A common theme you hear from NBA prognosticators is that the Celtics "have to" trade Rajon Rondo so that they can truly bottom out and avoid the dreaded treadmill of being not-good-enough-to-compete-but-not-bad-enough-for-a-game-changing-lottery-pick. They "need to" get bad enough to win a lottery pick that could be the foundation for their team going forward. That's a very nice theory and it plays well with a national audience.
The problem is that the Celtics are (by all outward accounts) not selling Rondo and Rondo is (by all outward accounts) happy to be in Boston for the long term. There are many reasons for this which we've gone over before and will likely go over again before February.
Today I wanted to focus in on one of those reasons. Math. Specifically percentages.
My central question is this: Just how much would trading Rajon Rondo help us in terms of winning the lottery?
Let's look back at last year's lottery odds.
1. Orlando Magic- 250 combinations, 25.0% chance of receiving the #1 pick
2. Charlotte Bobcats - 199 combinations, 19.9% chance
3. Cleveland Cavaliers - 156 combinations, 15.6% chance
4. Phoenix Suns - 119 combinations, 11.9% chance
5. New Orleans Pelicans - 88 combinations, 8.8% chance
6. Sacramento Kings - 63 combinations, 6.3% chance
7. Detroit Pistons- 36 combinations, 3.6% chance
8. Washington Wizards- 35 combinations, 3.5% chance
9. Minnesota Timberwolves- 17 combinations, 1.7% chance
10. Portland Trail Blazers- 11 combinations, 1.1% chance
11. Philadelpiha 76ers - 8 combinations, 0.8% chance
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (via TOR)- 7 combinations, 0.7% chance
13. Dallas Mavericks- 6 combinations, 0.6% chance
14. Utah Jazz - 5 combinations, 0.5% chance
Now let's establish a range in the standings where the Celtics could wind up next year.
Currently Marc Stein has the Celtics ranked as the 4th worst team in the league. His comments indicate that he believes that the Celtics will, in fact, trade Rondo. So I'll assume he factored that in. I tend to agree that if we do trade Rondo we could very well have the 4th worst record in the league. There's no way we're going to be worse than the 76ers or the Phoenix Suns and at least one other team will be dreadfully horrible this year.
On the upside, I feel like if things fall right, the Celtics could play competitive basketball and leapfrog 4 other teams on those power rankings and only finish with the 8th worst record in the league. I think that's about their ceiling.
So with Rondo we could be in the position that the Wizards were in last year (8th worst record). Without him, we could be in the position the Suns were (4th worst record).
Therefore, trading Rondo would net us an 8.4% better chance (11.9% vs. 3.5%) of winning the top pick and getting Andrew Wiggins.
That's it. That's all folks.
"But wait," you say. "There's other guys at the top of the lottery that could really be game changers."
Ok, let's expand this to include the top 3 picks. Here's a comparison breakdown of the odds of getting each of the picks for the Suns and Wizards last year.
One: 11.9 percent
Two: 12.59662 percent
Three: 13.29535 percent
Four: 9.85451 percent
Five: 35.05137 percent
Six: 16.04898 percent
Seven: 1.25314 percent
So a 36.8% chance of a top 3 pick.
One: 3.5 percent
Two: 4.0507 percent
Three: 4.78819 percent
Eight: 70.32848 percent
Nine: 16.52498 percent
Ten: 0.79965 percent
Eleven: 0.00801 percent
A 12.2% chance of a top 3 pick. A delta of 24.6%
So you mean to tell me that you want to trade Rondo to increase your odds of winning a top 3 pick to 1 in 3? Or said another way, you'd be selling off an All Star and you'd still have a 63.2% chance of NOT winning the lottery.
I wonder what the odds are that we get a Darko instead of a LeBron with that pick.
I wonder what the odds are that we can't find a player of Rondo's caliber with that pick or any of the picks that we'll have in the next few years.
Right now we have a 100% chance of keeping Rondo if we want him. He's still young enough to build a team around and he's only getting better. We've got other trade assets to use and it only takes one team that is looking to move a star player to turn things around.
Let me put it to you this way. We can learn from our own history that putting all your eggs into the lottery basket can leave you feeling rather empty. Counting on Ainge to pull another KG trade out of his hat is another long-shot proposition, but at least he has a track record of being creative and bold. I guess it is a preference thing but for me that beats counting on ping pong balls.
Anyway, the conclusion I've come to is this. Perhaps the best way to keep off the mediocre treadmill is to NOT trade Rajon Rondo.