In a rather swift and shocking December surprise, the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics moved quickly to negotiate and finalize a deal sending Rajon Rondo from Boston to Dallas. The timing of the transaction, pitched a good two months prior to the NBA’s trade deadline, was telling – Rondo is an odd player, and the Mavericks have forever been an intriguing (and winning) experiment under Dallas owner Mark Cuban, a man who mixes equal amounts basketball know-how and a love for tossing himself in front of a television camera.
Cuban put those two loves together on Thursday night in typically busy and visible fashion. He was one of dozens of celebrities that gathered to sing Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report” character off into the televised sunset, but prior to the sing-a-long Cuban was furiously working to sign off on the Rondo deal, which sent Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, and a pair of picks to Boston for the mercurial guard.
ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann, no stranger to the camera himself, noticed as much:
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) December 19, 2014
Cuban is not the Mavericks’ head of player personnel; Donnie Nelson has ably held that role for years, but no other NBA owner packs as much analytical and scouting punch as the Mavericks’ el jefe.
It’s true that his team’s franchise cornerstone, the legendary Dirk Nowitzki, was drafted a year and a half prior to Cuban purchasing the team, but Cuban has intelligently tossed himself into the world of basketball analytics while still encouraging his hired basketball men to do their job. It’s a delicate balance and the Mavericks haven’t been championship contenders since the team’s 2011 NBA Finals win, but the franchise has been in the championship mix routinely since 2001, and it’s hard to argue with Cuban’s approach.
The ability to work through salary structures, possible promises on contract extensions, and noise from all manner of scouts, coaches and Mavericks employees in real time on one smartphone also helps. This is an entirely different era than the one that, say, Boston general manager Danny Ainge was working in when he was dealt from Boston to Sacramento for Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney 25 years ago.
The Mavericks are taking a calculated risk with Rondo. The team boasts the league’s best offense by miles, and even the brainiest of NBA analytics swabbers can’t agree on whether Rondo works as some underrated basketball boffin, or a destructive me-first element that values gaudy assist totals over a seamlessly churning five-man offense. Wright and Nelson were having fabulous years for the Mavericks, but their presence won’t be badly missed on this deep outfit, and the picks sent to Boston (likely a 2016 first rounder after restrictions are minded, alongside a second-round selection) won’t likely tip the scales for this win-now outfit.
It’s a fascinating deal, true to Dallas’ team name. To watch it all go down in real time in the green room of a tiny New York City soundstage, even for someone as experienced as Keith Olbermann, must have been equally as fascinating.
(Hat-tip: Seth Rosenthal at SB Nation.)
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