By PAUL NEWBERRY
ATLANTA (AP) — Rajon Rondo is planning for a future in coaching.
Maybe he’ll get a shot as as a general manager.
Not that he’s ready to get started on those career goals just yet.
After capturing his second NBA championship ring with the Lakers, the 34-year-old Rondo has moved on to the youthful Atlanta Hawks, where he will serve as a mentor to budding superstar Trae Young while providing valuable minutes off the bench for one of the league’s more intriguing teams.
For the first time in his long career, Rondo is the oldest guy on the team.
“It’s kind of weird to look at the roster and I’m the oldest date on the sheet,” he said with a smile. “But it’s a natural fit as far as mentoring these young guys. So many great veterans helped me become the player I am today. It’s only right to give it back full circle.”
Rondo has also been taking steps to get prepared for his post-playing life. He’s constantly mentioned as a coach in the making. He also has his sights on running a team of his own as a GM.
“To be honest, I’ve been doing that for the last five or six years of my career,” Rondo said. “I take a lot of pride in learning from as many great minds as possible.”
Last year, when Rondo was back in Los Angeles recuperating from a broken thumb, Lakers coach Frank Vogel allowed him to sit in — via Zoom — on staff meetings at the Disney World bubble.
“I would wake up at 4 a.m. L.A. time to watch them going over the game plan,” Rondo recalled.
He’s also been studying some of the league’s top GMs, viewing that as another possible career path.
“I don’t want to put myself in a box,” Rondo said. “I would love to manage a team. I’ve been working to understand young talent, understand the (collective bargaining agreement). You definitely have to understand the CBA to a T. I’ve been doing my due diligence.”
Then, he seems to catch himself.
Rondo is not done as a player, which he proved last year with a dynamic playoff performance that helped the Lakers capture their 17th — and most unusual — NBA title.
“I continue to work on my game,” Rondo said. “I want to make an impact when I’m in the game. That’s still my first job, and remains my first job.”
He knows his days as a lead guard are behind him. He seems fully content with the idea that the Hawks signed him to a two-year, $15 million deal mainly so he can pass on all he knows to Young and the rest of the team’s promising young core — John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter.
“I’m not coming here to be the starter. I’m not coming here to play 30 minutes a night,” Rondo said. “The biggest role for me is to lead. I want to help these young guys as much as possible to learn what I takes to play at a high level on a consistent basis.”
Young is an eager student.
“He’s such a cerebral point guard and for me, just studying point guards growing up, I know a lot about his history and how successful he’s been in this league,” Young said “For me it’s all about picking his brain and trying to learn as much as I can from him.”
Skeptics have wondered how Rondo will make the adjustment going from a high-profile team that just won the NBA title to a backwater franchise that underwent a complete rebuild since its last playoff appearance in 2017.
After all, he has long been known as someone who lets his effort wane during the dog days of the regular season, but will elevate his performance when the stakes are much higher.
He’s even been tagged with an alter ego, “Playoff Rondo,” which was certainly evident this past season when he followed up a lackluster regular season by playing huge minutes in the Lakers’ postseason run to the title.
It was only natural to ask Rondo why he thinks he’ll be a good fit in Atlanta.
He quickly fired back, pointing out that the Lakers endured six playoff-less seasons before returning to the NBA pinnacle in 2020.
Rondo sees the same sort of potential in the Hawks, who followed up three years of rebuilding by making a big splash in free agency with the signings of Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari. He thinks there is the potential to make a big move in the Eastern Conference, saying it doesn’t come close to the sort of competition the Lakers faced out West.
“This might be a better option,” Rondo said of the Hawks. “It’s up for grabs as far as who prevails at the top of the East. Anything can happen in the playoffs. This is a young team with so much upside and versatility. … We’re on the the upswing for great things here in the city of Atlanta.”
His future career can wait.