Rumors of alleged Boston interest in moving Rajon Rondo (plus parts) for Pau Gasol were again floating around over all-star weekend. Danny Ainge effectively denied any discussions of that nature a couple of weeks ago but it’s increasingly clear the Celtics regard Rondo as an asset they can move, rather than someone they’re likely to build around. And if they are to move him, Gasol would constitute a superb return, perhaps the best possible one, given the lack of elite talents likely to be available to the Celtics.
It’s entirely possible the deal is nothing more than whispers and gossip, so this will wander into the theoretical, but if presented with it, I’d argue Boston should pull the trigger and ship Rondo west.
I know that will draw some ire but see if the cumulative weight of the below sways you.
1) The Celtics are not landing Dwight Howard, and Peter May’s proposed Rondo-for-Deron Williams deal, while appealing, would represent the kind of early white flag the New Jersey Nets aren’t likely to throw. Williams has roots in Dallas, interest in Brooklyn and so far, there are no indications Boston is even a blip on his radar screen. So, the two top free agent prizes of summer 2012 are out of Ainge’s reach. And his preference — which he’s stated again and again and proved with the Kendrick Perkins trade — is not to pay supporting players before he has his stars. Gasol is a star, and one who fits well with the short and long term plans (more on that below) assuming the Celtics are, as reported, uninterested in a major rebuild.
2) Kobe Bryant is a known admirer of Rondo’s game. Rondo would also represent a massive upgrade at the PG spot for the Lakers both as a defender and a shot creator. It’s bizarre that L.A. would shed so much length in one season, but having given Lamar Odom away, perhaps they’re still focused on sliding Howard into the spot opened by his departure. Or perhaps Gasol, whose relationship with Bryant hasn’t always been smooth, has displayed insufficient ‘emotional toughness’ for Kobe, who is dead-set on picking up that sixth ring to tie Michael Jordan. Rondo and Kobe with Andrew Bynum is interesting. Rondo, Kobe and Howard even more so.
3) Doc Rivers made some interesting comments to the Herald this weekend. Behold:
“You sell (to free agents) what you have on your team, and that’s tough to say now because we don’t know what we’ll have on our team yet,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a hard sell — the tradition and what we’ve accomplished. But you also have to have players to get other players. No matter where you’re at, it’s rare that a player is going to go somewhere where there’s no other players. So we want to make sure we have the assets and players that other players want to play with. And I think when that time comes, I think we’ll be ready for it.”
A resigned Big Three (plus Rondo) is no longer a draw because that core is no longer perceived as having championship potential by other players. Yes, Rivers is adored and, yes, the Celtics are seen as a terrific organization but there’s little lure in moving to New England to lose in the second round no matter who is behind the bench or how many banners are hanging overhead.
4) Gasol is still a fantastic basketball player. He makes Boston more dangerous in 2012 because he addresses two critical problems with this roster: rebounding and interior scoring. And this team is going nowhere in the playoffs unless they do something about those issues.
Gasol’s sporting a 21.11 PER this season off 17.0 PPG and 10.6RPG (21.4DRR), but you could argue that he’s actually being underutilized by the Lakers. If Boston ran a lot of initial post offense through him, as Rivers would prefer to do with the interior-averse Kevin Garnett, they’d open up all sorts of things on the offensive end. Gasol and KG are two of the best passing big men in the league, and natural compliments in Rivers’ offense, which is so reliant on ball movement. With KG at the high post, Gasol in the low, and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen as cutters, spot-up shooters and pick and roll partners, Boston’s halfcourt offense could actually prove an asset in the playoffs. Right now, it looms as a major liability.
5) Gasol is a good fit for the future. Remember how Ainge wisely lined up his contracts to expire in 2012? Well, Gasol’s contract expires the same year as Pierce’s does. Plus, Gasol is only 31 years old, the same age Garnett was in 2007, when he led the C’s to a championship. Gasol makes a ton of money ($19M per) but short an unpredictable injury he’s going to produce over the life of his contract and he remains very moveable around the league, as Daryl Morey’s December pursuit makes clear.
If the Celtics were to go into this coming offseason with Pierce, Gasol and parts (Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johnson), they’d be in a good position to add a B-level star and still return Allen and Garnett and compete for a title next year. Or if you’re inclined to linger in fantasyland, they could amnesty Pierce and try and pair Howard with Gasol. Or Williams with Gasol. The bottom line is Boston has more options with Gasol than you might immediately realize.
6) Rondo’s production might be replaceable.
Rondo brings a lot to the table. Sometimes. Rondo will almost singlehandedly win you playoff games. When he’s not neutralized by opposing defenders ignoring him. I’ll stop there. We all know the drill with RR by now. And we also know that Pierce can be an effective point forward and ball handler in the halfcourt, which has the added effect of keeping him engaged offensively. Imagine a KG-Gasol-Pierce-Allen grouping in crunchtime. You can’t double off any of those four. And any of them are good options to take a bailout shot with 2 seconds left on the shot clock. Add a PG with a reliable jumper and the Celtics are suddenly more capable of scoring in the playoffs than they would be with Rondo. They’re less dangerous in transition, but, of course, playoff basketball is a grind, not a sprint.
There’s an opportunity cost to moving Rondo for Gasol (or someone similar) and I’m sympathetic to the idea of building an uptempo team around him, but ultimately I think he’s on the way out at some point in the next year. Either between March 1-15, on draft night, in the summer or, at the latest by the start of next season. Assuming that’s accurate, this is the kind of move I could get behind.