After two seasons of rumors and rumblings, Rajon Rondo finally appears to be on his way out of Boston. This is a conclusion that has seemed inevitable ever since Danny Ainge started disassembling the core that won a championship in 2008. It initially started with Ray Allen’s departure in free agency in 2012. The next summer, Doc Rivers was allowed to negotiate a contract with the Los Angeles Clippers to become their next head coach and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were traded to the Brooklyn Nets.
Rondo has been the last man standing from that championship run since then. In fact, if it wasn’t due to a torn ACL in 2013, Rondo may have been traded long ago. That delayed any movement involving him for the time being, but even as he and the Celtics voiced a desire to remain in business together for years to come this summer, a breakup always seemed much more likely. The Celtics’ (9-14) struggles, combined with Rondo’s pending free agency make this the time to make a deal.
Originally, when news broke that Rondo was firmly on the block, this time without any chance of being taken off of it, five teams were in the mix for his services: The New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.
However, now with a deal seeming like it could be completed any minute, it’s looking much more like a one-horse race featuring the Mavericks.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, the Mavericks and Celtics are in advanced negotiations on a deal that would send Rondo to Dallas in exchange for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, a 2015 first-round pick and a future second-round pick. ESPN’s Marc Stein tweeted that Jameer Nelson will be involved in the deal as well. The pieces involved are still fluid and the deal could evolve to include more players and picks, but that is the core of the deal and Ainge is more motivated than ever to truly begin the new era of Celtics basketball.
In the past, Ainge held off on trading Rondo due to the belief that he could extract more value in return for him than what he was being offered, ideally wanting to get an All-Star back in return, but it’s apparent now that the market for Rondo consisted solely of teams willing to give up expiring contracts and draft picks. Even the Kings balked at the idea of trading promising young guard Ben McLemore. If Rondo were under contract or open to signing an extension with them they may have been open to letting go of McLemore, but his pending free agency is a big sticking point. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com wrote early Thursday morning that Rondo was mainly interested in re-signing with the Mavericks or Rockets (and Woj confirmed Rondo will re-sign with Dallas next summer as long as this trade goes through).
The Rockets were still heavily in pursuit of Rondo, but have a backup plan that they are very fond of. If they miss out on Rondo, they will simply wait until the summer and try to lure Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic back to Houston. They bowed out of talks late this afternoon.
While the Knicks and Lakers lack a backup plan they like as much as the potential of acquiring Rondo, they’re content to settle for trying to make a run at him in free agency. The Celtics tried to approach them about helping facilitate a three-way trade that would send Rondo elsewhere, but both declined. The Lakers were willing to acquire Jeff Green along with Rondo and offered a package built around Steve Nash’s expiring contract, Jordan Hill, the Rockets’ 2015 first-round pick and multiple other picks, but the Celtics declined.
With all signs indicating that the Mavericks are on the verge of the blockbuster acquisition, the big question becomes how much better does Rondo make them?
After trading for Tyson Chandler this summer and signing restricted free agent Chandler Parsons, point guard became the Mavericks’ biggest position of need. Rondo provides them with a colossal upgrade at the position and holds the potential to put them on par with the league’s most serious contenders. Their depth does take a bit of a hit, but they still have solid players on their second unit including Devin Harris, Raymond Felton, Al-Farouq Aminu, Richard Jefferson, Jose Juan Barea, Charlie Villanueva and Greg Smith. They could also attract some veteran free agents if they want to improve their depth. Meanwhile, their starting five of Rondo, Monta Ellis, Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler becomes one of the best of the league.
It’s going to be interesting to see if any other dominoes fall as a result of this trade. The Mavericks should have this power play completed by the end of the night, and the rest of the Western Conference has to be concerned. The defending champion San Antonio Spurs will likely remain the favorites, but the Mavericks took them to seven games last season without Chandler, Parsons or Rondo. They’re very well equipped to produce a different outcome if a rematch were to occur. The Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder and Rockets especially have to really look at themselves in a different light after this trade as well. The West was brutally tough as it is, and now the Mavericks may have pushed themselves ahead of the pack. They won’t be going anywhere either as Rondo’s reps have relayed to the Mavericks that he is willing to re-sign with them this summer.
For Boston, this is a very difficult moment on par with losing Allen, Rivers, Pierce and Garnett. Getting an All-Star in return always seemed unlikely, but to not even receive a starter or a pick that will end up any better than 25-30 is devastating. Ainge has built a contender overnight before when there didn’t appear to be a glimmer of hope, but even with that on his resume it’s difficult to see how he is going to be able to pull it off again. The team is in full-on rebuild mode now, with their best chance of getting back into contention likely requiring them to strike gold in the NBA Draft.
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