LOS ANGELES — After becoming the first Los Angeles Lakers player since Magic Johnson in 1989 to register 17 assists and five steals in a game, Rajon Rondo said he hoped to stick around L.A. a little longer.
“Absolutely,” Rondo told ESPN when asked if he wanted to come back to the Lakers next season. “Absolutely. I mean, the only way we can go from here is up.
“So, I don’t know what the future holds as far as the summer — if I come back, or who else comes back or if I don’t come back. Those things are out of my control. But at the same time, it’s a great organization. I can’t say enough about the staff and the people who work here. They’re really kind and helpful, so I want to continue, if I can, help this organization grow.”
Rondo reached his season high in assists in a 129-115 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday — the Lakers’ third victory in their past four games after being eliminated from postseason contention a week ago.
He is finishing out a one-year, $9 million deal with the Lakers but said there were discussions between him, his agent Bill Duffy and the Lakers last summer about coming to L.A. on a multiyear commitment.
“We talked about it,” Rondo said. “As far as long term, maybe not like a six-year deal, but you know, I’m only 33.”
Because of a three-game suspension from a fracas with the Houston Rockets in the Lakers’ home opener and two hand injuries, Rondo has missed 34 of the Lakers’ 76 games this season — one of the hand injuries leaving a permanent scar after he underwent surgery.
“S—, that’s just part of the game,” he said of the vestige of where he went under the knife.
Will that scar be a permanent reminder of how this season with the Lakers unfolded?
“If I play another eight years, no, but if I play one or two, I might remember it,” he said. “But that’s just part of it. I got through it. It’s part of the struggle. Part of the grind. And it happened for a reason.”
Rondo’s voice trailed off, before his face flashed a sly grin.
“I don’t know what [that reason is]. … But the man upstairs, you know, he’s got a lot to do with it,” Rondo said.
Rondo has been credited with keeping the Lakers on track, even if the playoffs are out of the question.
“The youth look up to us, look at us as superheroes at times, so to be able to have that fun and that joy we hope it goes back to those guys and to the kids that look up to us,” LeBron James said of the Lakers’ approach against the Hornets. “Rondo, his energy and him just having fun and being the leader that he is [is invaluable].”
And Lakers coach Luke Walton echoed James when asked about his point guard this week.
“Leadership,” Walton said. “His leadership has been great. He wants to play all the time. I think he sets a great example for the younger guys and he’s watching film before every game, during games. Off days he’s in the gym every day working on his craft, studying his opponent. … It’s great to have that around when you have as many young guys with their eyes on everything, learning from everything.”
He has missed too many games to qualify for the leaderboard, but Rondo’s 7.9 assists per game average ranks him fifth in the league — tied with Atlanta Hawks rookie Trae Young.
Rondo moved into 19th in all-time assists this week, passing Guy Rodgers, and is 16 from passing Bob Cousy (6,955) for 18th. He ranks fourth among active players behind Chris Paul, James and Tony Parker.
“I’ll try to reflect a little bit more,” Rondo said of the accomplishment. “Obviously I’m older now. But, like I said, I still plan on playing another four, five years and hopefully when you’ve played that long, things like that happen. With the ball being in my hand, me being a point guard, led the league a couple years in assists. These kind of things just happen. My main focus is obviously getting back to the playoffs and being a contender.”