Pacers In Market For Rajon Rondo

If you would have asked me what I thought the least likely trade rumor to pop up after the lockout ended would be, I would have said anything involving Rajon Rondo. I figured that with a shortened season, the Celtics would be all-in for their final go round and their core group would give them a leg up on teams that will be doing some major shape shifting over the next few weeks. But now it seems like Rajon Rondo has seen his last days as a Boston Celtic. There are tons of rumors floating around, including both past and present offers.

The past offer is perhaps the most telling. ESPN reported that Danny Ainge offered the Oklahoma City Thunder Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo for Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins after the playoffs last season. Whether that was Ainge realizing how much Perk had meant to his team or attempting to catch Sam Presti in a vulnerable state after he watched Westbrook and Kevin Durant play to each others weaknesses in the playoffs, the fact that Rondo was included in the offer is telling.

Once the lockout ended, the first rumor to come out was that the Celtics weren’t shopping Rondo but they would be open to trading him if the right offer came their way. Within a day that changed to: BOSTON WANTS CHRIS PAUL AND WILL TRADE RAJON RONDO FOR HIM. That would be a heck of a deal for Boston and with help of a third team they may be able to hook New Orleans onto that idea as well. That said, Paul has said, or sources say that Paul has said that he won’t sign a contract extension in Boston, which makes sense, making that deal unlikely.

The other team that has been associated with Rondo is the Indiana Pacers. With all the talk of super teams and New York, New Jersey, Miami and Los Angeles, the Pacers may seem a bit out of place, but they are one of the most well run organizations in the league and because of that they are only on the books for $35-37 million for this upcoming season. With so much money to spend and a young core that proved itself as a gritty bunch when they made the playoffs last year and challenged the Bulls, the Pacers do have what it takes to get a Rondo deal done.

It will likely take giving up small forward Danny Granger, who has been the face of the franchise since he was drafted in 2005, but such a move may be worth it for a team like the Pacers. If they were to trade Granger for Rondo, with some other minor pieces and potentially a third team involved as well, their starting five would look something like this Rondo, Brandon Rush, Paul George, Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert. Ok, so that doesn’t look like an elite bunch or anything but don’t forget, they’d still have a large amount of cap space to use. That cap space would grow if they were to amnesty James Posey, who has over $14 million over two years left on his deal. This will kickoff our hypothetical moves.

With the free passing Rondo at the helm of the offense, which was the fifth fastest in the league last season in terms of pace, you’d have to think Nene would be even more intrigued by Indiana. I listed the Pacers as the top option for Nene yesterday prior to the Rondo/Pacer rumors, and replacing a scorer with a passer would only entice Nene more as he’d likely see an even bigger role for the Granger-less Pacers. And if Nene goes elsewhere, guess what: The Pacers are also said to be interested in David West, who is a more natural power forward and would come slightly cheaper. So there’s a plan B here for all that extra cap space.

Ok, so at this point in our hypothetical trail of moves for the Pacers, the depth chart would look like this:

Starters:

Rondo
Rush
George
Nene (or David West)
Hibbert

Bench Players:

Darren Collison
George Hill
A.J. Price
Dahntay Jones
Tyler Hansbrough

Looking at that group, the most glaring needs would be a wing scorer to play the two or the three and they would likely still have a few million to pursue somebody. Brandon Rush is decent but he’s not someone you want starting. Luckily for the Pacers, they have a youngster in Paul George that has scoring instincts and can play either the two or the three, giving them some flexibility with their last big free agent splash.

Jamal Crawford is someone that has already been linked to the Pacers – for some reason, Larry Bird likes his game, which I find amazing – but he may be too expensive at this point. Some of the other wing players that are on the market but probably won’t be asking for as much as Crawford are: LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE, Reggie Williams, Delonte West, Jonas Jerebko and Nick Young. Given the personnel already on our hypothetical roster, Reggie Williams would work, here, so let’s go with him.

Here’s our revised roster:

Starters:

Rondo
Williams
George
Nene (or David West)
Hibbert

Bench Players:

Collison
Hill
Rush
Price
Jones
Hansbrough

Ok, so we’re getting better. At this point, it looks like there are two major issues left: 1) Trading Darren Collison, who won’t want to be a back-up again, and 2) finding another big man or two so Psycho T isn’t the only back-up post.

Trading Collison will be a beneficial move for both sides. He’s a great young talent but Rondo is a better fit for this team and George Hill is a more than capable and willing back-up for Rondo. Perhaps Collison could net a big man, helping out with issue two. For now, we’ll call him Player X. Because the Pacers will be getting West, I really wouldn’t see too much wrong with the team re-signing both Josh McRoberts and Jeff Foster to make them five deep at the center position. There are some other players on the market but these two are familiar with the team and both were effective in their own ways last season. And they both should be reasonably cheap.

So my Pacer makeover would leave the roster looking like this:

Starters:

Rondo
Williams
George
Nene/West
Hibbert

Bench:

Player X
Hill
Rush
Price
Jones (likely not dressing out)
Hansbrough
Foster and/or McRoberts

That’s not a bad team. Not bad at all. Of course, I don’t expect these EXACT scenarios to play out but the point is that if the Pacers pull the trigger on a blockbuster to acquire Rajon Rondo they have some very good options in the free agent market to make themselves even more dangerous than they were last season. So long as they get Rondo and either Nene or David West, look for this Pacers team, which smartly brought back Frank Vogel, to do more than put a scare into their first round playoff opponent.

Where Does Nene Fit Best?

After an off-season that featured the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and many others as top free agents and a regular season that featured mid-season trades involving Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams, entering into the 2011 free agency period with Nene as the top name on the unrestricted free agent market feels a little disappointing – especially since all of the talk right now is about what will happen with Chris Paul and Dwight Howard, whose contracts expire at the end of this season. Then again, to actually write about basketball again is totally awesome, so I won’t complain.

Ken Berger of CBSSports, who absolutely killed it during the lockout, reports that there are six teams interested in signing Nene as soon as free agency starts on December 9th: the Warriors, Nets, Pacers, Mavericks, Heat and Rockets. Each team would have to go through different processes to acquire Nene, like amnestying a player to create cap space (Nets, Warriors), executing a sign-and-trade (Heat, Mavericks, Rockets) or just signing them outright (Pacers).

Berger also says that the Nuggets are operating under the assumption that Nene will be testing them market, so I’m going to operate under the assumption that he won’t be returning to Denver. Nene has been playing center for the Nuggets for the past few seasons but it appears as if he could also slide over and play the power forward as well. Nene is one of the most efficient big men in basketball; he lead the league in field goal percentage last season and ranked 26th overall in PER at 20.49. At least in Denver’s fast paced system, Nene had a case for being one of the five best power forwards in basketball.

However, it’s important to note that he is 29 years old and that he is not worth max money, which is something that some teams seem to be willing to offer. Nene is a great player, but he’s not elite and if he is offered a max deal then you know exactly why we just had a lockout. Anyways, here’s how I think he fits with these six teams.

Dallas Mavericks – Sign and trade

I think that the Mavericks see Nene as a back-up plan in the event that they aren’t able to re-sign center Tyson Chandler, who actually has a pretty good argument for being the top free agent available after his performance in the post-season. Nene sliding to power forward obviously doesn’t work for Dallas because they have Dirk and the Mavericks have already had experience paying their back-up center loads of money and I’m pretty sure they won’t do that again. If Chandler doesn’t re-sign with the Mavericks (which would surprise me), the Mavericks will definitely make a strong push for Nene but I’m not in love with the fit.

I know that some will see it as getting a star to replace a star and calling it a wash but Nene is not as effective defensively and I think they’d be better off saving the money and going after a guy like Carl Landry, who would be much cheaper, to be the team’s fourth big man while using the center combo of Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi. It may sound bad but it would be better than signing Nene to a big deal and then not have him work out, especially with the new CBA. That said, I really don’t expect Chandler to leave so this should all be moot.

Houston Rockets – Sign and trade

Chuck Hayes is hard not to like. The six-foot-six center is Kobe’s height but goes toe-to-toe with the best centers the NBA has to offer on a nightly basis and he has been inexplicably good doing so. He is one of the games best defenders and most under-appreciated players. But it’s time for Houston to get another scoring threat at the center position. Yao Ming’s injuries hurt them severely and now that he has retired from the game, they need to move on. This is one of my favorite teams in the league to watch and Daryl Morey has compiled enough assets over the past few years to make Houston an ideal sign-and-trade partner for every team in the league.

Adding Nene to Houston’s frontline would give the Rockets one of the best big men scoring combos in the league with Luis Scola at power forward. With Kevin McHale as the head coach, who knows what kind of postmove combinations those two may have. The Rockets could offer Denver guys like Hasheem Thabeet, Terrence Williams, Jordan Hill, Patrick Patterson and Courtney Lee. Some combination of those players should be able to get a deal done while still leaving the Rockets with a starting five of Kyle Lowry, Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Scola and Nene with Goran Dragic, Hayes, Jonny Flynn, Marcus Morris and whoever doesn’t get traded left on the bench. That’s not a bad team right there.

Miami Heat – Sign and trade

The Heat were an excellent defensive team last season and they scored when it mattered because of their stars – except in the Finals. I don’t think that they should freak out about not winning the title last season. They made the Finals and I think they would have won had LeBron been himself for half of the series. It’s obviously a bit saddening to look at the big men on their roster with all of them being eligible for AARP benefits but I think point guard is a more pressing issue for this team than center.

No matter how many dropped passes and missed dunks he had, Joel Anthony was an important part of their defense. They could certainly use another center to make sure Erick Dampier and Big Z never touch the floor but Nene would just complicate things. Having four scoring options on the floor at once sounds like a blessing but I don’t think it would work out that well. In addition to that, Miami doesn’t have that many attractive pieces for the Nuggets, unless they want to bring in Eddie House just so he can remind fans of J.R. Smith while he’s off in China.

New Jersey Nets – Amnesty Travis Outlaw

I’m sure the Nets will want to amnesty Travis Outlaw anyways but doing so to sign Nene would seem like a pretty good move. The Nets should be an upcoming team this season with Deron Williams spending his first full season in New Jersey. Kris Kardashian was effective last season but he seems better suited for a reserve role and a three man combo of Williams, Nene and Brook Lopez isn’t awful.

Of course, there would still be problems for the Nets: 1) They will be relying heavily on rookie shooting guard MarShon Brooks if they spend their money on Nene because Anthony Morrow, Sasha Vujacic and Stephen Graham is an awful group of wingmen, and 2) Locking up Nene would also lock up their checkbook for next season when they would have the chance of signing Chris Paul (if Williams left) or Dwight Howard, so staying put makes sense if they feel like they have a shot at those two guys.

You never know what Mikhail Prokhorov will do. He probably has enough money to live with a team that is $100 million over the salary cap. I like the fit on the floor but I’m not sure it leaves them with enough money to fix their backcourt and if they don’t sign him they’d have at least an outside shot at Dwight or CP3 next year, which would obviously be more fruitful.

Golden State Warriors – Amnesty Andris Biedrins or David Lee

I’m not sure if the Warriors have decided on their guard of the future between Stephen Curry or Monta Ellis, or if they’ve decided they can live with both. I’d hope for the latter and if that were the case, adding Nene would be a great move for the Warriors (while amnestying Biedrins). A starting five of Curry, Ellis, Dorell Wright, Lee and Nene is one of the best offensive units in the league – they have outside shooting, capable ballhandlers (which includes Nene), three mid-range threats, one very good driver, two good post-scorers, a deadly pick and roll threat and a great pick and pop player. That’s a pretty diverse group right there.

With Reggie Williams, Klay Thompson and Ekpe Udoh, the Warriors would have a nice eight man rotation with wild cards like Jeremy Lin, Louis Amundson and Acie Law giving five to 10 minutes a night. Golden State presents a very intriguing destination for Nene but as someone that is looking for a spot on a contender, he may not want to sign with a Warriors team that is a year or two away from really competing for a title. That said, he’d get to play in a similar offensive style that he played in with the Nuggets (assuming Mark Jackson doesn’t screw everything up), which is something most of the teams on this list can’t offer him.

Indiana Pacers – Free agent signing

The Pacers are the only team on this list that wouldn’t have to make a per-requistie move to acquire Nene and you have to like the addition he would make in Indiana. The Pacers showed during the playoffs that they are on the up-and-coming. Tyler Hansbrough was certainly a big part of their success against Chicago but you get the feeling that he’d be better off coming in off the bench for 20 minutes a game and unleashing his high energy style of play in that capacity. If Hansbrough were to go back to the bench, Nene would be inserted into a starting line-up of Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert. That may not excite a casual fan but that is a pretty stacked line-up if you asked me.

Much like Golden State, Nene would be a good amount of balance to the offense in Indiana and would finally give the Pacers the post-up threat that they have been trying to make Hibbert into for a couple of years. Though Nene would be the power forward in this situation, I am confident in his ability to guard fours and he’d still bring the variance of pick and pop/roll with Hibbert like he would with David Lee. The thing that would make the Pacers a better fit for Nene than Golden State is that they are already a playoff team and in the less competitive Eastern Conference, he’d have a good shot at the post-season right away. The Pacers also play at a fast pace, they finished at fifth last season per HoopData, and they’d still be surrounding him with a good amount of young talent. Additionally, Danny Granger would finally have that second star on the team to help him carry the load, something I think helps complete the puzzle in Indiana.

Verdict: It is believed that Nene’s top two choices are Dallas and Miami. But with those two teams looking like longshots to sign him, I think the best option for Nene is to sign with the Pacers. They are young, packed with potential and took a large step forward last season when they made it to the playoffs and challenged the Bulls in the first round. I would list the Warriors second for some of the same reasons, only they are a bit further away, and the Rockets third.

The Lockout Is Over! Rejoice!

We’ll have full pre-season coverage here at But The Game Is On. Pre-season previews are being typed up right now and we’ll make them public as soon as the big time free agents find new homes.

For now: Rejoice!

Video: A Lion Becomes A Sacrifice Of Lamb



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But The Game Is On Mix: LeBron James as Scarface


Kobe Remains Most Respected Player In The League

The Los Angeles Times sent a reporter to one of the recent charity games and one question that she asked a few of the guys in the lockerroom was who they thought would win a one-on-one game between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. The overwhelming response was Kobe, with Kevin Durant leading that charge. The lone responder to go with LeBron was John Wall.

How J.J. Hickson Changed The Landscape Of The NBA

I’m not a huge cinema fan. Most of the movies that I like have Will Ferrell in them and I rarely fork out $10 to go see it in theaters.¬† A couple of nights ago I watched Adjustment Bureau, which was chosen because I love watching movies that include at least three shots of Matt Damon walking on a crowded city street. If there was an Academy Award category for something that specific, Matt Damon would have five of them.

Anyways, the premise of the movie is that there is some higher up power that has control of fate and what things are supposed to happen. To avoid giving you a synopsis I’ll just say that the “hook” in the movie is that these special agents travel through doors that take them to other places in the world, creating ripple effects. This got me to thinking about how much one event can effect another. In life, these decisions seem to be obvious. If you buy something, you will lose money. And it goes on from there.

In sports, ripple effects can be very subtle and they can be earth shattering. Chris Paul may decide to drive to his left rather than his right in the first quarter which may lead him into Andrew Bogut, who is a stronger help defender when moving to his right. Later on in the game, Paul may go left and catch the defense off guard because they were expecting him to go left again and he may end up at the basket for an easy lay-up. These little things happen hundreds of times a game but we don’t pick up on 90% of them.1

And then there are the larger ripple effects, usually created by management, that can leave long lasting effects on a franchise. Where would the Blazers be today had they taken MJ over Sam Bowie in 1984? How many championships would the Chicago Bulls have today had Michael Jordan not taken a break to play baseball? What if the Orlando Magic didn’t give Rashard Lewis a six-year contract worth more than $110 million in 2007 before trading him for Gilbert Arenas, who will be 30 next season, is no longer effective and has three years and $62,423,766 left on his contract?

One of the most recent seismic shifts in the NBA landscape involved the Cleveland Cavaliers but it wasn’t as simple as LeBron wanting to go play with his friends down in Miami.2 For two straight seasons, Danny Ferry entertained the idea of acquiring the Amare Stoudemire from the Phoenix Suns. In 2009, he ended up acquiring a Phoenix big man, but instead of getting Amare, Ferry traded for Shaquille O’Neal. Despite the whole “Witness Protection” campaign, he didn’t end up working out. The following year, the Cavs once again contacted the Suns about bringing Stoudemire to Cleveland. Cleveland was more motivated to make the deal this time around as they were just months away from LeBron being a free agent.

The Cavs came close to acquiring Amare, but there was a hold up in the final stages of negotiations: Cleveland didn’t want to part with J.J. Hickson in a deal for Stoudemire. At the time, this was a questionable move. Hickson had shown some potential and even had good chemistry with LeBron, but still, they had a good shot to get one of the 15 best players in the game. That said, it wasn’t necessarily egregious.

But then the post-season came. As we all know, the Cavs season would be abruptly ended by the Boston Celtics in the second round and LeBron James would leave for Miami a couple months. James’ own performance against Boston was the center of attention after the series and because it seemed like James quit during the last two games of the series, all of the blame was placed on him. LeBron does deserve a good amount of grief for the way he went out on his team but something that often gets ignored by fans was Cleveland’s refusal to trade Hickson.

In one of Danny Ferry’s final moves as the general manager of the Cavs, he said no to the Suns in a trade that would have brought Amare to Cleveland and instead opted to trade for Antawn Jamison instead. The ripple effects of these two decisions are obvious. Not only would adding Amare given Cleveland a significantly better chance of beating the Boston Celtics and eventually the Magic and Lakers as well, Jamison’s awful contract (he made $13,358,905 and is on the books for $15,076,715 this season) prevented the Cavaliers from making any serious offers to players like Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh or even Amare. And if you don’t think that matters, remember that Wade and Bosh played for $14,200,000 and $14,500,000 respectively last season. The only other contract traded to the Wizards was Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had an expiring contract anyways, so without Jamison’s contract on the books Cleveland could have offered Bosh or Wade or Amare or even Carlos Boozer a sizable contract to entice one of them as well as LeBron to Cleveland.

But Cleveland didn’t have that cap room during the summer and Miami did, allowing them to form a superteam with James, Wade and Bosh. This left Cleveland with a team that had no star players or even a pretty good one3 and Jamison ended up being the new leader of the team. Despite his decent average of 18 points per game he took 16 shots a night to get there, made only 43% of his shots from the field, averaged his fewest amount of rebounds since the 2002-2003 season when he was with Dallas, posted the lowest PER of his career since his first two years in the league and played some of the worst defense that you will ever see.

Even with Jamison’s poor performance, the deal could be salvaged on one condition: if J.J. Hickson had developed into the superstar that the Cavs expected or wanted him to be. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Hickson did have a career year numbers wise but part of that was playing the most minutes per game of his career while playing on a team that needed anyone that could score to take shots. Hickson averaged 13.8 points per game but also took 12 shots a night and saw his field goal percentage drop from 55% in 2009-2010 to 46% in 10-11. Despite the feeling that Hickson was expanding his offensive game, he continued to struggle with all shots outside of three feet and scored just .833 and .919 points per possession on post-ups and pick and rolls respectively, both of which are categorized as “average” by Synergy.

Average would be a good¬† term to describe Hickson. He isn’t awful but he is clearly not much more than a rotation big man. A year after Cleveland’s general manager Danny Ferry refused to trade Hickson to acquire Amare Stoudemire, new GM Chris Grant traded him for Omri Casspi. The trade opened up a spot for rookie Tristan Thompson but it also closed the door on the LeBron era in Cleveland. Hickson could have been the piece that kept James in Cleveland for a long while had he been dealt for Stouremire. Instead, he was a player the Cavs believed had enormous potential that ended up being traded for an average player just months after the Cavs chose him over Amare. If only Dan Gilbert could put a nice fidora on, walk through his front door and make that deal in retrospect. Can you imagine the world today without a Comic Sans meme?

Oh, and with LeBron still in Cleveland?


Footnotes

(Return)

1. Unless, of course, the decisions creating the ripple effects were made by Russell Westbrook. In that case, everyone and their mother will be voicing their concerns about his play on some online forum within an hour.

(Return)

2. Though it seems like LeBron is much closer to LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, at least based on their activities this summer. While Dwyane Wade has been off in other countries attending fashion shows and Chris Bosh has been getting married and having his honeymoon with his family on an ostrich farm, James has been in the spotlight playing in more than a few summer league circuits with Paul and Anthony (and Kevin Durant).

(Return)

3. You can make an argument for Anderson Varejao as a pretty good player simply because he’s one of the games best and most underrated defensive players. That said, in order for him to reach his maximum potential, he needs to be the anchor of a defense that is at least average and the Cavs were not that last season. To top it all off, Vareajao only played 31 games last season anyways.

[BTGIO] – Chris Paul – One Man Show

The first of many videos by Damnshow for ButTheGameIsOn.

[BTGIO] Derrick Rose – I’m On It [HD]


But The Game Is On Mailbag: Edition 01

In a guard driven league, who do you think are the top ten guards in the NBA?

- Scott in Florida

My top 10 guards:

1a. Derrick Rose
1b. Chris Paul
3a. Dwyane Wade
3b. Kobe Bryant
5. Russell Westbrook
6. Deron Williams
7. Eric Gordon
8. Steve Nash
9. Monta Ellis
10. Rajon Rondo

Derrick Rose earned the top spot on the list because of his MVP season last year and even though he struggled in the Eastern Conference Finals, I think that series said more about his supporting cast than it did about him. Rose dominated for 80+ games prior to that series and the lack of help on offense would have made it tough for anyone to continue that level of play against a defense as good as Miami’s. On the other hand, Chris Paul’s post-season play is the reason he is ranked so high. I’m a huge Chris Paul fan and I don’t expect to see many other analysts rank Paul higher than Wade or Bryant but what he did to the Lakers with Willie Green, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry, Jarrett Jack and Aaron Gray on his side was unbelievable.

Wade and Bryant aren’t equals at this point but I rank them as a and b because I have questions regarding Wade’s longevity. Wade has had more serious injuries than Bryant to this point in his career, plays a much more reckless game and he is just two years younger than Bryant. Once father time catches up with Wade I think he is going to have a much worse time adjusting to declining athleticism than Kobe has. Bryant has developed a post-game, mastered the inbetween game and is simply a better shooter than Wade is. After watching Wade in the Finals, its hard to say Bryant is better than him right now but if Bryant has made progress with his knee after a few procedures this summer and Wade ends up beginning his slide, I can see the gap between the two slimming.

Despite the criticism he received during the playoffs, Russell Westbrook is still one of the very best guards in the game. Statistically speaking, he wasn’t that far off from Derrick Rose last season and if he were at the helm of the Bulls rather than Rose I’m not too sure there would be that big of a difference. Deron Williams only falls this far down the list because of injuries that cost him time last season. When he’s at his best, he deserves to be right up there with Paul and Rose. Gordon is underrated in my book and the combination of he and Blake Griffin will dominate LA in the next few seasons. Nash may be close to the end but he’s still effective as anyone in the league when it comes to passing and shooting. Ellis is a headache to most but his scoring ability is too good to ignore. Rajon Rondo is a bit overrated in my mind but it was either him or Kevin Martin in this spot for me. We’ll see if Rondo improves as his role increases.

Do you think that players going to play overseas is a good thing or a bad thing for teams?

- John in Texas

I am completely fine with players going overseas to play. If there is going to be no season, its a good way for them to stay in-shape and stay connected to the game. And even though there is a possibility of injury, if they don’t have a season to be healthy for them the risk isn’t too big. The thing is, I think the players know that their teams despise them taking that risk and as a way of sticking it to the owners, going overseas may provide more incentive than just staying in shape. While they earn a little bit of money on the side their team’s management will be sweating it out as they watch them on Synergy.

Can you put a percentage on the possibility of a full season taking place?

- Bballboy351

From what I’ve read, I’d say there’s a 25% of a full season taking place and that may even be too generous.