1. The Rondo Trade: The trade of Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks appears like big news but really it is a logical deal with some upside for the Mavs and some risk. The Mavs have the best offense in the NBA and a weak defense (22nd) so, naturally, getting an upgrade at point defensively should help. Kevin Pelton and others, however, have noted that a lot of what makes Dallas strong is the offense and Jameer Nelson’s spot-up shooting was an important part of the equation (he was .369% from three). Nelson essentially had become like a John Paxon/B.J. Armstrong player in the system, which may have undersold his contributions.
Rondo is a unique player but the guy could never shoot, especially from three. Since returning from his knee injury, Rondo also has been somewhat diminished from what he was. He just can’t get to the rim the same. In 2011-12, Rondo was shooting 45.6% of his shots as layups and that number has decreased steadily:
-2013-14: 32.6% (was a career-low)
-2014-15: 30.1% (a new career-low so far)
Combined that inability to get easy shorts with the fact that Rondo is still a 25% three-point shooter and there is cause for concern. There is also the question of whether Rondo is the same incredible defender he was earlier in his career. Putting aside Rondo’s knee issue, many defensive stars coasted on reputation long after they were no long lock down players (Kobe Bryant, Gary Payton and Dennis Rodman). This is not to knock Rondo’s unique skill-set but he is not a totally positive addition. The downside is still minimal though. If the offense doesn’t mesh with Rondo, he will lose minutes to Devin Harris. Nelson did some nice work in Dallas but he is pretty replaceable if Rondo doesn’t work out.
As for the package sent over to Boston, Brandan Wright is the biggest loss. He has been ridiculously effective on offense for Dallas as a backup forward/center. In almost 200 games and over 3,500 minutes as a Maverick, Wright’s PER is 22.6 and he has put 15.7 win shares. That is a large enough body of work to conclude that Wright is a very good scorer and might put up 18 ppg as a starter in the right place. In addition, Jae Crowder has shown moments of ability too.
While both players have some value, Wright is headed to free agency and could be headed for a big deal. Losing a backup (even a good one) should not hurt a Mavs team that scores so well this year. If Wright got a big deal at the end of the season, Dallas would’ve lost him any way and the Mavs can still re-sign Wright if he is cheap on the open market. Crowder is still on his rookie deal and might develop into a useful player but the Mavs are a win-now team and Crowder’s long-term potential (though modest) really isn’t a huge loss. In all, the Mavs are taking some risk with Rondo but if he shores up the defense, then Dallas becomes even more of a contender (they are currently one of several teams with a puncher’s shot of coming out of the West). The only way the deal is bad decision is if this package might’ve brought back a better player later.
For Boston, Rondo held little value. They are poor team and Rondo could only make them a little better and/or take time away from Marcus Smart or Avery Bradley. The only question is whether the return was sufficient. Nelson is a placeholder, and Wright and Crowder are potential rotation players in the future (assuming Boston wants to re-sign them). Dallas also get a 2015 first-round pick (which should be in the 20-30 range) plus a 2016 second-rounder, as well as a $13 million trade exception that could be used to land a marquee player. This isn’t a sexy return for a well-known player but Boston had little leverage. Rondo was gone at the end of the year and wasn’t an big asset to the team in the present. The only way to get a real blue chip talent was to hope contenders get in a bidding war for Rondo, which clearly didn’t happen. Celtic fans will just have to be happy with Danny Ainge’s plan to amass tons of moderate assets and hope some bloom into very good players or can be used like Houston did to get a Dwight Howard-type player if he becomes available.
2. Josh Smith Gone: The other big move this was week was Detroit’s decision to eat Josh Smith’s considerable contract to get him out of Detroit. Smith is not your typical sunk cost. He is overpaid and doesn’t fit well into Detroit’s offense but he is still a starting-level player. In cutting Smith now, the Pistons had to think that Smith was a serious disruption behind the scenes or the Pistons were so frustrated with Smith that they made an emotional decision to send him away in frustration.
Smith was bad and expensive and represented one of prior GM Joe Dumars’ terrible ideas (he had many bad ideas after 2004). Perhaps, cutting Smith from a terrible team can give Stan Van Gundy a chance for a symbolic restart of the franchise and could scare other players into buying into the SVG’s program. It’s a little hokey but has some merit to it. Even if the idea isn’t that hot, the Pistons horrible play couldn’t get that much worse without Smith anyway (I think).
The other defensible basis to cut Smith was to give Greg Monroe unfettered minutes at the power forward. Monroe is only getting 29 minutes per game so far this season and has started only about half of Detroit’s games. He probably isn’t too excited about staying in Detroit. Now is the time to give him 35 minutes per game and tons of shots. If Monroe excels and the team improves, the good feelings on both sides could salvage the relationship. If not, then it is easy for Detroit to cut the cord and start over. Paying Smith to not play for Detroit is an expensive price to accomplish this goal but it makes some sense.
As for Smith, he is apparently a hot commodity for contenders. The question is whether the Detroit version is the new Smith or whether he can return to his more valuable Atlanta Hawks time. Smith’s shooting has been terrible in Detroit (.413% overall and .262% from three) but his peripheral numbers (boards, assists, steals, and blocks) have remained stable. So the athleticism indicators are there. Moreover, his terrible shooting last season can be explained by the fact that 21.5% of his shots were threes (a career-high and nearly double his average of 12.1%). That being said, Smith has greatly reduced his threes so far this season (9.5%) but his two-point shooting have also somehow plummeted to .407%. Either Smith has something weird going on with his shooting or this is a fluke and he will shoot closer to his career numbers when he gets somewhere less toxic. While there is a chance that Smith is in severe decline, the numbers seem to indicate that his loss in value is more closely related to his shooting and that, on the right team, he will be valuable complementary player. At a reduced price, he is definitely worth a flier for several teams.
3. VC’s Dunk: It was nice to see that Vince Carter still has hops when he dunked emphatically over Marcin Gortat yesterday. Basketball-Reference.com has a cool feature that keeps track of dunks for all players, so I went back to look at Carter’s dunk history. While he is remembered for his crazy dunks in Toronto, his most frequent dunking actually occurred in New Jersey. His highest dunk season in Toronto was 2001-02 (59 dunks, representing 5.1% of his shots). Carter really hit his stride from ages 29-31 with the Nets:
-2005-06 (age 29): 87 dunks, 6.2% of shots
-2006-07 (age 30): 86 dunks, 5.7% of shots
-2007-08 (age 31): 71 dunks, 6.1% of shots
Obviously frequency of dunks is not the same thing as quality. The jaw dropping quality that we remember for VC’s early years were all Toronto. As for VC, his dunks fell in 2008-09 to 46 and he has been in the 20-35 range until last year, when he fell to 15 (he has three so far this year).