Uh-oh, it's everybody's least favorite meme, Unpopular Opinion Puffin:
Just hear me out for a second. Based on what I'm hearing, Rockets fans don't want Rajon Rondo because he's a poor shooter and a curmudgeon, and what he'd bring to the Rockets is not worth what they would have to give up. If we can still agree that Rocket Rondo (you heard it here first) is unlikely to actually happen, let's go through this for one second.
The Rockets owe the Lakers their first round draft pick this season if they make the playoffs (top-14 protected). The Rockets are owed the Pelicans' first round pick if it falls between #3-20. That looks likely to happen (h/t to Pro Sports Transactions). The Rockets possess all of their own future first-rounders. A package for Rondo would likely include a first rounder, Jeremy Lin's trade exception, and
a younger player (or more picks) . CORRECTION: The Rockets can't actually package the trade exception with other players. That deal would have to be picks and the exception, full stop.
Yes, the Rockets lack the frontcourt depth to deal D-Mo or Terrence Jones and still be balanced enough to win a title. Probably. I'm not 100% convinced. But let's leave that aside and say that the Rockets would deal two first-rounders, Lin's trade exception and a no-name to balance the books. That's an all-in, win-now move. How would the Rockets look after that?
Rondo is having an abysmal year shooting the ball - well below his career averages. Some of that could be small sample size, some of it could be a rushed return from a preseason hand injury. Personally, I believe he'll regress back to being a simply mediocre shooter by the time the season's over. But even if he continues to shoot this poorly, I believe he would still fit the Rockets well. Here's why.
No one needs to be reminded of Rajon Rondo's passing skills, but it's damn important to see this before saying he wouldn't improve ANY team without a Chris Paul, John Wall or someone on that level:
You want to tell me James Harden, Dwight Howard, and every shooter on the Rockets wouldn't like to play with this guy? I love to watch Pat Beverley play defense, but Rondo is a good defender in his own right (or was, with a good defensive team around him like the Rockets have now) and he would make everyone else's job easier on offense. For all of Houston's success, they're only 20th in the league in offensive rating. I'll whisper this next part - that's not good enough to win a championship.
Even though stats like effective field goal percentage, which weights free throws and threes, tend to favor the Rocket's brand of basketball, they're only 18th in eFG%. They're not a good shooting team right now. Part of that is injuries and tiredness, and part of it is the offense.
This is when the yelling starts: BUT RONDO WOULD JUST MAKE THAT WORSE!!!!!! Now listen: The Rockets are 21st in the league in assisted field goal ratio, which means they are in the bottom third in terms of creating offense via the pass. Even with James Harden facilitating better than he ever has, he's still asked to ISO all the damn time. The Rockets have done a lot of tossing the ball in the post, to Dwight or to D-Mo, and standing aside. Neither of those playing styles are Moreyball.
Rajon Rondo assists on 46% of Celtics buckets when he's on the floor. Forty-six! You want to know how to improve Trevor Ariza and Jason Terry's shooting numbers? You get them open shots. As far as I'm concerned, there is no question Rajon Rondo's passing would upgrade the Rockets' offense.
Rajon Rondo is a walking triple-double, and he's an even better rebounder than Patrick Beverley, who is himself a very good rebounder for a guard. It's a big part of why Rondo can create so many fast breaks, which is a big part of what the Rockets lack at times, especially with Harden on the bench.
This season, Rajon Rondo's getting 22.3% of all available defensive rebounds when he's on the floor. That's insane! Donatas Motiejunas is only getting 16%. In fact, Rajon Rondo's advantage over D-Mo on the defensive glass is the same size as Dwight Howard's advantage over Rondo. Part of that is the soft bigs in Boston, but there is no arguing that he is the best rebounding point guard in the game.
It feels like a long time ago, but I personally witnessed Rajon Rondo carry the Celtics to win after win in the playoffs once KG, Pierce and Ray Allen couldn't any more. The Rockets' two best players have both been to the finals before, so I'm not saying the Rockets need more playoff experience on the roster. What I am saying is that Rajon Rondo is demonstrably better in the playoffs than the regular season.
In the 2008-09 postseason, he averaged 16.9 points, 9.8 assists, and 9.7 rebounds a game. In the 2011-12 playoffs, with a much worse team around him, he averaged 17.3 points, 11.9 assists, and he didn't shoot any worse from the field than in previous seasons. Remember the kind of defensive slugfests he played in when you factor in those offensive numbers, too. He's a guy every fan wants on his or her team once the calendar turns to April, May and June. Don't tell me different.
If we can trade for Rondo and keep Beverley, it would cure the biggest issue facing the Rockets right now: what to do on offense when James Harden is on the bench. There is not one trustworthy ball-handler on that bench, until Isaiah Canaan proves me wrong or Kostas Papanikolaou becomes a guard. With Harden off the court this season, the Rockets' offensive rating drops from a very good 105 to an abysmal 96. Some mix of Rondo's playmaking and Beverley's shooting (if it's for real) could be a godsend for the Rockets in limiting Harden's minutes and keeping him fresh.
Finally, let me address the most frequent alternative brought up by Rockets fans so far.
What about Goran Dragic?
Yes, Goran Dragic would also be a great fit for the Rockets. He's a great shooter and a great penetrator, and Rockets fans feel bitter they just missed out on his breakout. But he's also a considerably worse defender than Rondo or Beverley, and he's probably just as expensive to acquire, if not more so.
The Suns are every bit as asset-conscious as the Celtics. The only difference is that Phoenix is closer to contention. To pry Dragic away from Phoenix, the Rockets would almost certainly have to part with more NBA-level talent, and would be left thinner as a result. I'd love to see the Dragon back on the Rockets too, but it would not help the Rockets any more than Rondo - unless the Suns do us a huge favor.
More than likely, neither Rondo nor Dragic will be on the Rockets this year. That's fine. But it does bother me to see people so eager to dismiss a gifted player like Rondo as a potential help to the Rockets' title contention.
One final note: I did not address how his personality would affect the locker room because I have no idea, and neither do you.