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Rondo Ups the Ante: Collects Big Contract

It was quite a night at TD Garden.

  • Contract Tension
  • Player Match Up Tension
  • The return of a former teammate from the title year.
  • The Celtics undefeated status on the line.

Get out the smelling salts. I’m getting the vapors.

Invisible Elephant
The elephant in the room really centered around the Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. Before the Hornets game, he went on record as saying that he feels he is the best point guard in the NBA. That was a strategic confession, to be sure. He and his agent, Bill Duffy, had agreed that paying Rondo comparably to what other top 5 point guards were getting, was their goal. Something like a Tony Parker contract ($66 million over 6 years) would do just fine, thank you.

Rondo’s contract talks were in the home stretch of some intense negotiations as the Cs got a league approved extension to try to lock up a deal until Monday Nov. 2. Or, because the Rondo camp wasn’t really negotiating, it was intense ‘decision making’ time for the Celtics. Rondo’s agent Bill Duffy told the Celtics what their bottom line was. They were prepared to head to free agency if their price wasn’t met. Take it or leave it, by the player’s camp. For them it was simple.

Not as simple for a Celtic brain trust that is constantly trying to hold costs in line to keep the franchise’s success going beyond a 2-3 year window with an aging top heavy trio of stars that monopolize most of the salary dollars.

But they knew that Rondo is the youthful potential star talent that they would desperately be seeking elsewhere…if it wasn’t sitting in their locker room every game.

Life Without Rondo?

What hasn’t been mentioned anywhere, and certainly won’t be revealed for a long time, is how the Celtics must have considered the alternative of letting Rondo go and who they thought might be a good fit to replace him. While Rondo is the right person for this team, how many other point guards would love to come and play with the Big Three, this coach, and this franchise if the money was reasonable? 

While Rondo is the right choice, it doesn’t automatically mean that other guards couldn’t help this franchise compete for a title in the future. I’m sure that idea was bandied about before making the final decision.

Logic Prevails
The ultimate point of logic that the Celtics succumbed to was that - if they were planning on matching most any offer in restricted free agency, they must have surely known that Rondo was capable of commanding the dollars he was seeking.

All it would take would be one of the many expected teams to have salary monies to spend for the famed crop of 2010 free agents to focus on the mercurial point guard with the expressionless face and uniquely expressive game. He might not be an automatic Plan A player. But he would certainly be a solid Plan B player in a Christmas land of top available stars. Rondo will probably tell you he is a Plan A player. Time will tell if he is right.

He is a player you can build a team around. That wasn’t the question. The question was a relative one, and it was about assigning a current and future dollar value to Rondo, his game, and his value to helping competing for titles beyond the next few years…and to still have money left to support the current regime. A few million dollars a year could make a big difference in who you land when seeking supporting role players going forward.

A Few Million Here, A Few Million There

We saw that this summer. Instead of Anthony Parker, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Jamario Moon, or perhaps others, the Celtics were lucky to land Marquis Daniels. And Daniels arrived only because he agreed to come here for less. Otherwise the pressure would really have been on management to go deeper into penalty territory. The Celtics are already virtually tied for the second highest payroll in the league ($84,200,000). The NBA Champion Lakers are number one in payroll at $91 mil.

It is, without a doubt, Danny Ainge and Wyc Grousbeck’s biggest decision of the current season. They made the right one. According to Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports, the Celtics gave up their rigid stance on keeping the offer around $9-10 million per year. To keep Rajon Rondo wearing green for the next 5 year, it will cost the Celtics at least $55 million.

The Year of the Bold Statement
The carefully crafted words and phrases uttered by Rondo regarding his contract were dramatically different than his quietly explosive words uttered when asked about his standing in the league as a point guard and where he is in relation to Chris Paul.

"1a and 1b with Chris Paul?," a reporter asked.

"1c. I'm 1a and 1b," he said with a smile. "I just believe I'm one of the best at what I do, that's it. That's how I play and I work out and work as hard as I can to be the best. I'm honest with myself as far as other guys. I respect a lot of their game. Chris Paul is a great point guard, there's a lot of [great point guards]...

He took that attitude farther on the court, where it appeared he enjoyed playing with Chris Paul’s mind at different junctures, saying things and smiling, while CP3 was beginning a slow burn. When they locked up a bit under the basket in the latter part of the second quarter, it appeared more words were said and Rondo pushed Paul further towards the seats. Chris Paul came back at him. The two had to be separated and both received technical fouls.

The jawing continued off and on over the game. When the game ended it seemed as if Chris Paul was having an intense conversation with Paul Pierce (about Rajon Rondo?) when Rondo came over and bumped him and said something more. Rondo infuriated CP3 so much that he pursued Rondo as they headed towards the locker rooms, only to be stopped by Associate Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. They both exchanged words as well according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

Afterwards, as expected, neither player would divulge any exact sentiments communicated on the floor. Though I already suspected as much, Kobe Bryant gave confirmation after last season’s home game against the Lakers.

If you recall, a certain skinny point guard on the Celtics got into Kobe’s face a time or two in that game, and a wide eyed Kobe Bryant pointed his finger at him and gave him some quick advice. In a rarity, and able to get Kobe with just a few other reporters around, I asked him what had transpired between Rajon and himself. He shook his head and answered…."uh-uh. We don’t talk about anything said on the court. It’s our code (between players)."

While it would hard to connect last night’s incident and game directly with the extension the Celtics finally submitted to, it no doubt was the perfect coincidental symbolism to put the period on the final numbers on the contract.

Rajon Rondo is accepting absolutely no one as better than himself at the point guard position. Why not? It certainly fits with this season

It was already a year of upping the ante in the NBA.

  • Paul Pierce had already declared himself to be the best player in the NBA, not Kobe Bryant.
  • Doc Rivers said he wants the Celtics to have the best defense NBA basketball has ever seen.
  • Rasheed Wallace opined that he thinks the Celtics can beat the best regular record ever.
  • Kobe Bryant and Reggie Miller think the Lakers can beat the best regular season record, as well.
  • I hereby announce that I will transform lead into gold. I will make lead simply by boiling water.

I call you and I raise you one.

The difference is that the other statements are at least plausible. That is what makes them intriguing.

And each time such brave comments are uttered, it has gotten people to at least consider the possibility.

As far Rondo’s opinions, we will now have five more years to decide on their veracity. Rondo will have fame and fortune as he solidifies his place in basketball’s most storied franchise. It all happened thanks to a good management team making a pivotal decision just in the nick of time. Now Rondo must live up to that contract.

We get to see how this incredibly talented team with egos to match, marches forward this season and beyond. The future looks bright indeed.

Rondo raised the bet and the Celtics called him.

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