Even before the trade sending Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn was finalized, rumors abounded surrounding Rajon Rondo’s status and permanence with the Boston Celtics. Some wondered if he would demand a trade after witnessing the destruction of a veteran-laden roster filled with stars ready to win now. Others wondered if he’d want a deal so as not to suffer through a rebuilding process after the rough rehabilitation of his surgically repaired right knee. And then some went as far as to project onto Rondo, assuming that he wouldn’t get on well with rookie C’s head coach Brad Stevens.
None of this has played out. Rondo did not complain in the slightest as KG, Pierce and Terry were shipped south, he’s been nothing but supportive of Stevens as head coach, he’s stuck it out on the bench for the duration of his rehab, working with his young teammates, and the Celtics couldn’t be happier to have their former All-Star back up to his old tricks. Stuck on a minutes restriction, Rondo has averaged seven points and a combined eight assists/rebounds in 20 minutes a contest, working the point in two close losses to the Lakers and the Orlando Magic.
Better, Rondo is saying all the right things to the media about his new role as the team’s sage but hardly wizened leader. He’s pragmatic about his career as he sparks up his eighth NBA season, sharing as much with Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald on Monday:
“If I want to go into coaching afterwards, it’s the next step to that, being a leader on the court and knowing how to talk to guys. You know, you can’t coach every guy the same way. Guys don’t take criticism the same. It’s a learning process, and I’ve been learning every year I’ve been in the league.”
A born competitor, Rondo is rarely one to admit shortcomings. He opened the door a bit when asked if there are specific aspects he needs to improve.
“Yeah,” he said, “the way I talk to guys. I’ve got to find better ways to get my point across. That’s in life though. It’s not just basketball; that’s in my relationships off the court. I’ve got to work on my delivery. My message is always good. It’s just the way I say it may be a little bit harsh.
“You know, it’s hard to control sometimes when you’re in the moment competing. You mean well, but if you’re out there at war on the court, it may not always come out smoothly.”
Rondo also called his situation with the rebuilding Celtics “a great opportunity,” something you wouldn’t really expect hearing from this irascible sort, one that hurried back following an ACL tear to play for a new coach and pass to hardly-Hall of Fame teammates.
This means Rondo’s back, everyone is acting polite, and even the losses for the 14-28 lottery-bound Celtics are still piling up! It would appear that this is the best of several worlds, and that there is no reason to throw a wrench into things by considering dealing Rondo?
Should the C’s wrench it up, though?
The point guard position is a unique one, and there just isn’t a lot of precedent for dealing top tiered point men midseason in the hopes of being put over the top. Even when Deron Williams went from Utah to New Jersey in 2011, it was established that the Nets were headed to the lottery, and that the D-Will acquisition was more of a long term move. Even at full health, and even considering his significant basketball IQ, it wouldn’t be fair to deal Rajon and deprive him of a training camp with his new team, so unless there’s a knockout deal to be made, expect that Rondo will finish out the season in Boston.
The man turns 28 just after the trade deadline, and though Boston (full of impending draft picks and eventual cap space) is going about rebuilding the right way, this team is years away from winning – as the C’s didn’t really even get a lottery-styled asset from the 2013 NBA draft because of the timing of their rebuild.
This would have a 30 or 31-year old Rondo leading things for general manager Danny Ainge’s team, and that’s in a quick, best-case scenario. Not the worst thing in the world, but also not at a price that would prevent Ainge from fully making a free agent splash as he rebuilds – Rondo’s contract (worth over $24 million this season and next) expires in the summer of 2015, and unless he wants to take a pay cut as he enters his 30s, his compensation could get in the way of Ainge’s best laid plans to surround his various 20-something draft picks with late-20s talent.
That’s assuming Rondo would want to re-sign, of course; because while he’s currently saying and doing the right things in Boston, a lot can change between now and July, 2015. Worse for Rondo, a lot could stay the same between now and that date, with the young Celtics still potentially taking their sweet time to rebuild, while Rondo works in his prime. Another contending team could make a killer offer to increase Rondo’s salary while he works into his 30s, and that scenario might be the best solution for all sides in this.
That’s also assuming that some team doesn’t step up to the plate between now and February 2015 for a trade. The issue with this setup is that expiring contracts, like Rondo’s, aren’t as valuable as they were once perceived to be – witness Boston’s inability to do much with Kris Humphries’ massive final year of his contract, despite his solid play. Further clouding things is the fact that most teams don’t acquire an All-Star level point guard to be put over the top, as teams that are on the verge of championship contention usually have a top flight point guard already starting for them.
Which puts Rondo, as has been his custom since his rookie year, in a unique place. Both he and the Celtics are genuine about the current state of the relationship, and Ainge is likely only taking calls, not placing them.
That can change, though. And not because of some lingering animosity between Rondo and the team. Nah, it’d change because Danny Ainge – the man who had the guts to trade Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce – will stop at nothing to improve his Celtics. Even if it means dealing his last beloved star.
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