The Los Angeles Lakers' time in the NBA bubble might have had an inauspicious start, with guard Rajon Rondo discovering a fractured right thumb during the team's second practice, but coach Frank Vogel is still counting on the veteran's contributions.
"What we have to understand about Rajon, losing Rajon is a huge loss for our team, but we expect Rajon to be a part of our playoff run," Vogel said on a video conference call with reporters Monday.
Rondo's injury will require surgery, the team announced, and the recovery period is expected to take 6 to 8 weeks. Vogel said that will put Rondo's return somewhere between the first and second rounds of the playoffs.
"We're very confident that he'll be able to get back and be a major factor for us in our playoff run," Vogel said.
Rondo, who signed with the Lakers in 2018, twice missed time during the 2018-19 season after undergoing separate surgeries to repair a fractured third metacarpal in his right hand and a torn ligament in his right ring finger. Vogel and several Lakers players said they were unsure of how Rondo suffered the injury during Sunday's practice and Rondo, apparently, wasn't sure either.
"He took a break and asked to go over and have the trainers look at it and was concerned that something had happened," Vogel said. "But he was not sure exactly what play it happened on."
The 34-year-old will leave Orlando, Florida, to undergo surgery and begin rehabilitation, according to Vogel. The point guard, known for his lofty basketball I.Q., will be welcomed as an unofficial member of Vogel's coaching staff while he's out, much the same way former Lakers coach Luke Walton incorporated Rondo into his staff when he was injured last season.
"We've been doing a lot with our outside-the-bubble staff, coaches, video guys," Vogel said. "[Such as] Kurt Rambis being able to observe practice over Zoom, be a part of coaching staff meetings over Zoom. I will definitely offer that type of insight or participation to Rajon if that's something he's interested in."
Lakers guard Danny Green said that the team will miss Rondo's reserve presence, citing L.A.'s 14-1 record this season when Rondo scores 10 or more points.
"It's never a good sign when some of your players get hurt," Green said. "We need him to come off the bench and give us a little spark. But I know he'll be on the sideline for us [when he returns to Orlando after rehab], coaching his a-- off, teaching us and letting the young guys know ... what he sees and what adjustments we need to make."
Rondo is the second guard the Lakers lost since the NBA restart was announced. Starting shooting guard Avery Bradley opted out of Orlando, citing family concerns about the coronavirus, along with keeping his focus on social injustices facing his community. The Lakers signed JR Smith to replace Bradley.
They are not allowed to bring in a replacement player for Rondo while he is out, per NBA rules. Vogel said that there will an "open competition" to fill Bradley's role in the starting unit, but that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the favorite. L.A. went 17-3 with Caldwell-Pope as a starter this season.
"Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did a phenomenal job early when Avery was injured in the season," Vogel said. "That's really where I'm at in terms of what the starting lineup is going to look like, with him being in that slot. But obviously, we'll see how things go throughout practice, and other guys will have opportunities."