Not everyone is a fan of the trade the Clippers made last week with the Atlanta Hawks on the day of the trade deadline, dealing away guard Lou Williams for veteran point guard Rajon Rondo.
In fact, former Nets executive Bobby Marks, now working for ESPN, was about as blunt as possible when it came to how Rondo has played thus far this season.
“Let’s face it, and I’m gonna use the PG-13 version of this,” Marks said. “Rondo has been horses*** this year. I mean, he has.”
That is not far from the truth, no matter how much you might be inclined to defend the 35-year-old veteran point guard. Rondo has not been totally healthy and when he has, he’s averaged just 14.9 minutes in 21 games, putting up a measly 3.9 points and 3.5 assists. What’s worse, he is signed in 2021-22 for $7.5 million, so the Clippers’ commitment to him likely will go on past this season.
Of course, nothing is ever simple when it comes to Rondo, and his numbers alone don’t measure his impact. The Clippers did not really want him for the 3.9 points a night he provides, but rather for his ability to run the offense and take ballhandling pressure off Paul George and Kawhi Leonard—and for his well-known ability to up his game in the playoffs. As paltry as his numbers were, the fact that Atlanta was 16-11 when Rondo played and 7-12 when he did not says something about his impact on winning.
“If you get the regular-season version of Rajon Rondo, this trade is a complete disaster,” Marks said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it right now. What the Clippers are banking on is that they will get Playoff Version of Rajon Rondo. Because as I said before, he has been terrible this year.”
Another Ex-NBA Exec Rips Clippers Trade: ‘I Don’t Understand’
Many agreed with Marks. Among them was former Memphis Grizzlies executive John Hollinger, who now writes for The Athletic.
Hollinger originally panned the deal, saying, “I don’t understand the Clippers’ interest in Rajon Rondo, especially at the cost of a pretty good player in Lou Williams, and I’m amazed that Atlanta was able to blast itself out of the deal while actually receiving assets in return,” and also added, “Wow, does this feel like a reach.”
(At least former Clipper Jamal Crawford approved:)
I like the Rondo trade for the Clippers.. Would like it more if Lou was still with the Clippers 🤷🏾♂️
— 🏁 Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) March 25, 2021
But on Monday, Hollinger had a different tack with the Clippers, finding some financial silver lining for the L.A. front office in the Rondo gamble. That comes in the form of a potential trade for a veteran at this year’s NBA Draft.
“Along with the [Clippers’ 2021 first-round] pick,” Hollinger wrote, “Rondo can be traded alone for up to $10.3 million in returning salary, or combined with other minimums (Daniel Oturu or Terance Mann, for example) to bring back a player with a salary in the mid-teens. That acquisition, in turn, could allow the Clippers to restock and make another run next year.”
Rondo & Clippers’ 2021 First-Rounder Could Make a Strong Trade Package
The Clippers will, in fact, hold their own first-round pick in this draft, putting it in rare company. In three of the five drafts after this one, the Clippers are slated to have no first-round pick at all and are subject to pick swaps by Oklahoma City in the other two (2023 and 2025). That does not mean the Clippers actually will use their pick in July. As Hollinger notes, it would make a very good enticement to a trade for the Clippers.
Certainly, the Clippers can upgrade their bench with those tools—for, say, Larry Nance Jr. of the Cavaliers ($10.7 million salary next season), Chicago’s Tomas Satoransky ($10 million) or Memphis’ Kyle Anderson ($9.9 million). The Clippers would not even have to include the ever-burgeoning Mann in that case.
If they did include Mann, they could come away with a top sixth man like Terrence Ross of Orlando (owed $12.5 million next season) or Denver’s Will Barton ($14.8 million). That would be a solid replacement for Williams, though the Clippers would once again have a point-guard problem.
That could start the whole cycle over again—another short-term fix at the point, followed by a bashing of the deal by former NBA executives.