During the last 12 hours, the Rondo-for-Gasol swap has been discussed at nauseam by Celtics fans (and Lakers fans.) Celtics fans nearly universally agree: bad trade. The Celtics are going into a rebuild, and despite Rondo’s flaws, why in the world would they trade a 26-year-old point guard entering his prime for a 31 year old big man who is declining? Fair question. However, there are many good answers.
First off, a total rebuild of the franchise is something that should be of last resort. Preferably, the team would ‘retool’ and get back on top quickly. Much like how the Lakers have done things the last 35 years. This was supposed to be the plan when the team was to acquire Chris Paul. Boston would have Chris Paul for this season, take one more run at it with the Big Three, and then hopefully Dwight Howard were to soon follow. Swapping Gasol for Rondo would almost assuredly make the Celtics better for 2012. It would give The Big Three one last run at capturing the 18th flag, no matter how much of a long shot it’d be. The team as presently constituted (a team that rebounds with the worst of them, and cannot close out games) has no shot whatsoever. At this point, it’s even questionable that these Celtics would win a playoff GAME, much less a playoff series, and much less Banner 18.
However, the real method to the madness is simple. The Celtics still feel they have a puncher’s chance at Dwight Howard this summer. Now I know whenever that is mentioned, it actually angers some Celtics fans. Because people from Boston just accept that no one wants to play in their lame, miserable, overly-taxed town. And if you don’t accept that thought, then you are a fool. However, Ainge still feels the gamble is worth it. And ask yourself this, what is more worth it? Taking a 5-10% shot at a game-changer in Dwight Howard? Or blowing up the whole team, going through a miserable season (or three, or five, or ten), and then hoping and praying for ping pong balls, in the perfect year, and for the perfect player? And then hoping he pans out? What are THOSE odds? 0.3%? And considering you have to throw away season after season in the process? According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Dwight Howard has stated that if he were to be a Laker, he would want to play alongside Pau Gasol. Not be traded for him. Ainge is a mad scientist. He sees that, and is thinking that he could sell Dwight, and even point guard Deron Williams, to play along side Gasol, and be coached by Doc and form a new Big Three, (Paul Pierce would of course have to be amnestied to have both Howard and Williams here.) Odds are this happens? Very slim. However, is the gamble worth it? Absolutely. First off, if Dwight Howard reaches free agency, Boston will not be competing with the warm climates of Phoenix or Los Angeles (unless the Magic do a Bynum for Howard sign-and-trade.) They will be competing with Brooklyn. Right now, Dallas (who WOULD be the heavy favorites) is not in a position to land both players until they find a taker for Shawn Marion’s contract (and then amnesty Brendan Haywood.) Knowing that taking on Shawn Marion would be a precursor to Dallas putting together 3D (Dwight, Deron, and Dirk), who is going to bite on that? Certainly not any Western Conference team. Unless there is no chance, you always take wild gambles to get stars. Stars win championships. If you fluke into a star or two, whether its through miraculous free agent signings or the draft lottery, the gambles are worth it.
If Dwight and Deron don’t sign here, then what? Are the Celtics screwed because they would be ‘stuck’ with a declining 31 (32 this summer) year old big man? Absolutely not. Unless the Celtics are taking back added salary with Gasol that could affect their cap moving forward (like Ron Artest or Luke Walton), the Celtics will still have plenty of payroll flexibility, which is pivotal for a rebuild. Just last December, the Houston Rockets gave up Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic, and a #1 draft choice for Pau Gasol, in a deal which was killed by David Stern and a few small-market owners. The Minnesota Timberwolves, this year, were interested in trying to put together a package that was centered around Derrick Williams (the #2 overall pick in the draft), and other young pieces for Pau Gasol. Gasol is just as valuable to a rebuild as he is to helping the team on the court right now. He has a lot of value around this league. And if the Celtics don’t feel that a big man in his early to mid 30s is going to help this team on the court in a rebuild, then they can easily trade him. Could the Celtics get Nikola Pekovic from Minnesota for Gasol? Could a Gasol to Houston deal be revisited (with old friend Kevin McHale, no less – hey how did that turn out last time?)? Every team in the league needs big men, much less those that are talented. Gasol could easily be moved for important pieces towards rebuilding the Boston Celtics.
Rajon Rondo? Not so much, well not as much as some would like to think. As we all know, there aren’t many teams banging down the door for his services. If he really was a ‘top five point guard in the NBA, who is also 26’ as many Celtics fans point out, well then Chris Paul would be a Celtic right now. The fact is, Rondo does not have as much value around the league as most Celtics fans presume. Couple that with the fact that almost every team in the league has a decent point guard, his value is even lower (where as opposed to Gasol, as has been pointed out, having good big men who can play both the 4 and the 5 is something any team would take.) And if this team really is going to have to go into a rebuild, and have a team with plenty of young players – then Rajon Rondo must be kept away from it as far as possible. He is already a moody player as it is now, and sulks at times when things don’t go his way. What if he’s on a team of young players who may make the occasional great play, but follow that up with another three to five boneheaded plays, and the Celtics are losing 50-60 games a year? Does anyone think that will end well for Rajon Rondo? Put it this way, if Rajon Rondo were on the this year’s Washington Wizards, and Wizards teams moving forward, he would fade into oblivion. The Celtics are aware of this too, and they want nothing to do with Rajon Rondo being on a rebuilding team. That’s why it is all but inevitable that they will move ahead and deal Rondo right now. And to those who are upset at dealing a ‘young star,’ ask yourselves this: How many more years do you see Rajon Rondo being a very effective point guard? Do you see Rondo even being above average when he is 30 or 31? As is, he already bangs around the court hard enough, seemingly falling awkwardly onto the court more times than anyone in the NBA. It is very likely he breaks down. We are starting to see glimpses of this with wrist injuries, plantar fasciitis, sprained ankles, etc. And not to mention, his gruesome elbow injury in the post-season last year. But more importantly, when he starts losing some of his athleticism in his late 20s (which is now only about 1-3 years away), how is he going to remain effective? What if, in the half court set, he can’t blow by his defender anymore? Is he going to make defenders pay with that jump shot of his? Rondo’s defense this year has already regressed, as well. Some players peak in their mid 20s, and there are good odds that Rajon Rondo is one of them. Fact of the matter is, Rondo’s game has not improved one iota since 2008. He may have sharpened the edges a bit on his overall game, but he has added nothing to his repertoire. Contrast this to Derrick Rose who added a mid range game in his second year, and an outside shot his third year. All while going from a below average free throw shooter (and costing Memphis the 2008 National Championship) to an exceptional free throw shooter. Let’s not get into this aspect with Rondo.
The Boston Celtics are going to trade Rajon Rondo one way or another. The Lakers are a logical fit because they are a team in dire need of a point guard, (and since the inception of Linsanity, may be the only team left in the NBA who truly needs one that bad.) If a Rondo-for-Gasol trade goes by the wayside, then the Celtics will never see that kind of value for their best trading chip ever again. Pau Gasol helps this team in 2012, puts them in a better position to land Dwight Howard and Deron Williams in the summer, and is a better trading chip to help with a rebuild down the road if it ever does come from that. If Danny Ainge is presented with a Rajon Rondo (and Jermaine O’Neal’s expiring contract) for Pau Gasol, with no draft picks, no Brandon Bass – then he should take it and run.