On Nov. 26, 2011, the NBA reached an agreement with the players association to end the lockout that canceled the first part of the 2011-2012 season. One of the first steps in picking up the pieces was to grant teams permission to talk to free agents and to discuss potential trades. Three days later, reports surfaced that the Celtics were trying to swap Rajon Rondo for fellow point guard Chris Paul.
That trade, of course, did not happen, but Rondo has been dogged by trade rumors ever since. Conveniently lost in the narrative of most of them is the fact that the Celtics weren’t just trying to trade Rondo; they were trying to get Paul, widely acknowledged to be one of the best two or three point guards in the league. An alternate narrative, “Danny Ainge wants to trade Rajon Rondo”, made for good talk show fodder. Type Rondo’s name into Google and the robots will offer “trade” and the name of another team as the top choices you may have been looking for.
The New York Knicks are the most recent subject of a Rondo rumor. On Sunday, USA Today reported that the Knicks “Have a strong belief [Rondo] can be had,” and for a package as appealing as the wildly overpaid Amar’e Stoudemire and clearing either Jeff Green’s or Gerald Wallace’s salary in 2015. That’s delusional even by New York’s center-of-the-universe standards.
Ainge has stated that he isn’t trying to trade his point guard, but he’s also acknowledged that he takes calls on all players in the interest of doing his job. This month, Ainge told the Toucher & Rich show that the team tried to sign Rondo to an extension over the summer, but that it makes more financial sense for Rondo to wait until he becomes a free agent. Rondo plans to test the waters of free agency after next season, according to an ESPN report.
On the possibility the Celtics might move him, Rondo said this summer, “Those are things that are out of my control. I don’t tend to worry about those things. I have to live my life. Whatever the case may be, whenever that may happen, that’s what will happen. But until then, I’m a Celtic, and I’ll play as hard as I can for this organization.”
Rondo’s impending free agency might make trading him sound appealing, but the smarter move for the Celtics, for a variety of reasons, is to hold onto their four-time All-Star.
Somewhere between the Rondo-CP3 trade that never happened and now, the discussion of whether or not to trade Rondo got twisted. The debate is often wrongly framed around whether or not the Celtics can build around Rondo, as if its an either/or situation. Whether or not Rondo is the best player on the team is irrelevant to the argument, a fun topic for a bar debate but one that doesn’t stop the Celtics from continuing to better themselves. In the NBA you need three or four really good players to be successful (See San Antonio, Indiana, Miami, Oklahoma City). In Rondo you’ve already got one of those guys. Through the draft and the trade market, the Celtics hope to acquire one or two more potential stars. Losing Rondo makes that challenge more difficult.
Retaining Rondo past his current contract won’t be easy, and therein lies the actual debate Ainge finds himself in. The Celtics have Rondo under contract for $13 million next season. After that, they can offer him more than any other team in free agency. Rondo’s comfort here, the team’s very favorable draft and salary cap situation going forward, and the point guard’s relationship with Brad Stevens are all check marks in Boston’s favor. So is the potential for Jared Sullinger to turn into a star.
Going against the Celtics could be Rondo’s wanderlust or an immediate competitive advantage offered by someone else. Money could also play a role. Just because the Celtics can offer Rondo the most money doesn’t mean they will. If someone else views Rondo as a No. 1 player and the Celtics view him as a No. 2, it would be hard to blame Rajon for taking the money and running. Given how smart Rondo is, though, it’s hard to envision him going somewhere for a max deal that hampers that team’s ability to add other top players. In that way, the Celtics have a real shot to keep him.
The worst argument of all for trading Rondo is that trading him before the deadline improves the team’s chances of tanking for a top draft pick. The Celtics can manipulate the roster in other ways — they’ve traded Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford already this season, and they can give Rondo strategic nights off. Plus have you seen this team? The C’s aren’t exactly world-beaters even with Rondo on the floor. Shipping out a known commodity for a slightly better chance at an unknown one, even with a loaded draft, would be shortsighted.
Rondo isn’t perfect (see: outside shooting), but the extent to which he is polarizing has always flummoxed me. At his best Rondo is the best passer in the league, capable of putting 44 points on Miami in a playoff game, At his worst, he’s a walking double-double who can run a team. And yet in a recent Boston.com poll of more than 3,700 readers, 69 percent wanted the Celtics to keep Rondo. Here’s a question for the 31 percent of you who would have him go: Why are you so eager to see him leave?