The general approach when evaluating major trades in any sport is deciding which team landed the best player no matter how many were inv0lved in the deal. In following that rule, a decided edge goes to the Mavericks in their swap with Boston for Rajon Rondo.
Rondo is one of the NBA's best point guards when he's fully engaged. He's never been a great outside shooter, but his ability to penetrate and score off the dribble gives Dallas the extra option it needed. He will help free up Dirk Nowitzki. He will provide more space for Chandler Parsons and Monta Ellis on the perimeter. He will play defense and distribute the ball. He will provide experience and leadership.
But will he make the difference?
That's the magic question.
The Mavs aren't going to know if he was worth the risk until A) they're eliminated from the postseason or B) they win the title. It's all or nothing, championship or bust.
Their starting five has more talent with Rondo, championship talent, but it doesn't mean Dallas has a better team. They gave up a considerable amount of depth when they sent Jameer Nelson, Brandan Wright and Jae Crowder to the Celtics.
Rondo leads the NBA with 10.8 assists per game, impressive considering the Celtics don't have a pure scorer. Jeff Green leads them at 19.5 points per game, which is 19th in the NBA. Rondo's assist numbers should soar in Dallas. He'll likely improve on his 8.3 points per game, too, because the Mavs will provide more matchup problems than the Celts did. He also should be rejuvenated knowing he's playing for a contender in the final year of his contract.
Boston reached a point of no return with Rondo, who seemed disinterested in playing for a poor team. The Celtics weren't going anywhere with him or without him. He had been the subject of trade rumors since last season, if not earlier, with his contract expiring after this season. Dallas figured it would take a shot with the window closing on Nowitzki, who took a pay cut so they had more to spend on other needs. The Mavs were holding up their end of the bargain. They could end up signing Rondo to an extension before he hits the open market.
The Celtics added three players who will provide marginal help and help their rebuild. The first- and second-round picks were key elements in the deal, but both lose value with Dallas likely finishing near the top of the standings.
Overall, it was a good deal for Boston. The Celtics weren't going to get much more, and they couldn't risk him getting injured and losing whatever trade value he had.
It comes back to risk and reward. The Mavs took the bigger risk and have a chance to earn a maximum reward. The Celtics took the safe route and will receive less in return.