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Lakers' Brandon Ingram, not Rajon Rondo, acts like leader after suspensions for fight

Lakers' Brandon Ingram, not Rajon Rondo, acts like leader after suspensions for fight
Houston's Chris Paul, far left, is held back by LeBron James after Paul fought with Rajon Rondo, far right, late in the Lakers' home opener. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The quiet kid, the one with the braids and the slight North Carolinian accent knew he was fortunate. Brandon Ingram expected the NBA to suspend him for more than four games.

He did, after all, shove James Harden in the back to kick off the fight Saturday night in the Lakers’ home opener. And he did, after all, run back into the situation to wildly throw a punch at Houston’s Chris Paul.

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And because of all that, he did exactly what he needed to Monday morning in his first public comments since the fight.

He apologized to his team.

“It’s my full responsibility,” Ingram said. “I think I’m the one that caused action and I’m going to take full responsibility for every action that I did.”

The cagey veteran, the one who was supposed to be a leader on the Lakers, the one with the incredible basketball smarts and championship history, kept his mouth shut.

Rajon Rondo, who got a three-game suspension for spitting at and punching Paul, had nothing of value to say.

He didn’t apologize, he didn’t take any responsibility. He said he didn’t speak to his teammates about what happened.

Accountability? He left that to Ingram, who like he did Saturday, ended up coming to Rondo’s rescue.

Ingram explained his actions, saying he was trying to have his teammates’ backs when he re-entered the fight — a wrong action with noble enough intentions.

If only his teammate had the same idea.

Videos have surfaced supporting Paul’s claim that Rondo did indeed spit in his face. Rondo and the Lakers dismissed Paul’s accusations. And despite compelling video evidence to suggest that the spitting could’ve been intentional, the Lakers are choosing to believe it wasn’t.

Sure, it’s possible that Rondo merely had a little extra saliva in his mouth. Maybe he was aiming for the floor.

But at worst, his accident (and subsequent punches) will have the Lakers without their starting point guard for three games — an impact on the rest of the team, which will try to win without his help.

“It’s best for me not to talk about the situation,” Rondo said. “It is what it is. You guys see I have three games. I look forward to getting back and helping my team this weekend.”

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Asked later about accountability, Rondo said: “Everyone knows who I am.”

We actually do, and that’s why Rondo’s behavior Monday wasn’t surprising.

In 2015, Rondo called referee Billy Kennedy a homosexual slur multiple times in a game — something he initially denied. The incident led to Kennedy issuing a public statement saying he was proud to be both an NBA official and a gay man.

Rondo later tweeted a sort-of apology saying “My actions during the game were out of frustration and emotion, period! They absolutely do not reflect my feelings toward the LGBT community. I did not mean to offend or disrespect anyone.”

It wasn’t until a third try that Rondo actually apologized to Kennedy (via a statement).

This isn’t that. That was much worse (he served a one-game suspension). But this also isn’t nothing.

Lakers coach Luke Walton said he spoke to both Rondo and Ingram and said he was satisfied with the talks, but a true leader would’ve been more publicly contrite, would’ve owned his role in a fight that could have cost his team its first win. He would’ve admitted losing his cool.

He wouldn’t have stayed quiet, letting his teammate fall on his sword.

After losing to the Rockets, Walton said he hoped the fight would make the Lakers closer. But upon further review, it showed just how much work there’s left to be done.

There’s LeBron James, wrapping his arm around his friend Chris Paul after the fight. That relationship is bigger than the one between James and his teammates, though he said that didn’t play a role.

“All I cared about was trying to get the thing over with, so we could get back to the game,” James said.

We know what will happen the next time Ingram’s in that position. He proved Saturday that he’d be there for his teammates by running back into the fight. And Monday he proved he’d be there for them again by taking responsibility for losing his cool.

But Rondo? We now have a good idea what he would do, too.

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