One of the things I enjoy most about basketblogging is breaking news. Quickly processing and reacting to new information about your team, especially when it's totally unexpected, is genuinely fun. The NBA season always starts in late October and games always have a tip off time, so when a trade rumor drops at any moment, it breaks the normal flow of basketball in a surprisingly pleasant way.
Wednesday night brought one of those moments when Rajon Rondo was linked to the Mavericks. Dallas, called "serious suitors" for the Boston point guard, supposedly offered a package headlined by Brandan Wright. The downside of today's breaking news cycle, though, is the call for an immediate reaction. We all discussed it at length on Twitter, in the comments, in our email chain, but sometimes you just need to sleep on it.
Ultimately, I'm not sure Dallas has enough pieces to interest Boston, who have every reason to be stingy -- time, young talent already in place and no huge salaries needing to be dumped. But even this afternoon, reports continue to come that talks are still on between the two teams. We're left with a rarity in the NBA: time to process and think about something before it happens.
Rajon Rondo is everything the Mavericks need on defense. He's a pesky on-ball defender with length and quickness, and he led the league in steals a few years back. He's averaging a career-high 7.5 rebounds a game, a very Jason Kidd-like number. Dallas is the second-worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA and desperately needs a perimeter defender to put next to Dirk. Rondo helps in both those areas, so why isn't this a no-brainer?
Well, because Rondo isn't a natural fit for the Mavericks' offense. Unlike Jason Kidd, he has never been good at playing off the ball. His shooting numbers, always bad through his career, have dropped to career lows. His true shooting percentage is a miserable 42.2. He's barely above 40 percent from the floor, hitting only a quarter of his 3-point attempts and has totally bombed at the line, making 12-of-36 (33 percent) of his free throws.
Joining a Mavericks roster means neither he nor Monta Ellis will have the ball in their hands as much as they're used to. In Rondo's best years in Boston, the Big Three there let Rondo dictate their shot attempts, a job he did magnificently. His lack of shooting was hidden because he played next to Ray Allen, the best shooter in NBA history.
(A side note: Someone made an interesting observation that perhaps trading for Rondo would encourage Ray Allen to join the Mavs in a month or two. It's neither here nor there, but the Mavericks were rumored to have interest in him this summer.)
Like Rondo, Ellis also does his best work with the ball in his hands, and the Mavericks' flow offense is designed for players to flow seamlessly in and out of constant pick-and-rolls. Any time Rondo is on the floor but isn't the ball handler, opposing defenses can drop a third defender into the paint without fear of being burned by a shooter. This is why Al-Farouq Aminu has had so much trouble getting on the floor of late -- his sub-20 percent shooting from deep absolutely kills the very play the Mavericks' offense thrives on.
But then again, Rondo is not Aminu. He's a skilled offensive player who can attack the glass and make defenses collapse in his own way, and obviously, the Mavericks wouldn't have too much trouble incorporating that into an already potent offense. The lack of shooting is troublesome, but Rondo does so many more things.
The other problem is giving up Brandan Wright, whose contributions to the success of the Mavericks' pick-and-roll orientated offense are massively underrated. Making teams deal with Tyson Chandler and Wright for 48 minutes a night is frustrating as hell. It forces opposing defenses to have perfect rotations, which sometimes causes defenders to become overzealous dropping into the lane out of fear of an alley oop dunk. That's why Dirk Nowitzki still gets wide-open 18 foot jump shots every single game.
Could the Mavericks make Rondo work, even while losing Wright? Clearly yes, or they wouldn't be trying to trade for him. Carlisle is a mad genius, and who are we to doubt him? But also no, there is no guarantee everything goes exactly according to the plan.
The Mavericks are banking on Rondo's efficiency improving, on his defense being as good as it was before the ACL injury (it hasn't been so far this season) and that Jermaine O'Neal or Emeka Okafor, two rehabbing free agent centers expecting to sign with teams soon, agree to join Dallas and can fill in behind Tyson Chandler, making up some of what Wright brought. They're also expecting that Carlisle can find a way for Rondo and Ellis to coexist without losing any of what makes them so valuable. Those are several significant assumptions.
Last night, I thought that it might be a better risk for the Mavericks to wait until the offseason and pursue Goran Dragic or another free agent. On paper, it's a safer move -- until you factor in Dirk Nowitzki's running clock.
At some point, Dirk will stop being the Dirk we know. We've already seen signs of him struggling this season, including an abnormally long slump over the past few weeks. Even though his numbers are down a little bit more, he's still clearly the important cog that makes this team run. But for how much longer? Can the Mavericks guarantee he'll be the same guy in a year?
Rondo's a risk. Waiting until the summer is a risk. But presented with both options, the Mavericks owe it to Dirk to make a move now. After all he's done for this franchise, they can't throw away a chance to improve in the two areas that are limiting how far this squad can go this season. The Mavericks surely understand there are inherent risks in adding Rondo, but a chance to improve in the NBA only comes around every so often. If they feel this move does that, they have to jump on it, because it might be their last chance they get with Dirk.