It’s Celtics’ season, which means it’s also Rajon Rondo trade rumor season. Well, it’s always Rajon Rondo trade rumor season, but now that this NBA year is officially underway and the final year of Rondo’s contract has officially begun, the churning of the rumor mill will only grow stronger and louder until the Celts either re-sign him or deal him.
If you follow the Celtics even in the most cursory, superficial manner, you know that there’s no in between with Rondo. He’s either loved or hated and those who fall into the latter category are usually at the head of the line when it comes to pleas for Celtics’ basketball boss Danny Ainge to ship him out of town. It’s grown pretty tiresome and doesn’t even really make much sense considering that all the things the four-time All-Star point guard is especially good at – distributing the ball, creating good opportunities for others and making his teammates better, all without needing to shoot more than a handful of times per game – are all pretty precious commodities in today’s NBA.
But on the other hand, the Celtics aren’t very good these days. Why wouldn’t a guy is in the prime of his career and knows what it’s like to win a title and play for a contender take the opportunity to move on to a team closer to a ring? If that’s what Rondo wants to do and the Celtics know it, trying to get something in return for him makes perfect sense.
Plenty of folks have an opinion on the subject. Even those who you wouldn’t exactly expect to provide any input publicly.
Bron, go get Rondo out of Boston!
— Tracy McGrady (@Real_T_Mac) November 6, 2014
That’s former NBA superstar Tracy McGrady weighing in. Presumably, the tweet was sent not only because of the incessant rumors swirling around Rondo. Just a little over a week into the season, there’s already been some ripples in the force formed in Cleveland when LeBron James joined up with young point guard and former No. 1 overall pick Kyrie Irving. Irving, who has never once in his young basketball life been anything but the dude with the ball at all times, seems to be struggling with the fact that on this particular team, with that particular superstar alongside, he is no longer The Man.
Irving made news this week for scoring 34 points in a loss without recording a single assist over 45 minutes played. That’s pretty tough to do when you’re, you know, the point guard. So it’s probably not a coincidence that the day after that performance, which was followed by some not very happy postgame comments from LeBron himself, T-Mac sent his tweet.
Now before we go any further, let’s get this out of the way: I do not want the Celtics to trade Rondo and don’t believe they should. With the right kind of players around him, he’s capable of being a transcendent talent. And even though he’s a little bit older now and is coming off a major knee injury, he’s still in the prime of his career. To me, the Celtics’ best move is to do everything they can to re-sign him and use the combination of trade-worthy assets and salary cap room they will have next summer to bring in an appropriate supporting cast.
If that proves to be an impossible strategy, or if the Celtics decide they want to go in a completely different direction, you can bet the house that trying to peddle Rondo to Cleveland in exchange for Irving is a fantastic idea for all involved and should be pursued vigorously.
Think about it for a minute. Everybody wins. The Celtics get an absolute blue chipper, the kind of go-to guy they haven’t had since Paul Pierce left town, who has already been an All-Star game MVP at the tender age of 22.
In return, the Cavs get a pass first, defensive-minded point guard who would be fine taking about zero shots per game if need be. Can you imagine Rondo running a 3-on-2 with LeBron on one wing and Kevin Love on the other? It makes my head feel kind of explode-y just thinking about it. He’d average 20 dimes per game. And chances are no one in Cleveland would ever accuse him of being selfish for looking to rack up assists (hands down the most patently ridiculous “criticism” of Rondo ever uttered).
Given the current mindsets and timetables of both teams, it just feels like the right fit. Sure, the Cavs would be giving up the enormous upside that comes with Irving. But their chances of seriously contending immediately increase in a big way with Rondo in the fold. As presently constituted, they’re not even a lock to get out of the Eastern Conference, especially if the Bulls’ Derrick Rose ever gets healthy. And don’t forget, part of what propelled LeBron’s last superteam, the Miami Heat, into the Finals in his first year there was the presence of Dwyane Wade, a star who knew how to win already. Rondo is not on the level Wade was back then, but he’s got championship experience. Irving most decidedly does not, which he hilariously reminded us during a game last week.
The Celtics are nowhere near contending. As great as Rondo is, the best that he and his current teammates can do is maybe, possibly sneak into the playoffs thanks to the general suckiness of the East. A player like Irving, who is still developing, fits the profile of the Celtics both right now and for the foreseeable future.
It wouldn’t be easy. Eric Pincus over at Basketball Insiders did all the convoluted salary cap math. Because the max contract already bestowed on Irving doesn’t kick in until next season, there’s no way the deal could be a one-for-one swap. Evans Clinchy of Celtics Blog, Blazers Edge, and Hardwood Paroxysm ran some ideas through the ESPN Trade Machine, determining that a couple more players would need to be included. And you’d have to think that even if it weren’t necessary for financial reasons, the Cavs would likely ask for a little more than just Rondo for an asset with all the trimmings of Irving.
Things are a little bit different now than they were when McGrady gave us all his opinion. The Cavs won on Friday night with Irving taking just 11 shots and dishing out six assists. The Celtics lost rookie point guard Marcus Smart to a high ankle sprain that they say will keep him out of action at least two weeks (don’t be surprised if it’s more like four or five). And while Smart’s injury isn’t likely to affect the Celtics’ long range plans, the fact that he was even drafted in the first place gives the team a built-in insurance policy should Rondo get dealt.
Who knows? The Celtics and Rondo have said all the right things about his impending free agency and the prospect of a trade. And to repeat, the ideal scenario for me and plenty of other Celtics’ observers is that they keep him.
But for Kyrie Irving?
It’s worth a chat.
Email Jeremy at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @jmg2776.