Thursday, April 24, 2008

Rondo Would Look Pretty Good in Orange Right About Now

It has been well documented that the miserly Suns have been unloading draft picks for some time now. They've traded picks for players, for cash, and for future picks. They've even given them away just so they don't have to pay guaranteed contracts. If you trace the history of their dealings, you start to realize that they could have had some pretty amazing players. But hindsight is 20/20 and normally, the "What if?" game is a big, fat waste of time. Besides, there is no way to know for sure who Phoenix would have drafted in certain instances.

Except in one case, where the Suns actually drafted Rajon Rondo and then traded him away.

The scenario, if I have this figured out correctly, went like this:

1. Boston held the rights to Cleveland's first-round pick in 2007 because they traded the immortal Jiri Welsh to the Cavs in 2005. (Footnote: Welsch is no longer in the league, so this was obviously a pretty dumb trade by Cleveland.)

2. Phoenix drafted Rondo with the 21st pick in the 2006 Draft, but immediately shipped him and Brian Grant's exoskeleton to Boston for a future first round pick (top-10 protected).

3. Phoenix then spent an insane amount of money - probably the very money they saved in the aforementioned trade - on Marcus Banks, who went from "new addition" to "scourge of Arizona" in about 24 hours. (Then again, he did have that huge summer league performance a couple of years ago, so that's a feather in his cap.)

4. Because Boston's own pick was the fifth overall in the 2007 Draft, that pick was protected. But because they held Cleveland's pick at #24, that selection went to Phoenix.

5. With the #24 pick in the 2007 Draft, the Suns selected Rudy Fernandez ... and then promptly sent him to Portland for a garbage bag of cash. (Okay, maybe it didn't come in a garbage bag, but it was for cash considerations.)

So the net result is that the Suns traded away Rondo - whom they drafted, remember - just so they could unload Brian Grant, sign Marcus Banks, and collect three million bucks. That has to hurt more than a little bit, under any circumstances.

Against the Spurs, after the first two games of the opening round, it has to hurt a ton. That's because Rondo is exactly what Phoenix needs right now.

In fact, if you could scour the roster of every single NBA team, I'm not sure you could find a guy that would be a better fit for the Suns than Rajon Rondo. Well, sure, you could say LeBron James or Kobe Bryant or even a player like Tayshaun Prince. But none of those options are realistic. Rondo is beyond realistic ... they actually had the rights to him!

And man would he be perfect right now. For the last four years, all we've heard is how the Suns need a backup for Nash. Banks never worked out (understatement of the year). Barbosa is neither a pure point nor is he any good against the Spurs. D.J. Strawberry (who I think they should give some time to) is too green. Rondo is none of those things. He's really, really good. (And, ahem, somebody saw this coming.)

Not only that, but he would give them a realistic chance of slowing down San Antonio's relentless attack from the perimeter. Pop and Company have turned Parker and Ginobili loose and the Suns seem helpless. Parker is putting Nash on skates (for all the talk of Nash's defensive liabilities, this is one of the few times we've seen it fully exploited - Devin Harris of Dallas also had his way during certain games of the 2006 Playoffs) and Ginobili is making Raja Bell look like his feet have been dipped in concrete.

Now, nothing much can be done about Manu. But then again, he's a great player. He's going to get his 25 in virtually every playoff game. And Duncan's going to do his damage. The key for Phoenix is to turn this battle into a game of 2-on-2, Amare and Nash versus Duncan and Ginobili. The Suns simply don't have a third big gun in this series and so the best way to compensate for that fact is to eliminate the Spurs' third gun, Tony Parker.

Except they can't. In fact, they have no prayer of doing so unless they can get those witchdoctors on the Phoenix bench to perform some black magic on Grant Hill's groin.

But with Rondo, all that would change. The Boston point guard with the insanely long fingers is becoming a defensive wizard. Few people have noticed, because KG gets all of Boston's credit on D (and deservedly so), but the man is a holy terror on opposing point guards. He has the quickest hands this side of Chris Paul, great lateral movement, good size and surprising strength, and amazing instincts (as detailed by JoJo White during last night's TNT broadcast). He's currently making Mike Bibby look like a joke in the series with Atlanta and he was recently named the best defensive point guard in the league by John Hollinger of ESPN. (Okay, so somebody noticed.)

Rondo seems like he would be the perfect foil to Parker. He could get under Mr. Longoria's skin with feisty play, he could match his speed, and, most of all, he could slow the Frenchman's endless, unimpeded forays to the basket.

Obviously, even if the Suns had Rondo, they would have to get creative with their lineup, because he wouldn't replace Nash at the point. But there's no reason they couldn't give Rondo Barbosa's minutes and have him on the court 30-35 minutes a night. And in crunch time, they could go Shaq-on-Duncan, Amare-on-Thomas, Bell-on-Ginobili (with more help focused here, instead of helping Nash), Nash-on-Finley, and Rondo-on-Parker. Now that's a lineup that can get the job done.

Sadly, it never came to pass, because the NBA has a little thing called the Luxury Tax and Phoenix didn't want to pay it. What a shame. I guess we'll just have to admire Rondo in kelly green as he continues to quitely perform brilliantly for the ridiculously good Boston Celtics.

I just hope Danny Ainge will be writing the Suns a thank you note when the season's over.


Anonymous said...

You're probably right, but had they kept Rondo don't you think he'd be in the same position as Marcus Banks? They never would have given him time behind Nash last year, so in effect he'd still be green (no pun intended).

Not to mention D'antoni likes players who can shoot. Rondo's getting better, but he never would have gotten time last year for that reason alone.

Joshua R said...

I'm from Boston. I saw Marcus Banks play. I saw Rondo as a rookie. Rajon Rondo is no Marcus Banks. Banks stunk up the joint in Boston; by the time he started getting minutes last year, it was clear that Rondo was going to be very good. There were/are questions about his jump shot, but his defense, passing, and rebounding were solid. The Celtics, as bad as they were last year, were clearly better with him on the court. The same can most definitely be said about Marcus Banks. I will never understand how the Suns spent so much on him.