Flash forward four years, and Rondo has transformed into a perennial All-Star and at this point may even be more important to the Celtics than any of the Big Three — although Paul Pierce‘s recent resurgence could suggest otherwise.
In the offseason, as short as it were, Rondo was the topic of a number of trade discussions, which primarily revolved around former New Orleand Hornet and current Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul. The rumors didn’t sit too well with Rondo and the athletic guard has made a point of it to prove just how valuable he is for this team.
This season, even while missing 8 games due to injury, Rondo has posted All-Star-caliber numbers and is improving on last year’s stellar campaign. Although he may only be averaging 9.8 assists per game this year, down from last year’s career-high of 11.2, Rondo has improved his shooting and is averaging near career-highs with 13.6 points per game while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. Needless to say, he is a vital part to the Celtics on offense.
So, when the rumors recently broke about a possible Rondo for Pau Gasol deal being discussed, the logistics just didn’t seem all that logical.
Sure, trading for Gasol would mean that the Celtics are adding a big man to a team desperately in need of a powerful post presence, but is Gasol really that type of interior presence the team is looking for? Better yet, do the Celtics even get better with Gasol on board?
The easy answer to these questions is no. But while the answer seems easy to most loyal Boston fans, it’s also justified.
At this point in his career, Rajon Rondo is simply a better all-around player than Gasol. Gasol still scores and rebounds at a very high level, certainly something the Celtics are in need of, but he isn’t an elite defender like Rondo and his passing abilities are far inferior.
Rondo has always had his limitations on the court and for some time was even seen as more harm than help on offense. But the 25-year-old point guard has continually improved his offensive game — primarily his shooting touch — and has progressed to the point of being widely considered as one of the best guards in basketball.
Things have seemingly come a lot easier for Gasol over the years. The 7-foot Spaniard has been regarded as an elite big man since almost the first time he stepped on an NBA floor. After being selected third overall in the 2001 draft, Gasol had an immediate impact on the floor for the Grizzlies by averaging 17.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game as a rookie.
Over his next five seasons in Memphis (2002 to 2008), Gasol only improved his game even more, becoming a better defender and improving his passing skills to the point of being considered a triple-threat option with the ball in his hands. Now in his 11th year in the NBA, though, Gasol seems to have lost even a half a step.
While Rondo’s offensive numbers continue to rise, Gasol’s seem to be heading in the opposite direction. This season Rondo is averaging three points more than his 10.6 per game total of 2011, but Gasol is scoring 16.4 points a night, still more than two points less than his 18.8 total of last year. The shooting percentages are moving in the same directions. Gasol and Rondo are shooting about the same (50.3 percent), which for Rondo is a step in the right direction wheras for Gasol it’s a step back.
Then of course, to build even more on those opposing trends, comes the ever important age factor. Pau Gasol will turn 32 years old at the end of this season. Rajon Rondo, on the other hand, is nearly six years younger and won’t even turn 26 until later this month. Gasol is simply on the wrong side of 30 and his numbers just don’t prove to be all that much superior to those Kevin Garnett is already giving you from the power forward spot.
The “win now” claim does make sense in terms of at least listening to and considering this trade, especially given the aging core of the Big 3. But to give the deal much more than a listening ear would honestly be foolish for Danny Ainge and Celtics.
As the Celtics prepare to move on from the Big 3 era, Rajon Rondo will be a key in attracting big-name free agents and is a solid chip to build a roster around. Pierce should be around for another few seasons and is even making a case that he will be able to play at this high level through the remaining life of his contract.
Speaking of contracts, by taking Gasol back in the deal, the Celtics would actually be increasing their already luxury-taxed payroll. Gasol is signed for the next three years at nearly $19 million per season. Meanwhile, Rondo still holds a cap-friendly figure of just $11 million and even when the thought of extension approaches in a few season he likely won’t then approach Gasol money.
To be completely candid, Rondo is simply a better and more versatile player than Pau Gasol at this point in their careers. It’s not to say that Ainge shouldn’t pick up the phone and listen to offers for the franchise point guard, but to ship out arguably the future of your franchise for an aging forward seems ludicrous.
His defensive skills have even been compared to five-time All-Defensive First Team and former Celtics’ great Dennis Johnson, while his court vision has often been likened to that of two-time MVP Steve Nash. And while the NBA is full of talented young point guards right now, arguably none see the court better than Rondo.
A future in Boston based around the talents of Pau Gasol is by no means a woeful scenario, but one focused around the talents of a potential Hall of Fame point guard like Rondo seems to offer far better prospects moving forward.