CLEVELAND – Once Ricky Rubio was lost for the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers knew it would take someone special to take his place.
They needed a playmaker with experience, intelligence and competitive tenacity.
Rajon Rondo ticked all the boxes.
Cleveland completed the acquisition of Rondo, 35, on Monday, finalizing its trade with the Los Angeles Lakers in what ultimately became a three-team deal involving the New York Knicks.
In the trade, the Knicks receive goaltender Denzel Valentine from the Cavaliers as well as international prospects Wang Zhelin and Brad Newley draft rights and money from the Lakers. Los Angeles receives the project rights from Louis Labeyrie of New York.
Four-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion Rondo, who barely played for the Lakers, joins an improved Cleveland team that has gone from a doormat to a playoff contender.
The Cavs are 21-15 and fifth in the Eastern Conference after going 22-50 last season.
“He’s excited about it,” Cleveland coach JB Bickerstaff said of Rondo, who only averaged 9.3 minutes per game in Los Angeles. âOur guys have created a lot of excitement in the league and people are seeing the growth in our guys and the style of play and he’s looking forward to it.
âHe’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve seen since I’ve been around and he wants to help this team and he wants to go and compete, so he’s not happy that he’s not playing. good teammate, obviously. He wants to come here. He wants to get on the pitch and he wants to contribute and help our team become a better team. “
Rondo was recently sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, but cleared NBA health and safety protocols. It is not yet known when he will join the Cavaliers, who are still working with him on logistics.
Cleveland hosts Memphis on Tuesday before starting a six-game, nine-day trip to Portland on Thursday.
Losing the precious Rubio to an anterior cruciate ligament tear is a big blow to the Cavs. The 31-year-old’s impact in less than half a season with Cleveland has been profound, whether as a mentor to young playmaker Darius Garland or his strong leadership on and off the field.
Rondo has many of those same attributes – and similar play – to Rubio, and Bickerstaff believes his addition will make up for the loss of becoming overwhelming.
âHe can improve everyone around him,â Bickerstaff said. “And that’s what excites us, his ability to play with all of our guys – from Darius to our big guys – he can facilitate all of their jobs and that’s what we need.”
Rondo, who won titles with the Celtics in 2008 and the Lakers in 2020, also has a fierce demeanor that fits in well.
A big part of the Cavaliers’ success this season has been their intensity. They just played harder and better performing teams to have the advantage.
âIt’s kind of what we’ve been trying to be all year,â said forward Lauri Markkanen. âAnytime you add a guy as competitive as him it will be a good thing for us. Obviously he can do a lot of things other than competing so it will be nice to add such a competitive and smart player.
Rondo averaged 9.8 points, 8.0 assists and 4.6 rebounds in over 16 seasons with eight teams. He has led the league in assists three times, was called to the elite defensive squad four times and started 105 playoff games.
âHe’s one of those guys you have a lot of respect for, and what you respect most is his spirit,â Bickerstaff said. âWhen you watch a guy orchestrate a game as a basketball fan, that’s what you like to see.
âYou like to see a guy being able to dictate and control the game and manipulate a game in all of its aspects. He does it on both sides of the court. You talk about his advantage and how competitive he is, these are the guys. that you value and respect the most.
NOTES: F Isaac Okoro could miss three weeks with a sprained left elbow suffered in Sunday’s victory over Indiana. Okoro, who was out earlier this season with a hamstring injury and recently in league health and safety protocols, was injured when he fell on a screen set up by Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis in the first half. One of Cleveland’s best defensemen, Okoro is averaging 9.0 points and 3.6 rebounds in 27 games.
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