, I think Rob [Pelinka] just saw value in that," Vogel said of the Lakers' vice president of basketball operations and general manager.

As a 16-year veteran, Rondo was making the maximum veteran's minimum of close to $2.6 million. By keeping the roster spot open, L.A. could save nearly $4 million in salary plus luxury tax fees. Or, L.A. could fill the spot with a younger veteran making less money on a veteran's minimum contract based on his experience -- like seven-year vet Stanley Johnson, whose 10-day hardship contract with L.A. expired Monday -- and still save money from what the team would have paid keeping Rondo.

Vogel said the Lakers are "partners" with all the players on their team and finding Rondo an opportunity to "have more of a role in the rotation" made him happy. Vogel said that when Rondo signed a deal in the offseason to return to the Lakers after spending last season with the Atlanta Hawks and LA Clippers, there was an understanding that he would not play much.

"It would be more of a non-playing role, a third-string point guard role, but to use his I.Q. and intelligence," Vogel said. "And that will certainly be missed."

Rondo, who will wear No. 1 for the Cavs, joins a Cleveland team that recently lost its backup point guard, Ricky Rubio, to a season-ending ACL tear and was already playing without guard Collin Sexton, who underwent season-ending surgery on his left knee in November.

Rondo, 35, averaged 3.1 points, 3.7 assists and 2.7 rebounds in 16.1 minutes per game for L.A. this season and appeared in 18 games. The Lakers went just 5-13 in the games he appeared in and the last time he played for L.A. was Dec. 23 before he entered into the league's health and safety protocols.

The production was a far cry from the impact "Playoff Rondo" had on the Lakers in the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida when he averaged 8.9 points on 40% shooting from 3, 6.6 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals en route to the title.

"Rondo means the world to me," Vogel said. "He's one of my favorite players I've ever coached. He was an integral part of us winning the championship two years ago, me winning my first championship and he'll always be a special player and special friend to me. So I wish nothing but the best to him for now and we'll continue to stay in touch and whatnot."

The thing is, nearing the midpoint of the season and sitting at No. 7 in the Western Conference with a 19-19 record, there might not be a postseason run L.A. was hoping to have Rondo around for unless it makes moves to shore up the roster with players that can help it compete right now.

"It wasn't like we wanted to depart from Rondo," Vogel said. "But it's just one of those front-office decisions that you have to make difficult decisions and to lose a guy like Rondo is obviously very difficult."

Johnson, 25, averaged 6.8 points on 45.8%, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in the five games he played for L.A., making three starts. He was lauded for his toughness and commitment to the defensive end as L.A. has adjusted on the fly to almost exclusively playing with small ball lineups while Anthony Davis is out with a sprained MCL in his left knee.

"In terms of what is next, we still don't know," Vogel said. "Rob and Kurt [Rambis] are going to make those decisions as they see fit and that will all play out in the next few days. We still hope to have [Johnson] back for some more games. All those answers will reveal themselves over the next few days."

Darren Collison's 10-day hardship contract with the Lakers also expired and he was not with the team on Monday. L.A. currently has zero players in health and safety protocols.

The next few days are significant when it comes to guard Avery Bradley's contract, too. The remainder of his $2.6 veteran's minimum deal becomes fully guaranteed if the Lakers do not waive him by Friday.

Bradley is averaging 6.4 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game while shooting 40% from 3. He's started in 25 of the 30 games he's appeared in for L.A. after signing a non-guaranteed deal to return to L.A. once the Golden State Warriors cut him during training camp.

"Over the stints we've had him in uniform he's played extremely well for us," LeBron James said of Bradley on Sunday. "When he's on the floor he just makes plays on both ends of the floor."