It seems like eons ago that Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo were pegged as the futures of the NBA's most venerable franchises. Howard had joined the Los Angeles Lakers, following an acrimonious extrication from the Orlando Magic, to serve both as the next great big man in franchise history and as the superstar to whom Kobe Bryant could pass the proverbial torch. Rondo had spent his entire professional career with the Boston Celtics, but 2012-13 was to be the year he finally seized the reins from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to make the team his own.
My, how times have changed.
Both have been beset by injuries, their teams unmoved by their on-paper productivity and their fates reportedly intertwined to some extent with the Feb. 21 trade deadline fast approaching. According to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com, the Lakers and the Celtics—long the league's most celebrated rivals—have tossed around the idea of swapping Howard for Rondo. Such a trade would have to include more pieces to make the money work, since Dwight ($19.5 million) makes significantly more than Rajon ($11 million).
But a swap of this magnitude would net the C's a superstar to help them make another title push with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and it allow the Lakers to make sure they get something for Dwight now rather than risk losing him later. L.A. would essentially be forfeiting the remainder of the 2012-13 campaign while betting on Rondo's return to health next season. Kobe Bryant's been a fan of Rondo's game for some time, though it's unclear how he or any of the Lakers would feel about bringing on the tempestuous point guard, especially considering Steve Nash's presence through 2014-15.
Which is only one reason why this trade seems like another one unlikely to move beyond the rumor mill. There's also Boston's supposed insistence that Howard commit to re-signing with the C's in July, and the not-so-small detail of Lakers' general manager Mitch Kupchak refuting the rumors out-of-hand (via ESPN.com):
I haven't talked to Danny Ainge in weeks. I made the statement a week or two ago that we're not going to trade Dwight Howard and that hasn't changed.
But the fact that the notion of a Howard-for-Rondo swap has become a topic of discussion and speculation shows just how far each star has fallen within his respective situation.
Once one of the NBA's most beloved faces and hailed as the savior of Kobe's twilight years, Howard has since become something of a pariah in Lakerland—and in the basketball world as a whole, after the "Dwightmare."
To be sure, a slow recovery from back surgery and an emergent shoulder injury both have hampered Howard's effectiveness. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a majority of people particularly sympathetic to Dwight's plight, given the way he's handled his circumstances both on and off the court. Whether it's demanding isolation post-ups, dogging it on both ends, arguing with teammates or getting testy with the media, Howard has done plenty to demolish what little endearment he had to the team, the fans and the city.
In spite of all this, Howard's managed to put up strong stats (16.3 points on 57.8 percent shooting, 11.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks), though those numbers matter little when they've come in the context of a 25-29 record for the Lakers.
The same goes for Rondo. He is still the NBA's assist leader at 11.1 per game and will likely remain that way barring a second-half surge from Chris Paul.
But as nice as those gaudy assist totals looked on paper, they didn't exactly boost Boston's bottom line. The C's were a subpar 12-15 this season when Rondo tallied double-digits in helpers. His frustrating habit of passing up his own easy shots in exchange for assist opportunities has led some (including Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe) to label Rondo a "selfish assist guy."
Which is to say, even the city wherein Rondo won a title has turned on him in some respects. It's a feat in and of itself that a 26-year-old passing savant like Rondo has managed to draw the ire of so many because of his apparent refusal to step up his game as a reliable scorer.
And he won't have a chance to prove otherwise until some time next season.
Chances are, Rondo's opportunity to repair his image will come in Boston, just as Howard's seems bound to happen in L.A. For all the gripes about these two, they still remain the last best hopes for the Celtics and the Lakers of staving off brutal rebuilding periods while maximizing the remaining contributions of their respective Hall of Famers.
For the time being, then, it seems as though folks in L.A. and Boston will have to cling to the devils they know rather than pine for (potentially worse) ones that they don't.
And it's the notion that Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo have become lesser evils at all that seems so strange, considering the tremendous trajectories upon which these two top-tier talents were set not so long ago.