The rumors swirling around a potential Rajon Rondo trade are starting to intensify, with the Dallas Mavericks emerging as a strong buyer. The Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett reported that Dallas has an offer on the table headlined by 6-foot-9 forward Brandan Wright.
While no trade appears to be imminent, Bulpett has been told by sources that the Celtics seem to be changing their approach behind the scenes as the reality of the marketplace sets in. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been asking for the moon from any suitor interested in acquiring his All-Star point guard, but the closer we move to the end of the season when Rondo will become a free agent, the lower his value becomes. With the hopes of luring an impact player to join Rondo in Boston looking slimmer by the day, the time may be coming to get what they can for Rondo and succumb to a full rebuilding project.
It no longer appears that Boston will be able to get as much value out of Rondo as they hoped, but is the offer from Dallas enough? It's unclear what else would be included in the offer, but Wright's $5 million salary isn't enough on it's own to make the trade work under the league's salary cap rules. We can assume that the core four of the Mavericks roster - Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons, Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis - are off limits. Aside from that, Dallas doesn't have a lot of appealing pieces left that have salaries high enough to fit into this deal.
Pairing Devin Harris with Wright would work, but Harris still has at least two more seasons left on his contract after this year (plus a team option for 2017-18). The price is reasonable at an average of just over $4 million pear year, but if the Celtics go into a full rebuilding mode then they aren't going to be willing to take on any long term salary that may weigh them down. If Ainge isn't interested in Harris as a piece to aid the rebuilding effort and they can't find a third team to get involved then the only realistic option that works would be to include Raymond Felton. Go on, I'll give you a moment to stop gagging over that proposal. The veteran point guard hasn't been a productive player in years and has yet to take the court this season due to an ankle injury. He'd help the Celtics this year if their intention is to tank their way to the bottom, but they'd be left praying that he doesn't pick up his $4.5 million player option for next season.
Wright is an intriguing player that could interest the Celtics. The eighth overall pick in the 2007 draft currently ranks 5th in the league with a 26.2 PER and he's been in the top-20 by that metric in each of the past three years, while posting per-40 minute numbers of 17.1 points and 8.9 rebounds in his career. However, he's never averaged more than 18 minutes per game and it would be presumptuous to assume he can retain that production and efficiency in an expanded role. He's a fantastic role player, but it's unclear how he'd fit in given Boston's current depth at the power forward position and he'll be a free agent after this year. Unless they can be assured he can be resigned to a reasonable contract after this season, they would essentially be trading Rondo for two expiring contracts - which puts them in the same place they are in if they were to just let Rondo walk after the season.
Presumably this deal would have to include at least one first-round draft pick, but adding Rondo would make Dallas one of the strongest contenders in the West. Draft picks are valuable commodities in today's NBA, but expect that pick to be near the end of the first round. Now if Dallas were to offer a second first-round pick in 2018, by which time Nowitzki could be retired and Dallas could be headed toward their own rebuilding effort, that could be a gamble worth taking for Boston. Would Dallas take that risk? For the chance to give Dirk a shot to add another ring before his window closes, they might.
A few other teams, including Houston, Indiana and Sacramento have shown interest in Rondo, which could help drive up the price. However, it's starting to look like Boston won't be able to get as much as they had hoped for. Some expiring deals, along with a draft pick or two seems to be where this is headed.