Trade rumors have followed Rajon Rondo for as long as he’s been in the NBA. They followed him during the Big Three era and in the rebuilding years that followed.
On Thursday, the rumors became reality. The Celtics completed a trade that will send Rondo and little-used forward Dwight Powell to the Dallas Mavericks for budding center Brandan Wright, veteran point guard Jameer Nelson, swingman Jae Crowder, and future first- and second-round picks.
“We would like to thank Rajon for everything that he has done for the Celtics organization and the success we have experienced during his tenure with us,” said Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations.
The trade, confirmed by the Celtics and Mavericks, ends Rondo’s nine years with the Celtics, a stretch that includes the 2008 NBA championship. It leaves the Celtics clearly positioning themselves for the long-term future with a hefty collection of draft picks. The immediate future, however, will continue to feature a team that will struggle to break .500.
As much as he was the perfect complement to Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, Rondo was almost never a full partner. With the Big Three long gone, the Celtics attempted to build their team around Rondo, naming him captain in January.
But the 28-year-old Rondo remained an enigmatic leader, and his statistics declined in some key areas this season. His free throwing shooting percentage is a career-low .333 and his scoring average dipped to 8.3 points per game, his lowest since his rookie season of 2006-07, when he averaged 6.4.
“We all know what he does really well,’’ Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before the trade became public Thursday. “There’s very few people in the game that can do some of the things he can do and you can probably extend that — the way he passes the ball and the way he gets other people the ball — you can extend that to the history of the game. He’s really done a lot of good things.”
In his first full season since tearing his ACL in 2013, Rondo is leading the league in assists, averaging 10.8. He also is averaging a career-high 7.5 rebounds. He has put up three triple-doubles in the first 22 games.
The new Celtics could arrive with the team by Saturday. The Celtics play the Miami Heat in Miami on Sunday.
The likely guard to replace Rondo would be Evan Turner or Phil Pressey until Jameer Nelson arrives. Eventually, Marcus Smart would step into the role.
Rondo was a four-time All-Star with the Celtics. He led the NBA in assists average three times (2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14) and led the league in steals in 2009-10. He hasn’t played more than 68 games in a season since 2009-10.
|1st round||2nd round|
|2015||3 (own, Clippers, Mavericks)||3 (own, 76ers, Wizards)|
|2016||3 (own, Nets, Cavaliers)||4 (Cavaliers, 76ers, Heat, Mavericks)|
|2017||1 (own)||1 (Cavaliers)|
|2018||2 (own, Nets)||1 (own)|
“We would not have won Banner 17 without Rajon and will always consider him one of our most valuable Celtics, both on the court and in the community working with kids. We will always cherish the time he was here,” said a statement released Thursday night by Celtics managing partners Wyc Grousbeck, Irv Grousbeck, Steve Pagliuca, and Robert Epstein.
The trade to the Mavericks follows several attempts by other teams over the years.
The Seattle SuperSonics tried prying Rondo from Ainge in exchange for Allen. The Timberwolves also were interested. Knowing he had a player who saw the floor the way few other players could, Ainge wouldn’t part with Rondo.
Even with Rondo emerging as an invaluable piece of the Celtics’ championship run in 2008, the trade talks lingered. There were rumors of deals to Phoenix, Memphis, and Detroit.
There was a deal that would have sent him to New Orleans for his nemesis, Chris Paul. There was a three-way deal that would have sent him to Indiana.
None of them ever materialized.
One pursuer finally caught up to him Thursday evening, when the Mavericks, starving for a point guard to direct a team with legitimate championship hopes, pulled the trigger on the multiplayer trade.
Just a night earlier, Rondo reiterated the stance he had taken since the offseason — that he wanted to remain in Boston.
“How many times you want me to say it?” Rondo said. “We discussed it on media day. My thoughts and my opinions as far as the organization hasn’t changed.”
Rondo is in the final year of a five-year, $55 million contract he signed in 2009. He will be a free agent at the end of this season. Talks of a contract extension between the Celtics and Rondo had come up over the past two years, Ainge said, but signing an extension with the Celtics didn’t make sense financially for Rondo, who could explore the riches of the open market this summer.
“The NBA salary structure is different,” Ainge said on a weekly radio appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub Thursday morning. “We had contract extension talks with Rondo each of the past two summers, but I think I’ve stated before, all we can do in a contract extension, by rule, is not in his best interests. It would be in our best interests to do that, so we have offered that of course, and we would’ve loved to have done that. But it is not in his financial best interest.
“He benefits so much more by waiting until the summer to become an unrestricted free agent,’’ Ainge said, outlining Rondo’s options before the trade.
Despite being seventh in the league in team assists (23.6), the Mavericks needed a floor general, and Rondo immediately solves that issue.
“To be able to get a guy like Rondo, it’s unbelievable,” Maverick Chandler Parsons told 103.3 FM ESPN in Dallas on Thursday. “It’s not every day that you can get a point guard of his status, and the way he can pass the ball, he’s a difference-maker.’’
Meanwhile, the Celtics continue the rebuilding process they started when they began breaking up the Big Three in 2012. In the past two years, the Celtics have stockpiled draft picks, hoarding first-round picks from the Clippers, 76ers, Nets, Cavaliers, and now the Mavericks as they try to craft another title contender.
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.