The big story out of the NBA on Saturday was simple—after finding a taker for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (Brooklyn Nets), the Boston Celtics suddenly starting popping up in trade rumors about the last big piece from their 2008 championship roster.
The player? Rajon Rondo. The price? Too high for the Dallas Mavericks to match.
Dallasbasketball.com's Mike Fisher broke the news on Saturday that the Celtics and Mavericks were discussing a deal that would send the All-Star point guard to Big D before the start of the 2013-14 regular season:
But, as Fisher's report for Scout.com noted, and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports posted shortly after, the rumor started gaining some steam. The C's need the Mavs to meet them in the middle when it comes to being a salary-dump landing spot for the contract currently on the Boston roster:
Mavs would love having Rajon Rondo to chase Dwight Howard, but Boston needs Dallas to take multiple contracts off its books, sources say.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 29, 2013
Wojnarowski later reported the question of the hour for Dallas:
As http://t.co/RaBdzfDk2O says, Celts/Mavs talked some Rondo. Celtics like Larkin, but how do Mavs take contracts and keep space for Howard?— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) June 29, 2013
It's no secret that the Celtics are in full-blown rebuild mode, but that doesn't mean the Mavericks need to sacrifice the cap flexibility they've saved over the past two offseasons to land Rondo and virtually nothing else in the free-agent market.
To understand what the Mavericks might have to take on, here's a breakdown of what a potential C's-Mavs trade might look like without a third team involved:
|Boston Receives||Dallas Receives|
|SF Shawn Marion (pending ETO)||PG Rajon Rondo|
|SG Vince Carter||PF Brandon Bass|
|PG Shane Larkin||SG Courtney Lee|
|Future second-round pick ||SF/PF Gerald Wallace|
Wallace, of course, would be coming from Brooklyn via Boston in the proposed trade that would send KG and Pierce to the Nets in exchange for Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and others.
He's owed roughly $30 million over the course of the next three years, and although Boston is receiving three future first-round picks in the deal from Brooklyn, it's clear it wants to clear as much cap space as possible to start over.
Lee ($10.6 million from 2013 to 2015) and Bass ($13.7 million from 2013 to 2015) have to be the deal-breaker for Dallas, which can't sacrifice that much cap space and expect Dwight Howard to come to town without either signing and trading someone to L.A.
Larkin acts as a potential, inexpensive replacement for Rondo and is a player who would be quite interesting in two-guard sets with current C's guard Avery Bradley. Marion would have to opt-in to the final year of his roughly $9 million contract to be traded, while Carter is in the final year of his deal.
Dallas can't offer the Celtics any future draft picks other than the second-round variety in any deal—a side effect of the failed Lamar Odom trade. That pick (traded to Houston by the Los Angeles Lakers and then Oklahoma City by the Rockets) is protected, but as ESPN's Tim MacMahon notes, limits Dallas from sending a future first to help sweeten the pot.
All along, Dallas has preparing for a run at Howard.
D12 is expected to test the free-agent market after an up-and-down season in L.A. this year, and Dallas is reportedly at or near the top of his wish list yet again. The Mavs were also mentioned as a player in the Howard sweepstakes at the trade deadline in 2012 and again last summer, before he was ultimately dealt to the Lakers in a four-team trade.
But the Mavericks were unwavering in their commitment to "keeping the powder dry," a phrase you'll hear a lot on the local airwaves in Dallas.
That commitment started in 2011, when Dallas made the tough decision to let title contributors Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler and J.J. Barea all walk away in free agency. Heck, even DeShawn Stevenson sought employment elsewhere as Dallas looked to fill the roster with players not looking to cash in big.
Some of those contracts have worked out (Brandan Wright, Vince Carter) and others (O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman) have been the byproduct of a market that has not lent itself to teams not willing to spend.
Get Howard this summer, though, and everything Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have been working for will be vindicated.
Which player should the Mavericks target first?
According to ESPN's MacMahon, Dirk Nowitzki reached out to the Lakers big man earlier this offseason, fueling rumors that he's going to have a tough time deciding on whether or not his future is in L.A. (which includes more money) or either Texas or Georgia (which include face-of-the-franchise status).
The future is riding on Howard's decision this offseason, and Dallas would be foolish to add Rondo before that decision is made—even if the flashy point guard is himself an All-Star who would fill a huge gap in the Dallas lineup.
As the discussions continue, don't expect anything to happen until Howard makes a decision. Even still, if the discussion is centering around this pair of tweets from ESPN's Marc Stein, nothing is going to happen on the Dallas-Boston front:
Mavs undeniably fans of Rondo, as @fishsports reported, but "trade talks" to this point have gone nowhere because Celts want only one Mav— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 29, 2013
Mavs: We're interested in Rondo. Celts: We want Dirk. So: More teams gotta jump in or Boston gotta budge for meaningful talks to take place— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) June 29, 2013
If something was to happen, Dallas would be wise not to hemorrhage its future by adding all these two- and three-year contracts—it's exactly the kind of contract situation that the Mavs tried to avoid by not signing Chandler, Butler and Barea two offseasons ago.
After the Howard hammer comes down, then maybe Dallas can talk about what Rondo in a Dallas uniform would look like. If he's gone by then, no big deal—at least you didn't put all your eggs in a shinier basket before the one you've been chasing for two years picks a new suitor.
Follow Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.