Stories have been swirling throughout this offseason regarding whether or not the Celtics should trade star point guard Rajon Rondo. After the moves (and non-moves) that have taken place so far, it seemed like a good time to take stock of where Rondo stands in relation to the future of the franchise. I've come to the conclusion that he should be a Celtic for life. Here's why:
-He plays well with others
Rondo has been known to take the scoring load into his own hands from time to time, but most everyone can agree that he's at his best when delivering the ball on a silver platter to other talented offensive players. If the Celtics happen to bring in a volume scorer within the next couple of years through trade or free agency (or if one of their young players develops into one), then employing a setup man such as Rondo would make them that much more likely to succeed in Boston. Finishers need to receive the ball in a good position in order to impose their will on NBA defenders. Every Malone could use a Stockton to help him reach the top of his game.
-They can afford it
As the roster currently stands (not including Bogans, who's all but out the door), the Celtics will have about $32 million coming off of their payroll next summer. This season, Rondo will attempt to show teams that he is over his injury and back to his old explosive self. How successful he is will go a long way to determining his value in free agency, both to the Celtics and to other teams. It seems somewhat unlikely to me that Rondo will be viewed as a max level player by most teams, but if he magically has that type of superstar performance this year, the Celtics would still be able to afford his services. If needed, they could move Gerald Wallace to make room for another high salary star, possibly packaging him with a draft pick and a young player in a deal similar to the Zeller/Thornton trade that took place a few days ago. Whatever the relative cost might be, the Celtics will be in a strong position to offer him a fair deal when he enters free agency.
-Projecting Marcus Smart as a starting PG could be dangerous
Marcus Smart has a lot going for him as a player. He's strong, aggressive, and has a knack for getting into the teeth of the defense. But his game is not without fleas. Even though he has the ability to score in bunches, his efficiency in doing so has often been a problem. His field goal percentage has been an issue throughout his college career and during his first few summer league games. He has some difficulty creating high percentage jump shot opportunities for himself, and passing out of pick and rolls is not his strong suit. What does it all mean? To me, he profiles as the prototypical combo guard. This means that his ideal situation would be either playing next to Rondo to receive more open looks, or playing point guard for the second unit against the softer defenses of opposing benches. The NBA player who I'd say he reminds me of the most is Dwyane Wade. In addition to the similarities in their games, their height and weight are almost identical, and Wade had a bit of an inconsistent jump shot in his younger days as well. While Dwyane might have been able to pull off the point guard position in his prime, it clearly wouldn't have been ideal. It's my belief that Smart was drafted to play alongside Rondo (and alongside Avery Bradley when it comes time to harass an overmatched backup point guard) instead of being taken to replace him.
It's possible that a trade for another franchise cornerstone type of player will fall onto Danny Ainge's lap. It's possible that the Celtics will have an opportunity to sign multiple other big name free agents if they remove Rondo from the roster. And it's possible that Flip Saunders will take a Ricky Rubio behind the back pass to the skull and offer Kevin Love for Gerald Wallace, a 2nd round pick, and a lock of Kelly Olynyk's lustrous pony tail. The point is that without an exact plan that specifically does not involve Rondo, keeping him around allows for the most flexibility. He's already shown that he can be a key piece of a championship club. He's shown that he's often at his best in the high stakes atmosphere of the playoffs. And he's shown that his style of play is best suited to augmenting the talents of his teammates. To me, that sounds like a player who's worth taking a chance on.