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Why Rajon Rondo, Not Rudy Gay, Would Be Ideal Trade Target for Detroit Pistons

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Why Rajon Rondo, Not Rudy Gay, Would Be Ideal Trade Target for Detroit Pistons
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Front-office sage Masai Ujiri may be doing the Detroit Pistons a favor. 

Should Rajon Rondo ever wind up in Detroit, look to this moment, to Masai Ujiri as the catalyst behind the Pistons' return to the NBA playoffs.

According to Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Detroit offered the Toronto Raptors the expiring contracts of Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva in exchange for Rudy Gay.

Contrary to what the Rudy-Gay-is-overrated crowd believes, the proposed trade isn't a bad deal at all for the Pistons. Joe Dumars has orchestrated far more dismal transactions (Charlie Villanueva's contract, for one). 

Too often we're told to look at Gay's 18 points per game for his career and nothing else. Never mind that he hasn't shot better than 42.5 percent from the field the last two seasons, just look at those 18 points a night he'll provide.

As the NBA sphere got smarter, hoping the league's general managers had a look-how-shiny attention span became implausible. Most knew better.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Gay isn't as good a fit for the Pistons as Rondo.

Bryan Colangelo wasn't one of them. Toronto shipped out assets like Jose Calderon and Ed Davis in favor of assuming the final two to three years on Gay's contract.

The trade wasn't difficult to sell, though. Toronto needed a star and Gay's propensity for scoring (look how shiny) meant he was a star. His arrival infused a sense of excitement into a franchise that had been rebuilding since forever before Chris Bosh left.

Acquiring Gay made sense—for a team that was committed to overpaying for mediocrity.

Now, back to Detroit's most recent pursuit of Gay.

Landing him would fill a need at small forward and enable the Pistons to make a run at a playoff berth for the first time in almost a half-decade. What he wouldn't do is make them a championship contender, or even close to one, and that's fine.

Only two years remain on Gay's deal. Two turns to one if he declines his player option and explores free agency next summer. Either way, the Pistons wouldn't have to commit to him for much longer.

Worst-case scenario, they spend the next two years lining Gay's pockets with a little over $36 million and make the playoff race in the Eastern Conference a little more interesting. All the while, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe would be developing and the Pistons would be searching for the point guard of the future who would tie everything together.

From where Detroit is currently standing, that's a pretty sweet deal. Ujiri thought so, too, and proceeded to rebuff Detroit's lukewarm overtures, according to the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat.

There are a few things to take away here.

First, Ujiri isn't sold on that whole all-Andrew-Wiggins-everything schtick us ever-colluding minds have been soapbox-preaching about (not yet anyway). Secondly, Ujiri also isn't about to allow his Raptors to get fleeced in any deal for the sake of savings and at the cost of accelerating another team's rebuild. 

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Dumars owes Ujiri a thank you.

Finally, Ujiri may have done Dumars and the Pistons one of the greatest services possible.

Not trading for Gay leaves Detroit with the necessary assets to engage the Boston Celtics in trade talks for their All-Star point guard. Per CBS Sports' Ken Berger, Rondo is a target that has caught the Pistons' attention.

And why not? He's a point guard, the Pistons need a point guard. He can run the pick-and-roll as well as any floor general, Drummond and Monroe need a little rolling direction down low. Detroit's heralded as the Motor City, Rondo presumably drives a car.

It's perfect, almost too good to be true.

Ujiri has given the Pistons the gift of maybe. Had they traded for Gay, any and all Rondo pursuits would have been moot. Short of handing Drummond or Monroe themselves to the Celtics, they wouldn't have been able to present the Celtics with an offer worthy of Danny Ainge not setting himself ablaze. 

To be clear, moving on from Gay doesn't guarantee anything. Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe reported that Ainge has no intention of dealing Rondo (or Jeff Green or Avery Bradley).

“We have had calls," Ainge said. "On Jeff [Green], on Courtney [Lee], on Brandon [Bass], on Rondo, on Jared [Sullinger], on our draft pick, Kelly [Olynyk]— there’s been calls for all those guys. And maybe the assumption is we are just changing everybody. But we’re not.”

That's cute. It really is. The Celtics wouldn't love to move the remaining three years on Courtney Lee's deal? Funny. Next thing you know, Ainge will be singing Gerald Wallace's praises, calling him a cornerstone for the future.

General managers lie. Don't even bother checking your anonymous sources, because it's true. My own sources told me so, and they're not anonymous.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Gay is good, just not Rondo good.

They're names? Common sense and the path from rumor to actual transaction every trade ever has taken.

Ainge may not be actively shopping Rondo, but few players in the league are truly untouchable, and Rondo simply isn't one of them.

Offering the expiring pacts of Stuckey and Villanueva aren't likely to get a deal done on Detroit's behalf. Multiple draft picks and perhaps a taker for Lee's contract and/or Wallace's contract will be must. But so long as the Pistons have the framework of an offer, it's possible. Thankfully. 

Gay isn't going to lead the Pistons back to contention. I'd be surprised if Detroit's own brass wasn't prepared to admit to it. Figuring on him being more than a two-year stopgap for the Pistons is unrealistic. Ask the Memphis Grizzlies' new front office contingent, they'll tell you. Lionel Hollins might even be willing to cop to it at this point (especially if it gets him a job).

Rondo, on the other hand, is an actual long-term solution. His impact on the Boston's oft-anemic offense has been criticized these last few years, and the Celtics actually averaged more points per 100 possessions with him off the floor this past season. But he's the real deal.

The real deal.

A point man's job is to elevate the (offensive) play of his teammates. Boston has ranked in the bottom half of the league's offensive ratings the last three seasons and has been in the bottom 10 the last two. 

Some tend to look to the Celtics' aging core as the result of their offensive decline, yet it would have been Rondo's job to cover that up. And he did.

Would Kevin Garnett look so appealing on the offensive end if Rondo hadn't been there to create open jumpers off his dribble penetration? Paul Pierce also—perhaps he doesn't age as gracefully if Rondo isn't Rondo.

Doc Rivers' offense has never followed the most exciting of blueprints, either. Rondo was always guilty of not pushing the ball enough, but on so many occasions it was by design.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

All of which isn't to say Rondo is perfect. Like any player who isn't named LeBron James, he's flawed. Holding on to the ball for too long, over-dribbling, an inconsistent jump shot and a questionable level of coachability are all demons lurking in the front part of his closet, ready to ambush those who come too close at a moment's notice.

Still, he's an All-Star. Four times, actually. And he's on a reasonable contract that pays him $25 million over the next two years. The phrases "reoccurring All-Star" and "reasonable contract" aren't applicable when speaking in reference to Gay.

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At a lesser cost and next to an actual superstar, he's a good fit. As the player who will be tasked with leading the team into a future that must consist of title contention, he's not. Simple as that.

Were Ujiri to agree to that proposed deal, the Pistons wouldn't be any worse off immediately. They would, however, miss out on a potential opportunity to successfully target one of the most crafty playmakers in the league.

 

Don't mistake any optimism as fact. Clad with a new head coach, the Celtics may not opt to entertain offers for Rondo.

Even if they do, the Pistons may not be able to assemble the best package. Or maybe they will. Maybe the Celtics (or Rondo himself) will put the point man on the block. Maybe the Pistons will then put together the most convincing deal. Maybe it all works out in their favor, just maybe.

Interestingly enough, the Pistons have explored possibly landing both Gay and Rondo, which would certainly give them a formidable tandem.

For now, there's no word whether or not Boston is interested in moving their star point guard.

Whatever the outcome, the Pistons owe it to themselves to forget about Gay and devote their attentions to Rondo. Maybe, if they're lucky, quite possibly trading for Rondo means more than actually obtaining another player who will never get them where they want to be.

 

  

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