This trade had to be done. There were other options, but this is what Dallas has been building toward for the last four years, really.
BUT NO! We're not dead (well, not yet). Somehow a team that was presumed to have zero trade assets as of last year has traded for TYSON CHANDLER AND RAJON RONDO within six months.
Out goes Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder and a couple of picks. We'll have more on them later but for right now, RONDO RONDO RONDO.
First, some caveats: the current Boston version of Rondo is not a great basketball player. He's posting career low shooting numbers across the board and his defense has slowly eroded since he was an All-Defensive talent during the Celtics Big 3 era. I mean, he's shooting 33 percent from the free throw line. He's not good right now. Pairing him up with the three-point challenged Monta Ellis doesn't make that any better.
That's the risk. The risk is the Mavs traded away an extremely (and historically) productive big for a point guard who can't shoot and is used to having the ball in his hands a lot lately. Oh, and he's recovering from ACL surgery. That's the bad.
But the good? It's so, so good.
Rondo before the injury, before the Celtics started to decline: he was special. Extremely special. He could be one of the best point guard defenders in the game, could make any pass on the court and saw the game at a very high level. Rondo is smart. He knows how to manipulate space and angles to create the perfect pass for his teammates or drive from himself. The neat thing is that doesn't fade away. Rondo still has that and he's still shown it this year, despite the poor shooting and defensive decline.
I know it's the Lakers, but holy shit! Look at some of these passes:
Then you have to look at what Rondo's replacing -- Chris Kaman-in-disguise Jameer Nelson. Nelson's been one of the worst Mavs this year and you can't really argue that: he has a PER around 10, he's shooting 37 percent from the floor and is a gigantic negative on defense. Even his three-point shooting is a little underwhelming, shooting just 36.9 percent. Considering his past shooting success on good teams, you figured Jameer would be closer to 40 in that regard.
And again, the defense. The Mavericks' defense is obviously their weak link and the backcourt was the root of the problem. Simply put, Dallas could not expect to even win a playoff series with two sub-six-feet guards in their primary rotation. That just won't get it done.
Watching Nelson on defense was tough, especially so against all the big backcourts the Western playoff teams roll out. Seeing Nelson get swallowed on every screen and roll, only to leave Tyson Chandler backpedalling into the paint, giving up so much space ... it hurt. There's a reason the Mavs are one of the worst teams defending the 3 and a lot of it has to do with how much space the Mavs allow ball-handlers on the pick and roll. The recent games against the Suns and Warriors just magnified that issue and perhaps spurred the Mavs to move quicker on a Rondo deal.
Chandler has to be conservative because he knows he has no support. If he hedges too hard, there's no backline defense. He has been playing a bit more conservatively, which gives the ball-handler too much space to operate. Even bad NBA guards can make basic plays when undeterred. Give any guard in this league breathing room to scan the court and make a decision and your defense is toast. Hence, all the wide open threes the Mavs have been giving up.
Even a disengaged Rondo is a massive upgrade, just for the fact of Rondo's size and athleticism. With Rondo in tow, the Mavs have a nasty combo of Rondo/Tyson to help smother pick and rolls. Tyson can now hedge a bit harder, knowing Rondo is going to recover much faster.
And if Rondo is engaged? He's an All-Defense candidate and can give the Mavs some punch on that end. The Mavs opposing point guards in the playoffs consist of Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker. That's a murderer's row and it's just unfathomable to think the Mavs would be rolling out Jameer Nelson to counter those guards at the start of a playoff game.
The Mavs also had to do it because, well, it's sort of their destiny. Dirk Nowitzki didn't take a paycut for the Mavs to find bargain-bin value. He took a paycut so he could play with the best talent possible. That means Tyson Chandler, Chandler Parsons, Monta Ellis and, yes, Rajon Rondo. When the Mavs let the title team go in 2011, this is what they envisioned: a stacked starting five that eases the burden off their aging star.
All that's left now is to see if Rondo still has that All-NBA gear left. I think he does. And boy, the Western Conference just got a whole lot more interesting if so.
P.S.: Still not convinced? This is what Rondo did the last time he was in the playoffs.