In December of 2011, the NBA lock-out had just ended and Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge was looking to acquire Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets in order to make one more run at the title with Boston's aging Big Three. The only issue for Ainge in completing the acquisition was that the Hornets (owned by the NBA at the time) were not interested in what the Cs were offering as compensation for the loss of CP3: Rajon Rondo.
While Bob Cousy and a large contingent of Celtics fans everywhere were wondering why in the world Danny Ainge would want to trade an all-star point guard, NBA champion, assist machine, and walking triple double, rumor has it that Larry Bird was trying to bring the dazzling, pass-first point guard to Naptown. Nevertheless, as everyone knows and recalls, the league office ended up being a tad picky about just what exact package of young talent they were willing to accept in return for Chris Paul. In the end, the Pacers' offer to enter into the Celtics-Hornets trade discussions was quickly shot down. The 2012 Playoffs ended with the Pacers being ousted by the eventual NBA Champions in the semi-finals. Meanwhile, Rondo and the Celtics were also defeated by the Heat in a heart pounding Game 7. During that playoff run, Rondo accumulated 4 more triple doubles and had video game numbers of 44 points and 8 assists against the Heat in Game 2 of the ECF. None of Rondo's astonishing numbers in the 2011-2012 season went unnoticed by Bird. After a midseason game against the Knicks where Rondo recorded 18 points, 20 dimes, and 17 rebounds, Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe reported that Larry Bird had said:
"That kid, is unbelievable. I got a text during the game from someone who works for us and he said, ‘How in the hell can they think about trading him?’ How much better can you play? You can’t. I know I’d take that stat line any day of the week.’’
Flash forward to May of 2013. Pacers fans are glued to their televisions, computers, and smartphones wondering if the Pacers, built not bought, will advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2000. Paul George has emerged as a budding superstar, Roy Hibbert is playing like Hakeem Olajuwon, and David West is the veteran backbone playing through a 103 degree temperature to help his team get a win. Even so, Charles Barkley described it best when he said that the Pacers' championship hopes would be determined by the production of their backcourt: Lance Stephenson and George Hill. Let's be honest, who expected the development we have seen out of Lance Stephenson this season? His development and work ethic are something to marvel at, but the nickname ‘trick-or-treat’ truly does describe him – you never know what you are going to get. Do not get me wrong, no one doubts George Hill's will to win or leadership on the court. But Hill and Stephenson are not all-stars. They are not going to get you 20 assists in a playoff game. They are not going to be the best player on the court in a playoff series with LeBron James or Derrick Rose. But Rajon Rondo has been and could be for the Indiana Pacers. Watching this year's playoff run made me remember Larry Bird's unsuccessful attempt to offer the Hornets assets to bring CP3 to Boston and Rondo to Indy. And watching Game 7 of the ECF in 2012 and 2013 made me wonder: What if Rondo would have been swapped to Indy. Could Rondo, with a skilled big like Roy and a running mate like Paul George beat the Miami Heat? Yes, I think so.
Now let's move to the present. Danny Ainge has signaled that the Big Three Era in Boston is over. Ray Allen is in Miami. Doc Rivers is in LA ready to coach the Clippers. KG and Pierce have been traded to the Nets. It seems project tank is in full force in Boston with the light at the end of the tunnel being the hope that lottery ping pong balls will bring Andrew Wiggins to Beantown. Ainge is looking to shed salary, acquire future picks, acquire young talent, and unload undesirable contracts. Word is Rondo is available at the right price, once again, if it will help the Cs get Wiggins or Jabari Parker in 2014. Enter the Pacers. From my perspective, the Pacers should absolutely believe they are title contenders next year. Title contenders do not need to hold on to future picks. Title contenders need to tweak their roster in free agency or via trade to better compete in the postseason. That being said, the Pacers have been and are still in need of an all-star caliber point guard. Why not offer Ainge Danny Granger's expiring contract (shed Cs salary in 2014 or keep as a Pierce replacement), Lance Stephenson (young, developing talent), and a future first round 2014 draft pick? In return, the Pacers will acquire Rondo and take back the contract of Courtney Lee (undesirable multi-year deal). This move would give the Pacers a point guard who is a proven all-nba caliber defender, all-star, warrior (played through a dislocated elbow and partially torn acl). He can feed the ball to Hibbert and West in the post, and run with George on the break. It also would allow Hill to move back to the shooting guard position where he was more comfortable playing at times in San Antonio. Acquiring Lee would be an added bonus for Indy's less than desirable bench. He is a more than capable shooter from behind the arc, he defends, and he runs the floor (not to mention he is an Indianapolis native). My only hope is that Larry Bird will strike while the iron is hot and bring Rondo to the Pacers. If Bird takes Rondo from a Celtic to a Pacer, it is undeniable that a starting unit of Rondo, Hill, George, West, and Hibbert could contend in the NBA for years to come.