Despite what Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said to Dwight Howard, the club may trade the star center.
A growing rumor gave Kupchak cause to tell Howard he would not move him before the Feb. 21 deadline, but according to CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger, the Lakers have engaged in "preliminary trade discussions" with the Boston Celtics for point guard Rajon Rondo.
Rondo is already done for the season after the Celtics learned on Jan. 27 that he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. The 26-year-old was in the middle of another dominant season, tying his career-high of 13.7 points per game and was poised to lead the league in assists for a second consecutive year.
Rondo made his fourth straight All-Star team, but Boston has won nine of their last 10 games despite his absence, including victories over Miami, Chicago, and both L.A. teams. That fact could give Boston president Danny Ainge cause to move Rondo, and perhaps find a permanent replacement for aging center Kevin Garnett, who has alluded to retirement several times over the past two years.
Adding Rondo at the cost of Howard may symbolize a throwing in of the towel for the Lakers this season. Currently 3.5 games behind Houston for the final Western Conference playoff spot, Los Angeles has not lived up to the hype that was generated as soon as they landed Howard last summer.
Howard and Laker guard Kobe Bryant, according to numerous reports, have feuded throughout the season. L.A. has held team meetings to try to resolve the supposed issue, but sources keep leaking information to the media, and only add fuel to the growing tire yard fire.
Or Kupchak could have an inkling that Howard won't re-sign this summer, and will instead try to gain back assets now.
The possible move for Rondo may also signal the end of the Steve Nash experiment. Acquired from the Suns during the offseason, Nash has played 30 games, recovered from a hairline fracture in his leg, and is now posting his lowest assist total, 7.4 per, since his 2002-03 run with the Dallas Mavericks.
Nash’s trouble to assimilate aside, offense has not been the Lakers issue. Should Rondo come back healthy next year, he would immediately become L.A.’s best perimeter defender, and relieve pressure on Bryant, who head coach Mike D’Antoni said would have to cover their opponent's best player each game, an odd declaration since Bryant is already charged with spearheading the offense.
Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, is also in the midst of a down year and his presence in the paint has done little to stop opponents from scoring nearly 101 points per contest against L.A.
The proposed deal beckons back to the Lakers attempts to land now-Clippers point guard Chris Paul, in exchange for Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in 2010. Paul would have provided much of Rondo’s abilities on defense, as well as the offensive proficiency Nash flashed in his prime.
Howard makes $19 million this season, and Rondo $11 million, meaning, Berger explains, Boston would have to send back another player to make contracts match.