As you’ve likely heard by now, the Knicks are reportedly recruiting Celtics star Rajon Rondo. It’s a story that originally surfaced almost a month ago, and then seemed to go away when the briefly-rumored Kings deal emerged. The first rumblings of a move with the Knicks came from USA Today when Steve Smith, Rondo’s former high school coach at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, said Carmelo Anthony (who also suited up for Smith) wants to play alongside Rondo in New York.
Anthony was asked about the rumor at the time and wouldn’t comment because he said that’d be tampering – which is true. The former scoring champ is also expected to leave New York when he opts out of his contract after this season and tests free agency. Why? The Knicks stink. They’re 9-19, hurt, and not getting any better quickly. The Knickerbockers are a year-plus out from being able to sign a key free agent or two to max contracts. It’s easy to understand why Anthony would like to accelerate the process.
But now “league sources” say the Knicks are chasing Rondo to the point where, frankly, it’s uncomfortable. He’s not a free agent until after next season and he’s in the midst of recovering from an ACL injury. Basically, per this source or collection of sources, the hope is that Rondo will attempt to force a trade – like Anthony did from Denver in 2011.
I don’t think Celts president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will trade Rondo and, as I’ve said in the past, I don’t think he should. This latest report most certainly won’t happen. It’s silly. Rondo wouldn’t strong-arm his way out of town to the Knicks, and the C’s wouldn’t be interested either. New York has nothing appealing to give – no first-round picks until 2018, and Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway, Jr. aren’t enough bait – plus the two clubs are in the same division. Anthony switched conferences, never mind divisions.
This rumor needs to go away, as do any and all Rondo trade rumors, as far as I’m concerned. The athletic, headstrong guard is the only star the Celtics have, and they have no reliable idea of what he’ll be when he returns – or the when itself after his “mid-January or late-February” remark last weekend.
Rondo has said he doesn’t have his endurance yet. Gerald Wallace noted that his timing isn’t there. Brad Stevens said he was huffing and puffing at the end of Thursday’s practice. It was a good practice, but obviously he doesn’t have his game stamina, nor should he after 11 months off the floor. ACL injuries are tricky and often take a full year to recover from. For Derrick Rose, it was longer – and now, though it’s unrelated, the Bulls’ franchise player is out again. Considering that timetable, Rondo’s right on schedule. He suffered the injury last January and had the surgery the following month. It hasn’t been a full year.
Rondo’s value is low, at least compared to what it could be should he prove to be his old self when healthy. That’s when Ainge will receive the best offers for young talent, picks, expiring contracts, or whatever else he’s looking for in a potential move. But, for those premier proposals, he has to get back on the court. At that point, Ainge can decide if he’s an elite-level player the Celtics can build around and one who is worthy of the max contract he’ll be seeking in 2015. For now, the nearly $13 million he is owed next season is still team-friendly.
And, not to be forgotten because I believe it’s as important as any other factor, the C’s want to see what a healthy and motivated Rondo looks like on the court with a new head coach in Stevens guiding him. If you believe what you’ve heard and read, the two are already bosom buddies and are both at another level intellectually – which makes for an incredibly appealing on-the-court, in-the-huddle dynamic. Rondo’s been saying he’s wanted an opportunity to prove he can be a leader, and this is it. I doubt he wants to be Anthony’s sidekick on another aging roster. He did that for six years and with more worthy counterparts.
The larger point is that this deal would never happen. Ainge may or may not trade Rondo – but he won’t deal him to a division rival where he could conceivable hurt the Celtics frequently and for years to come. The Knicks will have to apply their pressure elsewhere.
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Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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