The trade interest in Celtics guard Rajon Rondo is beginning to heat up, and according to an NBA source, the Dallas Mavericks are seriously considering making an offer for the former All-Star point guard.
Rondo, who will be a free agent at season’s end, has maintained his desire to remain in Boston. Team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has to determine whether moving Rondo and getting back younger players, expiring deals, and draft picks may be the most prudent move in the team’s rebuilding effort.
After scoring 13 points with 15 assists, 7 rebounds, and 2 steals in the Celtics’ 109-92 win over the Magic, Rondo was asked about another fresh set of rumors and he reiterated his dedication to the Celtics.
“How many times you want me to say it?” he asked. “We discussed it on media day [in September]. My thoughts and my opinions as far as the organization hasn’t changed.”
The Mavericks, who began the night as the sixth seed in the Western Conference, are 19-8 and ready to make a splash with a major acquisition that could improve their chances in the playoffs. Jameer Nelson, 32, is the Mavericks point guard. He is shooting 38.4 percent from the field and averaging 4.3 assists.
Although Rondo would not be an offensive upgrade, his assist average (10.6) is more than double that of Nelson’s and his pass-first style could mesh well with other starters Monta Ellis, Dirk Nowitzki, and Chandler Parsons.
Also, the combination of Rondo and center Tyson Chandler, one of the league’s most productive players rolling to the basket, could mean more easy baskets for the Dallas offense.
According to the NBA source, owner Mark Cuban and coach Rick Carlisle are ready to pull off a potential deal, realizing they would likely not make it through the West without a major upgrade at point guard. The Mavericks are No. 1 in the league in scoring offense (109.8 points per game) and the presence of Chandler in the middle, a legitimate shot-blocker, could allow Rondo to take more chances on defense.
The Celtics would be seeking more than just expiring contracts for Rondo. They would prefer first-round picks and a rising player in addition to expiring contracts. Players such as Brandan Wright and Jae Crowder have been mentioned in potential deals but the Celtics also would receive a first-round pick. The Mavericks own all of their draft picks.
Teams such as the Sacramento Kings and Houston Rockets are expected to show interest in Rondo in the coming weeks, but the Mavericks appear to be the most prepared to make a legitimate offer.
For the Celtics, it could be one of many deals they have to ponder over the next two months for Rondo, who has been the subject of trade rumors for the past three years. Their dilemma is difficult.
Rondo wants to return to Boston but at a maximum contract — estimated to be five years and $107 million — which the Celtics could afford because they own his Bird rights. The question is whether Rondo will continue to be a high-level point guard as he approaches his 29th birthday in February and whether they want to invest their first maximum contract on a player coming off major knee surgery who has offensive weaknesses.
Rondo, however, also can serve as a recruiter for other major free agents to Boston.
With Doc Rivers gone to Los Angeles, Rondo becomes the major attraction for the Celtics because premium free agents know he will get them the ball.
Although Rondo remains an erratic jump shooter and poor free throw shooter, he is perhaps the best in the league at delivering passes to teammates’ sweet spots and has little interest in scoring, something that could be appealing to free agents who are volume scorers.
Without Rondo, the Celtics become a less engaging team because the team is filled with young and unproven players and the team’s rebuilding plan would suffer without its best player. Rondo has made it clear he plans to test free agency and be courted by NBA owners.
He accepted a discounted contract to remain in Boston five years ago and it’s apparent and understandable he’ll want to be compensated with a career-defining contract. And there is no easy decision regarding his future.
Rondo appears to enjoy his new role as captain and team leader after years of being a little brother to the Big Three.
“We can’t win them all but these guys are funny; I’m young and I’m doing what I love to do,” he said. “It’s a dream. I can’t be upset about anything, really. I just want to be a better person each year, be a better teammate each year, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job so far, trying to lead these young guys. I’m not that old but they make me feel like it. I’m 28, pretty much the veteran guy on this team and that’s just part of it.”
In the second quarter of Wednesday’s game against the Magic, Rondo was at his absolute best, scoring 5 points, with 4 assists and 7 rebounds in a seven-minute stretch. Rondo entered the Orlando game 30th in the NBA in rebounding, the only guard in that top 30.
And Rondo has played the situation perfectly. He is not going to leave Boston as a malcontent. He has maintained his desire to remain in Boston but it’s uncertain if the Celtics would pursue him in free agency if he is dealt during the season.
The Red Sox tried that with Jon Lester and, well . . .
Ainge will make a deal before the trade deadline. He has been eerily absent from TD Garden in recent home games.
Beginning Dec. 15, teams became eligible to trade players they signed this summer and that has opened a plethora of opportunities for a significant deal.
Whether Rondo is involved remains to be seen, but it’s apparent Ainge will have his share of offers to consider.