As the Boston Celtics prepare to take on the Dallas Mavericks tonight, we're reminded of the brilliance of last year's trade that dumped Rajon Rondo in Dallas, which helped spark a second-half surge that propelled the Celtics into the postseason.
Last year the Mavericks were looking to beef up their rotation with an upgrade at the point guard position, but the ill-fated trade backfired when Rondo failed to fit in with his new team. His acquisition derailed the Mavs, who couldn't wait to get rid of their malcontent floor general. The messy divorce actually began even before the season ended, with Rondo being benched in the middle of the Mavs' first-round playoff exit against the Houston Rockets.
Dallas surrendered three key rotation pieces in order to bring in Rondo, including Jae Crowder, who has since become a staple in Boston's lineup. A Rondo-for-Crowder swap on its own would have ended up favoring the Celtics, but Dallas also still owes Boston a top-seven protected draft pick.
It's safe to say that Danny Ainge won that trade, but a glimmer of hope is climbing out of the rubble left behind from that disaster of a deal. The emergence of second-year forward Dwight Powell is helping to salvage the deal for Dallas.
Powell was an afterthought in the trade, having barely sniffed the court during his short stint in Boston. Given a legitimate shot to crack the rotation in Dallas this year, Powell is emerging as a vital part to the Mavs 7-4 start to the season.
Through the first 11 games of the season, Powell is averaging career-highs of 10.5 points and 8.1 rebounds in just over 22 minutes per game. Despite his minutes remaining fairly limited off the bench, he's still second on the team in rebounding and third in points, while providing a much needed boost of energy to one of the league's oldest rosters. Powell's 20.92 PER ranks 36th in the league, sandwiching him between superstar James Harden and stud rookie Karl-Anthony Towns. Pretty decent company for a guy that was an afterthought in last year's trade.
Powell's breakout season has taken most of us by surprise, but not in his coach's eyes.
"There's no big shock to me," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle told ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon. "He's a hard-playing guy who's getting experience and getting better."
He is getting better and Dallas is playing better when he's on the floor. Powell's net rating of plus-7.8 points per 100 possessions is the second-best among Mavs rotation players.
This season has already seen Powell pile up more minutes than he did in his entire rookie season. He has primarily served as a backup to center Zaza Pachulia for the size-starved Mavs, but he's working on increasing his range in hopes of developing into an effective stretch-four at some point down the line. He is already showcasing a decent mid-range jumper and is most effective finishing near the basket off of the pick-and-roll.
During the five games he spent active on the Celtics roster prior to the trade last season, Powell saw a grand total of only nine minutes. Given Boston's loaded front court, it's hard to imagine him seeing significant playing time if the team had held on to him. Going to Dallas may have been the best thing that could have happened to Powell, as they were able to uncover a diamond in the rough that the Celtics may never have found.
Jae Crowder for Dwight Powell seems like a pretty good deal that worked out for both teams.— CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) November 18, 2015
There's no doubt that Ainge would pull the trigger on that deal again in a heartbeat, considering how valuable Crowder has been to the team since his arrival. Boston still very clearly won the trade, but had they managed to hang on to Powell then the relatively unknown second-round pick could have emerged as a more valuable trade chip to be used in a bigger trade.
Rondo may have been a bust in Dallas, but the Mavs insisting that Boston include one of their benchwarmers in the deal may end up being the silver lining that saves the franchise from an otherwise regrettable decision.