By Patrick Trotti
Rajon Rondo’s days of playing for the Boston Celtics are numbered. As a diehard Celtics fan I knew this day would come but I hoped it would be like Paul Pierce, when Rondo was old and a shell of his former self. But he’s not and the Celtics are. He’s going into free agency this summer which means that if Boston doesn’t trade him they’ll get nothing for him as he’ll be able to sign with any number of contenders that will likely offer max money.
Trading All Stars is tricky, especially in the NBA where one player could make the difference between a championship and just another season. The prevailing wisdom in the league, which has for the most part come to fruition, is that the team that gets the best player in the draft wins. It may sound crude but in a league where potential and upside are used many times as blinders to actual performance, such is the case. Rondo is the rarest of rarities in the league: a star whose game is predicated on making those around him better. Sure, there are a number of point guards that drop assists in abundance but it’s Rondo’s ability to do the little things, his stat sheet stuffing performances that make him able to dominate a game in which he score in single digits that sets him apart. He’s a smaller version of a young Jason Kidd. He’s the Swiss army knife of the NBA. The teams involved in trade talks currently all have one thing in common, the all have alpha stars who need the ball to be successful. Houston has Harden and Howard. The Lakers have Kobe. The Kings have DeMarcus Cousins. The Mavericks have Dirk and Chandler Parsons. The Knicks have Carmelo. What they all need is someone who enjoys being a facilitator. For all of his mercurial ways, Rondo is one thing above all else: a playmaker.
The sad truth is that, while an All Star, Rondo isn’t the prototypical cornerstone of a franchise. He’s a cog in the machine, a very important piece but still one that needs players around him. The Celtics don’t posses the requisite skill to make Rondo worth re-signing. Longtime Celtics fan Bill Simmons has long ago resigned himself to the fact that Rondo will be wearing another uniform next year, if not earlier. He’s even taken it a step further and said that Rondo deserves to play for a contender because his talents would go to waste in Boston. The sad thing is, he’s correct.
The questions involving Rondo are big and fundamental. Since he’s only signed through the rest of this year, any team that acquires him will likely demand a 48-72 hour window in which to negotiate a contract extension. This drops the price of Rondo significantly. Another factor is the recent past. When the Celtics blew it all up a few years ago by unloading Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn, General Manager Danny Ainge put everyone on notice that no one is safe from the trading block. The Celtics have so many future draft picks in their arsenal that it’s almost impossible to turn it into a sentence.
According to the site RealGM the Celtics will receive the following picks:
2015 first round draft pick from Philadelphia
Philadelphia’s 2015 1st round pick to Boston (via Miami) protected for selections 1-14; if this pick falls within its protected range and is therefore not conveyed, then Philadelphia will instead convey its 2015 2nd round pick and 2016 2nd round pick to Boston.
2015 first round draft pick from L.A. Clippers.
2015 second round draft pick from Washington
Washington’s 2015 2nd round pick to Boston protected for selections 31-49 (if this pick falls within its protected range and is therefore not conveyed, then Washington’s obligation to Boston will be extinguished).
2016 first round draft pick from Brooklyn.
2016 first round draft pick from Cleveland
Cleveland’s 1st round pick to Boston protected for selections 1-10 in 2016, 1-10 in 2017 and 1-10 in 2018 and unprotected in 2019.
2016 second round draft pick from Cleveland.
2016 second round draft pick from Miami.
2017 first round draft pick from Brooklyn
Boston has the right to swap its 2017 1st round pick for Brooklyn’s 2017 1st round pick; if Boston exercises this swap right, then Boston will convey its 2017 2nd round pick to Brooklyn protected for selections 31-45 (if this pick falls within its protected range and is therefore not conveyed, then Boston’s obligation to Brooklyn will be extinguished).
2017 second round draft pick from Cleveland.
2018 first round draft pick from Brooklyn.
That’s a lot to digest but the simple truth is this: the Celtics seem to be hedging their bets. They aren’t trotting out an assortment of players seemingly incapable of winning together like that in Philadelphia but they aren’t trying for a quick rebuild like that of Toronto either. Sure, every draft class is different and the Celtics were hoping that they’d win on the Wiggins/Parker sweepstakes in 2014 but they didn’t.
The reason why I detail all of the draft picks coming their way is because most of the reports involving Rondo include a first round pick coming back to Boston and an expiring contract or two in order to make it financially feasible. One report has a half year rental of Brandan Wright, a throw in player, and a first round pick (of a playoff team which means in the 20’s) from Dallas. This can’t be the best deal out there, can it?
Below are my three best case scenarios for trading Rondo. You’ll notice the Knicks, or any other Eastern Conference team for that matter, aren’t involved. Go West young man! Obviously these are just my wishes and guesses but in all honesty, trying to be as unbiased as possible, these are the trades that make the most sense both financially and personnel wise.
First up is Houston, a team desperately in need of a facilitator. With Harden and Howard on the floor, the Rockets need someone who can create easy buckets for others and Rondo is just the guy. In this trade I have the Celtics receiving the expiring contract of Jason Terry, as well as a year and a half of control over forwards Kostas Papanikolau, and Donates Montiejunas. The same window to renogiate with Rondo would be in place and Boston would get Houston’s 2nd round pick for this year’s draft. I’ve also made it where the Celtics would release Terry right away, giving the Rockets the chance to re-sign for the rest of the year. The Celtics would also give up talented big man Jared Sullinger, who’s under contract for next year as well for less than $1.5 million while producing 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 assists per game in only 29 minutes of action. This gives Houston a very good chance at winning this year, and for the near future while giving Boston another pick and some interesting young front court options to pair with an already stacked, but unproven plethora of big men.
The second trade is between the Celtics and the Lakers. It’s truly a bad day for the league when both of these franchises are in the cellar and it looks as though both teams will be drafting in the top ten for the second consecutive year. The Lakers window with Kobe Bryant is closing (to put it nicely). If they’re ever going to have a chance at sending Bryant out on at least a playoff appearance, then they need to do a quick rebuild. This trade would send Rondo to the Lakers giving them a really good backcourt. The Lakers would send Boston the expiring contract of the turnover machine that is Jeremy Lin as well as the talented, but injured, Julius Randle. This is risky on both sides, Randle was injured in his first game and the Lakers will not like to part with their highest draft selection since James Worthy. But getting Rondo together with Kobe and Nick Young and Carlos Boozer (yelp) gives them a fighting chance going into free agency. Also included would be Boston’s ability to swap first round picks with the Lakers or, to take their second round pick this year.
The third, and last, proposal involves a surprise team, and long shot contender for Rondo; the Sacramento Kings. With a renewed energy due to new ownership and a new arena coming quickly, the Kings are finally doing something right for the first time in a decade. With big man DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings could use a backcourt compliment which is where Rondo comes in. If you’re going to have any chance at breaking into the playoffs, let alone doing any damage, in the Western Conference then you need a top flight point guard. This deal would give them arguably the best 1-2 punch at point guard in the league with Rondo and Darren Collison. The Celtics would receive underachieving former number two pick Derrick Williams and his expiring contract along with two and half years of control over guard Ben McLemore as well as a second round pick in the 2015 draft. With the Kings just selecting Nik Stauskas it doesn’t make much sense to have McLemore, who has one less year of team control and about $300,000 more a year. With McLemore the Celtics greatly improve their backcourt and start new with a physical, young (both under 22) combo of Marcus Smart (6-2, 220) and McLemore (6-5, 195).
So is that it? Not even close. The Celtics would, regardless of what happens to Rondo, have a boatload of picks and a sea of big men who all need playing time in order to develop. Rondo is my favorite player in the league, he has been since he showed that he could take the abuse and scrutiny of being the other starter on the championship Celtics team that should’ve repeated if not for Kendrick Perkins going down prior to game 7, but I digress. I’ll always root for Rondo because he’s scrappy and tough. Simmons is right, he does deserve the chance to win another title. Anyone that plays in the league and is a pass first star player deserves some breaks along the way. Unfortunately his break won’t be in Boston.
So Danny Ainge has what he wants with his draft picks. I look at any given draft, especially top ten picks like this: a good outcome is hitting on half. If the Celtics find a way to hit on half of their top picks over the next four years then that means they’ll have four young studs to pair up with a then seasoned Marcus Smart. Our coach is young, our draft picks are many, our fancies is awesome. Don’t take those things for granted and fall into 76ers mode. Don’t sacrifice the present for the hope of an unprocessed future. Hedge your bets like you are and hope that the ping-pong balls fall your way.
UPDATE: Two hours after publishing, the Celtics traded Rondo to the Mavs for Brandan Wright and Jameer Nelson and Jae Crowder. I’m going to sit down and cry now. Hopefully my tears won’t last until the draft. The race to the bottom is officially on (part two!).