Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard Trade More Than Far-Fetched, But Fun to Think About

Dwight Howard, Rajon RondoOK, Internet. This is your time. Less than one full week remains before the NBA trade deadline, and now is the time when all semblance of sanity flies out of the window. So-called “anonymous sources” are about to work overtime.

Even by the usual crazy standards of trade deadline season, though, Friday’s report that the Celtics and Lakers had engaged in preliminary talks for a swap of Rajon Rondo for Dwight Howard caused tremors. The possibility of the two biggest rivals in the game exchanging their best players under the age of 30 is a shocking development, even if Rondo is out for the season with a torn ligament in his right knee and Howard has played well below his capabilities all season.

So, go crazy with this one. Shut down the servers that support the ESPN Trade Machine and tweet your availability either to drive Rondo to the airport or to drive Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge off a pier, depending on how this trade sounds to the diehards. Just keep in mind that there is close to zero likelihood of such a deal every getting pulled off, for numerous reasons.

Howard-for-Rondo could not be a straight-up trade. As you may have noticed, the Celtics do not have a ton of extra healthy bodies sitting around. The season-ending injuries to Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa have left the Celtics with 10 active players, and very few options to add reinforcements. Trading for Howard would exacerbate this problem, since the Lakers center makes more than $19.5 million and Rondo makes $11 million. The Celtics would have to add at least one other player to the package to make the salaries match up, per the collective bargaining agreement, and the Celtics’ depth would be dealt another blow.

Both teams are over the luxury tax line and have other payroll limitations. Bolstering the roster is not as simple as the Celtics signing the top two or three players available. Ainge was aggressive last offseason, going right up to the luxury tax line of just over $70 million in building a team that was “scary” deep, in captain Paul Pierce‘s words. The Lakers flew way past that line, soaking up more than $100 million in salaries.

So why can’t the Celtics just sell the farm for Howard and ask co-owners Wyc Grousbeck and Stephen Pagliuca to dig into their pockets and follow the Lakers’ lead? Because Jason Terry‘s contract restricts it. By signing the 35-year-old guard to the full $5 million mid-level exception, the Celtics agreed to stay below a $74.3 million curtain in payroll. Whatever collection of players the Celtics trade away, they would most likely have to fill those roster spots with D-Leaguers or players currently plying their trades in international leagues.

Both teams would be admitting defeat, in a sense. Getting a sidelined point guard would confirm  the critics’ claims that this is a lost year for the Lakers. Acquiring a beleaguered center who is playing like a shell of his former self would mean the end of an era in Boston. At present, the Celtics have more than $71.5 million in payroll obligations for next season — with only 10 players signed. That puts them over the presumptive luxury tax threshold with one-third of their roster still empty. The CBA would grant the Celtics some benefits in trying to re-sign Howard, such as offering an extra year and greater raises from year to year, but they would have to make significant changes to the rest of the roster. Say goodbye to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who are due more than $27 million combined next year. The former would need to retire or the latter would need to be let go with his partially guaranteed deal in order for Boston to afford Howard. Even then, the payroll would be bloated and the roster less than two-thirds full.

Both teams say they do not want to do the trade. They have not said so in those specific words, but we can infer their intentions from other words and actions. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has said he will not trade Howard this season, so there’s that. Ainge would not trade for Howard unless he was given assurance that Howard would sign with the Celtics, according to the report, and the last two years have taught every team not to hold its breath on such an assurance from No. 12.

Ainge does this stuff all the time. Few executives are as aggressive and diligent as the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. Back in January the “preliminary” discussions involved DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings. Now they reportedly involve Howard and the Lakers. This is called Ainge doing his J-O-B. He is picking up the phone, either to place the call or answer the ring from L.A. or wherever, to try to hammer out a way to make his team better. Most of the time, the preliminary talks go nowhere. Getting one’s panties in a bunch over Ainge holding “preliminary” trade discussions is like getting excited when my one-year-old smears mashed potatoes in her hair — this is just what they do, all the time.

(Likewise, anybody disparaging Ken Berger for originally reporting these trade discussions is just as misguided. Berger did not write that a deal was imminent or even likely. He merely relayed some interesting information — which we know was interesting because lots of people read that story and because you are reading a story written about that story, right now — that he gathered in his hard work as a reporter. One can break down how realistic the proposed trade is without attacking the messenger.)

This. Courtesy of NBA.com’s David Aldridge:

Have a ball with this rumor, folks. It is your right as an Internet people, and now is the time when virtually no trade proposal is off limits.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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