When the Dallas Mavericks re-signed All-Star forward and arguably the best player in team history Dirk Nowitzki; re-acquired center Tyson Chandler and signed back guard J.J. Barea off waivers, both of whom helped the Mavs win their first ever title four years ago and signed or acquired key role players like Richard Jefferson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Charlie Villanueva and Raymond Felton, they made it no secret they wanted to contend for another championship. So far, the team has played pretty well this season in the tough Western Conference with a 20-9 record. Still, the team was missing another key component, a top notch lead guard. They took care of that last week.
The Mavericks acquired All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo (8.4 ppg, 10.7 apg-leads NBA, 7.3 rpg) and forward Dwight Powell from the Boston Celtics. The Celtics received guards Jameer Nelson and Jae Crowder, forward Brandan Wright, a 2015 conditional first round draft pick; 2016 second round pick and a $12.9 million trade exception last Thursday.
“Obviously I’m excited to be here, coming from a great situation in Boston and very thankful for all the things they did for me and the fan base, but I’m ready to start a new chapter here as a Dallas Maverick,” Rondo said at his introductory press conference on Friday night.
“There obviously a championship caliber team with the players they have on their roster. Their style of play. Coach [Rick Carlisle] is just a guy that doesn’t control much of the game. He lets the players make the plays.”
The addition of Rondo, a four-time All-Star and NBA champion gives the Mavericks a true floor general who can truly run a team as good as any lead guard in the business. He is a one man fast break, who can grab a defensive rebound and in the blink of an eye can at the offensive end in a matter of seconds.
Rondo is the league leader in triple-doubles over the last three seasons reaching double-digits in points, rebounds and assists nine times in 90 games. Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star forward Kevin Durant is second in that time frame with six in 170 games and so is Chicago Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah with that same number in 163 games. Tied for third is four-time MVP LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers with five in 176 games and swingman of the Charlotte Hornets Lance Stephenson who had five in 181 games.
Above all else he knows how to win, as helped the Celtics along with Kevin Garnett, now with the Brooklyn Nets; Paul Pierce, now the Washington Wizards and All-Star guard Ray Allen to the title in 2008 over the Los Angeles Lakers in six games and back to The Finals in 2010, where the Lakers defeated the Celtics in seven games.
Along with the physical tools that Rondo will bring to the Mavericks, he will bring something that they have not had since the departure of Jason Kidd four years ago, a guy with a high basketball I.Q.
That alone will make the Mavericks an even better offensive team, which they were darn good before the trade leading the league in scoring (110.1) and field goal percentage (48.1%) and seventh in assists (23.6) per contest.
In his first game as a Maverick, he had modest numbers of six points, seven boards and nine assists in Dallas’ 99-93 come from behind win against the San Antonio Spurs (18-11), who played without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. The Mavs also snapped a 10-game skid to the Spurs.
“It was a long day. I went through a lot of plays this morning and before the game. Shot a couple of hours before the game twice,” Rondo said after the game.
“For the most part, it was fun. I had a great time with my new teammates and the most important thing is that we got the win.”
A closer look at the numbers though, three of Rondo’s nine dimes came on three three-pointers by starting backcourt mate Monta Ellis, who had 13 of his of game-high 38 points in the fourth quarter.
“He was great. He’s still got to get the feel for it, but he did a wonderful job of finding guys,” Ellis, who went 15 for 23 from the floor, including 5 for 6 from three-point range said after the game.
One big concern the Mavs had about adding Rondo to their roster was how would he and t last season’s prized free agent signing Monta Ellis co-exist.
Ellis, the Mavs leading scoring at 21.1, assists man at 4.5 and steals at 1.7 said to Cuban before he pulled the trigger on the deal, “Dude plays hard. Get him here.”
Ellis was very complementary about Rondo after the win versus the Spurs this past Saturday.
“He made plays for others. He really loosened up the defense and we was able to knock shots down.”
The rest of the Mavericks feel the same way the addition of Rondo makes the Mavericks a serious championship contender.
“I think he’s one of the top point guards in this game. He understands what it takes to win. He going to have a bunch of weapons around him. He’ll be great for us defensively,” Chandler said last week.
“Mark has made it clear that he was dedicated to building a championship team and this is a prime example of him executing that and taking one more step closer to that,” Parsons, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds in Rondo’s debut last Saturday night.
“I think any trade in the middle of a season is always a little of a risk. Always a little bit of a gamble, but if you can bring in a talent of that caliber, you got to do it,” Nowitzki, the 2011 Finals MVP said last week.
That vote of confidence will not be just important for the rest of this season, but for the future. Rondo is an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and how the Mavericks fair this season will go a long way in determining if the team has their floor general for years to come. Cuban, who finalized the deal in the “Green Room” of The Finale of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” with Stephen Colbert last week made that point clear at the press conference.
“Were past the days of renting a player. We want him to be here a long time. I think with any of our guys that come in, we want to earn his desire to stay here,” Cuban said.
“We got to convince him that he wants to be here because we’ll want him.”
In talking with Celtics’ head coach Brad Stevens and general manager Danny Ainge leading up to the trade, Carlisle found out from them that Rondo is a relentless worker, a winner and one of the best competitors they have ever been around. Some of the same traits that Kidd, now the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks had.
“There are definite similarities, but they’re different players. Rajon’s are different. He has a different style,” Carlisle said at Rondo’s introductory press conference this past Friday night.
“I see him as a guy who hasn’t reached his ceiling as a player as good as he’s been.”
His competitive spirit and will to win are two main reasons Rondo draws comparisons to Kidd, who was the lead guard on the Mavericks title team back in 2011 when they defeated the Miami Heat in The Finals 4-2.
The Mavericks will need all of that from Rondo and then some, especially since he will be contending with some of the best point guards in the West night in and night out like Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers; Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors; Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies; Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs; Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans; Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder; Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers to name a few.
Besides being able to hold his own against the opposing team’s lead guard, Rondo will also have to be a more effective offensive players for the Mavericks.
So far this season, Rondo is shooting just 39.8 percent from the field and just 33.3 percent from the free throw line.
In his aforementioned debut this past Saturday night, Rondo went just 3 for 11 from the field and missed his lone free throw attempt. He had a solid game of 13 points, 11 assists and three steals in the Mavs 105-102 loss to the surging Atlanta Hawks (20-7) on Monday night, but shot just 6 for 15 from the floor.
Those are shooting numbers that are going to have to improve, especially when the Mavs play stiffer competition, which are expected to be close and tight games.
Rondo must also get back to being that pesky, get right after you defensive player that he was in the early part of his career with the Celtics, prior to the torn ACL he sustained back in Jan. 2013.
That would go a long way in helping the Mavericks improve at that end of the floor, where they are 23rd in points allowed (102.5); tied for 16th in opponent field goal percentage at 45.7 percent and 28th in three-point percentage allowed (38.8 percent).
After holding the Spurs, granted without some of their mainstays, to just 41.6 percent shooting for the game and to just 16 points in the fourth quarter this past Saturday, the Mavericks gave up 49.4 percent shooting in the aforementioned three-point setback to the Hawks.
When this season began, the Dallas Mavericks were in the conversation of being a contender in the Western Conference. With the acquisition of Rondo, they are a serious contender. Whether they are better than the Warriors, Grizzlies, Clippers, Spurs and Thunder to name a few remains to be scene. One thing is for sure, the Mavs are all in to win it all this and Rondo feels he is the missing piece to make that dream a reality.
“I feel like we can win any game. Fortunate enough to play with future Hall of Famers and great teams and a coach in [Glenn] ‘Doc’ Rivers. To get back to that situation, being able to play with future Hall of Famers. A great coach and a team that’s ready to contend for a title, I’m fired up and ready to go,” Rondo said.Information, quotes and statistics are courtesy of www.espn.go.com/nba; 12/18/14 6 p.m. edition of ESPN’s “Sportscenter” with Lindsay Czarniak and Matt Barrie; 12/19/14 7:30 p.m. edition of “NBA Countdown” on ESPN with Sage Steele, Mark Jackson and Jalen Rose; 12/20/14 1 a.m. edition of “NBA Tonight” on ESPN 2 with Cassidy Hubbarth and P.J. Carlesimo; 12/20/14 3 a.m. edition of NBATV’s “Gametime” with Rick Kamla; 12/21/14 8:30 a.m. edition of “NBA Tonight” on ESPN 2 with Cassidy Hubbarth and P.J. Carlesimo.