Its over. For what feels like a lifetime, the Celtics have fretted over the decision of what to do with their mercurial all star point guard, and finally Danny Ainge made his decision. Trade him. Knee surgery forced the team to probably wait longer to make their decision, which no doubt wasn’t an easy one when you consider Rajon Rondo is arguably the greatest point guard in the storied history of the Boston Celtics. In the end he was sent to the Dallas Mavericks, who parted with Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, a 2015 1st round draft pick (lottery protected for one year) and a 2016 second round pick, as well as a $12.9 million trade exception for the privilege of adding the four time all star to their already loaded roster. While on its face this might seem like a paltry return for a player of Rondo’s talent, but when you consider he was in the last year of his contract, would probably need to agree to an extension to make the trade work, and he was shooting 33% from the line, it makes a lot more sense.
Whether or not Rajon Rondo can return to the player he was when he was racking up triple doubles in the playoffs with relative ease is anyone’s guess, and its Dallas’ gamble now. They were already on a historic offensive pace when they made the trade, and need most help on the defensive end, especially on the perimeter. Time will tell if the move will make them a championship contender. The general consensus is the trade, at the very least, made the Mavs a better team.
But did the trade make the CELTICS better?
At first glance I think most fans would say no. But a deeper look shows a three for one deal that has the potential to make the Celtics a more rounded team capable of reaching the playoffs in an Eastern Conference that is historically bad. If the playoffs started today the Celtics would be the 8th seed with a 10-14 record, with four teams behind them separated by 3 games or less. The 5-23 Knicks are just seven games behind the Celtics and the Celtics themselves are just 4.5 games back from the 5 seed Cavs. Long story short, the conference is a mess, and its not going to take a whole lot of improvement by the Celtics to stay in the race for post season play. And while this is going to make Rondo lovers angry, in their last 71 games the Celtics were 14-44 with Rondo and 8-5 without. It is what it is.
The best player the Celtics received in the trade was Brandon Wright. A 27 year old playing on his fourth NBA team in seven years, Wright is enjoying arguably his best season. He has career best FG% (an astounding 74%!!!!), Blocks PG (1.6) and free throw % (75%). The Celtics currently have no big who even pretends to protect the rim, and the trio of Sullinger, Olynyk, and Zeller have COMBINED for 49 blocks on the season. Wright has almost equaled that on his own, and he’s been playing alongside Tyson Chandler, one of the top shot blockers in the last ten years. His impact will be felt immediately on the defensive end as the Celtics have allowed teams to finish at the rim all season long. When a team can’t protect their rim, the ability to prevent dribble penetration is almost impossible, which has contributed to the Celtics giving up 105 points per game, good for 27th in the league.
But more importantly the addition of Wright will create competition among the teams front line in the rotation. From now on Stevens will be able to rotate players in and out depending on how they are performing, and not based solely on minutes. We saw Glenn Rivers work magic when he pitted Glen Davis against Leon Powe for minutes, distributing them largely on a merit system. If Stevens can get maximum effort out of his front line, all of whom are desperate to show their value in the league, the team as a whole will benefit greatly. Its much like the trickle down effect a solid relief pitcher has on the staff…..each makes the other better. It may take time for players to find their nitch and Stevens to set a rotation, but he now has a player in Wright who can block shots and is a career 61% shooter from the floor, and Zeller, who is shooting an eye popping 63% from the floor in his own right. The two should complement each other well.
The biggest question mark in the trade will be what value Jameer Nelson can bring to the team. He’s the biggest reason Dallas made this trade as he simply wasn’t able to compete with the army of talent at the point guard position in the Western Conference. Night in and night out facing the likes of Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker proved too much for the 33 year old Nelson playing on his 3rd team in 11 years. He certainly will be a shooting upgrade to Rondo, hitting 3 pointers at an acceptable 36% this year and 37% for his career. He’s an excellent free throw shooter (87%, 81% career) but isn’t much of a distributor for a point guard, dishing out 5.1 a game over his career and a jaw dropping 4.3 this season. There is hope however, as the last two years with the Magic he averaged over 7 a game. His biggest flaw in Dallas was his on the ball defense, which if it continues won’t change much for the Celtics as Rondo was at best an indifferent defender after Pierce and Garnett left. The hope for Nelson will be that the overall level of competition he will face on a nightly basis is going to plummet to a level which should allow him to get his game back to where it was just a year ago when he averaged 12/3/7.
The trade also allows the Celtics to give more minutes to Marcus Smart at the point. The 6th overall pick in last years draft his shown flashes of brilliance in his first season in the league, especially on the defensive end where, sadly, he has been the Celtics best player. His biggest problem has been health, playing in just ten games this season after a college career where he missed several games due to a variety of injuries. But like the competition in the front court, the addition of Nelson gives Smart a chance to compete for minutes and meaningful time at point guard, things that were never happening as long as Rondo was here. Its all right there for the taking if Smart can stay healthy and provide the tenacity that made him a difference maker at Oklahoma State where he took over games on both ends of the floor. If the Celtics can hit a home run with Smart they will speed up the rebuild process possibly by years.
The third and least heralded player acquired in the trade was Jae Crowder, a 6′ 7″ small forward from Marquette, taken in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft. He’s a lunch bucket type of player, who Draft Express called the “toughest SOB in the draft”. He’s spent time in the D league where he posted multiple triple doubles and did manage to squeeze his way into the Mavs rotation this season, playing 10 minutes a game and an acceptable .550 true shooting percentage. Some have compared him to Leon Powe, and this team can use all the toughness and attitude it can get, attributes they are sorely lacking as a team.
Its important to note that all three players will be eligible for free agency at the end of the season, so Boston will get a good look at all three and have to decide if they want to offer them a contract and make them a permanent part of the rebuild. But in the short term it looks like there is a good chance the Celtics improved their team with this trade. It was obvious Rondo didn’t want to be here, and having multiple players in contract years has the potential to create a spark of effort and enthusiasm to give this team a push to the playoffs in a conference where its nearly impossible to be out of contention and an upcoming draft not worthy of tanking for.
Say hello to your new Boston Celtics.