Dallas moves into title contender status with addition of Rajon Rondo

47 Comments

This says everything about the Western Conference:

Dallas just pulled off a brilliant trade for Rajon Rondo, one that improves their defense and gives them a big upgrade at the point guard spot. Yet the best you can say about them now is “this makes them one of the five or six teams that could make the Finals out of the conference.”

However, at least now they are in that conversation now.

Thursday Dallas traded Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, a future first (heavily protected) and a future second round pick to Boston for Rajon Rondo. The deal became official Thursday night.

It was a smart move by Dallas, the kind of aggressive move you should expect from a Mark Cuban team.

Dallas has been one of the teams in the West that was very good — they are 19-8, which is a 58 win pace for the season — and yet was clearly a notch below the elite in the conference. They were 0-5 against the rest of the West’s Top 7 and even Dirk Nowitzki admitted they didn’t really look like contenders.

Rondo can change that.

I can hear the critics now — but he can’t shoot! The Mavericks just traded for a point guard who can’t consistently knock down jumpers and three pointers. You go under the pick on Rondo, you let him shoot (except from the left elbow. Here’s his shot chart for this season.

source:

All of that is moot — Dallas doesn’t need him to shoot.

This situation is a lot more like the 2008 Celtics for Rondo — he has three guys around him who can shoot and space the floor, including a 7-footer who will draw other bigs out of the paint. Like with those contending Celtics all he needs to do is draw in the defense and set them up, and that’s what Rondo does well. He is a fantastic ball handler who can get in the lane but when he does he looks to pass first — now he has legit options.

Look at it this way: Rondo leads the league in assists setting up Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, what is he going to look like setting up Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Chandler Parsons? Plus he loves to probe and pass off the pick-and-roll, and now he gets great picks and a good roll-man in Tyson Chandler with real shooters spreading the floor for him. All this makes Rondo just that much more dangerous on offense. He’ll get points but he doesn’t have to carry the scoring load, just orchestrate those who can. And he’ll be getting play designs from the best Xs and Os coach in the game in Rick Carlisle (with all due respect to that guy in San Antonio).

Dallas already has the best offense in the NBA this season — that’s not the end of the court Rondo really helps the most.

Rondo is also a massive defensive upgrade over Nelson. Rondo is long, athletic and a fantastic on-ball defender that gives Dallas a real stopper on the perimeter. Pair that with Chandler as a rim protector and Dallas will move from its current 20th in the league defensively closer to the top 10.

Is it enough? Who knows in the West. Golden State is legit (if Andrew Bogut is healthy). Memphis is legit. The Spurs will likely be back to being the Spurs by the playoffs. The Oklahoma City Thunder are themselves again. The Clippers have holes but also boatloads of talent at key spots and are in the mix if they defend.

Now Dallas can sit down at the big-boy table, too — Rondo puts them there. They have a chance.

As a Mavericks fan, that’s all you can ask.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

Getty Images
4 Comments

Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
2 Comments

This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.