With the 2014 season rapidly approaching, the biggest question on everyone’s mind is “what to do with Rajon Rondo?” After last season, we were promised fireworks by the ownership, and such promises have yet to be fulfilled. The goal was to utilize our bevy of young talent and draft picks to bring in a bona fide superstar like Kevin Love, but such a deal never materialized. And after drafting the Celtics drafted a point guard with their lottery pick, Rondo’s future looks more unclear than ever. While ownership maintains that Rondo and Marcus Smart can coexists, it would seem that the Celtics chose the path of full rebuild. Taking Marcus Smart at number six overall appears to have numbered Rondo’s days in Boston. So the Celtics should trade him, right?
Rondo becomes a free agent after this season, and while he publicly claims he wants to stay in Boston, there are plenty of reasons to leave. With the current roster, Boston is in no position to contend for a title anytime soon, nor is it a high profile destination for free agents. The movement since last summer has been to rebuild, and Rondo doesn’t fit that trend. He’s no longer that kid from Kentucky who dished the ball to future Hall of Fame players. At 29, he’s an all-star in the prime of his career, though that window is quickly closing. There are plenty of all-stars out there who have said more than once they would love to have Rondo on their team. With “top players joining forces” becoming all the rage now, it might not be such a bad move. Compound this with recent reports that Rondo wants to test free agency, and Boston’s chances of keeping him don’t look too good.
Of course, the Celtics could roll the dice this season and hope Rondo chooses to resign in Boston for another friendly contract, but he could walk at the end of this season with the Celtics getting nothing in return. There are several teams that would throw a max contract at him without a second’s hesitation assuming, of course, he’s still healthy. Rondo still has yet to play a complete season after his ACL injury, and the games he played this past season were less than stellar. He may have put up numbers on par with his career average (11.7 points, 9.8 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game), but his efficiency and overall effectiveness were in the toilet. It was clear he was not at 100%, and it is still yet to seen if he will fully return the player he once was. Depending on how this season goes, Rondo’s biggest payday could come from Boston.
And that might be why Ainge is in no rush to trade him. Suppose Rondo has a down year while getting back on his feet and trying to adjust to his much younger, much less Hall-of-Famey supporting cast. Free agency rolls around and all of a sudden he’s not getting the max contract offers he was expecting. Boston can lock him up at a hometown discount. Danny can make a solid pitch to him, too: does he wants to chase rings, or does he want become the next Celtic legend.
On the flipside, Rondo could end up having a career year. Everyone knows what a voracious competitor he is, and it’s doubtful he wouldn’t do everything he could to a) come back in better shape than he was before injury, and b) prove to everyone that he can carry a team without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Now that he’s had a full off-season to prepare, he’ll be in a much better position to succeed than he was coming back halfway through the season. He’ll have more time to get in sync with the young guys and set the tone out of the gate. We’ve seen his shot consistently improve from year to year, a tool he’ll need the older he gets. And don’t forget, he’s in a contract year. It’s in his best interest financially to play as hard as he can.
When you look at the current landscape of the Celtics, it becomes pretty clear what Boston needs to do. The Celtics didn’t draft such a highly touted guard to backup Rondo. And to those who say just play Rondo and Smart together with Smart at the two, but what about Avery Bradley and his freshly minted $30 million dollar contract? The question isn’t whether to trade Rondo, but when.
Boston will most likely want to get his trade value as high as possible before cashing in. That’s why there hasn’t been any noise on the trade front like there normally is this time of year. Boston wouldn’t be able to get very much from him right now with his most recent portfolio of work. They need to prove he’s the Rondo of old. If they’re going to make a deal, it won’t be until closer to the trade deadline, when Rajon has a larger, more representative sample size of games under his belt.
But who would Boston even trade with? And for whom? New York will probably come calling as usual, but they have some of the least movable contracts in the entire league. Sacramento is another team we hear about a lot, and while they have plenty of assets, but most of them are all young. And if there’s something Boston doesn’t need more of, it’s young, unproven players. Detroit could find itself in the mix if they don’t deal Josh Smith beforehand. Smith and Rondo are close friends from their high school days and have always wanted to play together professionally. Greg Monroe is an enticing player, but he’s defensively challenged at best and could be a half-season rental, as he might end up fetching a max contract Boston may be unwilling to pay.
One idea that’s been gently floated around is sending Rondo to Indiana for Roy Hibbert. This is a great trade that could benefit both teams immensely. Indiana is in desperate need of a shakeup after their core has folded the past two seasons in a row. Paul George won’t be back this season in all likelihood, and Lance Stephenson is now hanging with MJ in Charlotte. The Pacers are going nowhere fast this year, and they’ve flirted with the idea of dealing Hibbert. Boston would finally get the rim-protecting big man they’ve so unabashedly desired, and Indiana would get a top-flight point guard to help reinvent their core and maximize their depleted offensive weapons until George gets back.
We’ll have a better idea of what’s going to happen once the season starts and we see how Rondo plays, especially with Smart and the other young guys. A lot can change in a few months of regular season games, and Rondo’s long-term destination is certainly no exception.
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