It is painful to watch Russell Westbrook try to take games over by himself with James Harden and Kevin Durant on his team. Oklahoma City could use a pass-first point guard.
Oklahoma City wasn’t interested in that deal last fall, but it is time to re-open the Westbrook for Rondo talk. The deal, at its core, benefits both teams.
When the Thunder rejected this deal last fall, its team was in a different place.
James Harden wasn’t the proven scorer that he is now. In 2010-2011 he averaged 12.2 points per game, shot 34.9 percent from beyond the arc and made 43.6 percent of all his field goal attempts.
The 2012 campaign was a big step forward for Harden. He earned the Sixth Man Award and improved his offensive output to 16.8 points per game, shooting percentage to 49.1 percent and three-point percentage to 39.
Harden appears primed to take another step forward in the 2012-2013 campaign.
He still forces his shot too much on a team with Kevin Durant, a three-time NBA scoring champion, and Harden.
If the Thunder were to acquire a pass-first point guard with Rondo’s skill set it would be a huge success. Look what Rondo was able to do the previous five seasons with the Celtics.
Who would benefit more from a deal premised around swapping Rajon Rondo for Russell Westbrook?
His assists per game have increased each of the previous five seasons starting at 5.1 in 2007-2008 to 11.7 in 2012.
Yes, his three-point shooting is still terrible (23.8 percent last season) and his jump shot needs work in general. But on a team like Oklahoma City, with two standout scorers like Harden and Durant, Rondo doesn’t necessarily need to score consistently.
What Oklahoma City needs is a point guard who can run the offense and set up playmaking opportunities for Durant and Harden. That’s why many called for Oklahoma City to attempt to acquire Paul, who has a better offensive game than Rondo, last offseason when New Orleans looked to move him.
A prime example of a game where Oklahoma City could have used a pass-first point guard like Rondo was in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Hall of Fame point guard Magic Johnson called Westbrook “the worst point guard in the Finals I’ve ever seen,” after his performance that night.
Westbrook shot 10-of-26 (38.5 percent) from the floor and 33 percent from deep in Game 2. Many of his shots were forced and he faced two or three defenders at the rim.
That type of performance doesn't come from Rondo, often. It isn't his style of play. He looks to get others involved first rather than create for himself—although Ray Allen might say otherwise.
Occasionally the Thunder would need Rondo to get his on the offensive end. Something Rondo has shown the ability to do since last season. Just look at his performance in Game 2 against the Miami Heat. He scored 44 points in 53 minutes of action. He went two-for-two from deep and 10-of-12 from the free-throw line.
Rondo has the ability to take the ball to the hoop but often cannot because defenders sit back and force him to shoot his marginal jumper.
Money is a big issue for Oklahoma City these days as it toys with the idea of dealing Harden because it fears it may be unable to sign him. Rondo's contract calls for, on average, $11 million to come his way the next two seasons. Westbrook's contract calls for, on average, $16 million to him for the next five seasons.
Five million dollars may not be the difference in retaining Harden, but every little bit helps.
From Boston’s point of view
The “Big Three” died this offseason in Boston with Ray Allen's departure to the Miami Heat.
Paul Pierce turns 35 in October. Kevin Garnett turned 36 in May. The clock is ticking on the careers of those two future Hall-of-Fame players.
With Pierce’s 19.4 and Garnett’s 15.8 points expected to leave basketball in the near future it is time for the Celtics to think about their future.
Rondo will not be the playmaker he is today if he isn’t surrounded by natural scorers.
As previously mentioned his jump shot needs plenty of work, and he hasn’t shown the ability to score 20-plus points on a consistent basis (in part because he hasn’t had to with the Big Three there).
Which team would need to give up more if this deal were to happen?
Enter Westbrook stage right.
Westbrook’s style of play screams for him to have “his own” team some day. Clearly Durant is the man in Oklahoma City. As long as those two are together one or both of them will have to tone down their offensive game.
The former UCLA Bruin is the type of guard who can create his own shot and get to the rim with ease. As ESPN’s Chris Broussard put it here, Westbrook is not the point guard he's listed as in a program. He is just a guard.
Westbrook could co-exist with Pierce and Garnett while they wind down their careers, with Westbrook in position to be “the man” once those two call it quits.
Boston was interested in this deal before the 2011-2012 season when it still had its Big Three intact. Its desire to acquire Westbrook will only have grown with the departure of Allen.
Whether this deal happens depends on if Oklahoma City is ready to be honest with itself and acknowledge that it cannot keep Westbrook and Durant long-term, without Westbrook changing his style of play, if it wants to be anything more than an NBA Finals runner-up.