Rajon Rondo has developed into one of the best point guards in the league after just 3 seasons. He's not a finished product by any means. He's inconsistent and still needs to develop a decent mid-range jumpshot. But he's got all the tools you need to be a star at arguably the most critical position on the floor.
He's still under his rookie contract, but that ends after next season. The Celtics have the option of extending his contract now (which would kick in next offseason) or wait till next summer. If they wait, he'll be a restricted free agent - which we know means we can match any offer.
Sunday, when Ainge was asked about it, he indicated that a decision wouldn't be coming any time soon.
"Those are issues we’re not going to deal with until probably September and October, but definitely not in the summer," Ainge said of Rondo and Allen. "Our priority is to get this team situated for next year."
It is hard to hear that and not wonder about various trade rumors we've been hearing involving Ray Allen and Rondo. Any team dealing for either player would want to negotiate with the players on their own terms after aquiring them. But for the purposes of this discussion we're going to assume that Rondo is still a member of the Celtics for the next year and the Boston brass has every intention of extending his contract.
For the purposes of this column we decided to try something different. I'll take one side of the debate and Roy Hobbs will take the other side. Read the debate after the jump.
Negotiate an Extension this Offseason - Jeff Clark
I say lock him up as soon as possible in order to save money and cap space later. I feel like he's only going to get better next season and the price tag is only going to go up from here.
The list of players I'd trade Rondo for is short and distinguished. That doesn't mean he should get superstar money (yet). He averaged a near triple double in the Bulls series but he had some forgettable games in both the first and second round - highlighting his inconsistency issues. So despite the ring on his finger and the impressive progress he's made, his agent is still negotiating based more on potential than production. That is an opportunity for the Celtics to save some money.
Rondo is faced with the following choice: Take a little less guaranteed money now or take a risk by waiting a year and letting the market dictate his price. I understand the draw of maximizing your earnings. But if I was his adviser I'd recommend taking the sure thing now.
From the Celtics perspective, there's plenty of risk in waiting too. Say he develops as I expect him to and he makes his first All Star team. There are teams out thee building lots of cap space that won't get LeBron or Wade or Bosh and they might just be looking to spend the money on a young, All Star point guard. The Celtics can match any offer but a bidding war could drive his cost way up.
Plus there's also the messy game that agents and GMs play in the media. GMs try to keep the price low by telling all teams that they'll match any offer. Agents try to entice other teams into bidding by any means necessary - sometimes by driving a wedge between the team and the player. Sometimes it gets so messy that the player pleads publicly to the team to let him go - and when they match the offer, it makes it uncomfortable for everyone. Not saying for sure that would happen with Rondo, but why take the chance?
Sooner or later, Rondo is going to become a very rich man. Chances are he's going to make something north of $10M a year. I can only see his price going up next summer so lock him in now while you still can.
Negotiate an Extension Next Summer - Roy Hobbs
The number one reason not to give Rondo an extension this summer? That's easy: Rondo's agent wants it to happen. It's easy to see why. Rondo is coming off one of the best playoff stints for a point guard ever, having averaged 16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 9.8 assists combined against the Bulls and Magic. His value, it stands to figure, is also at an all-time high. Indeed, rumors leaked out of Sacramento place his value at at least a top-five draft pick and another young starting-caliber player. Numbers and value like that probably puts Rondo's asking price closer to Chris Paul and Deron Williams territory (roughly $13 million or more per season) than it does to Jose' Calderon ($7.4 million last season) or T.J. Ford ($8 million), players Rondo was compared to prior to the playoffs. Anybody who plays the stock market will tell you that it makes absolutely no sense to buy a stock when it is at its peak value.
I understand the argument made by Jeff and others that teams that aren't able to sign Lebron, Bosh, Wade, Amare', et. al. will look to Rondo. Obviously, a lot of teams could have money to spend. However, would Rondo be a good fit for those teams? Not necessarily. For instance, many of the teams expected to be active in free agency already have starting point guards; Cleveland has Mo Williams, New Jersey has Devin Harris, Houston has Aaron Brooks, etc. Other teams with space wouldn't be a great fit for Rondo; for instance, Miami in all likelihood is going to sign Wade, and Rondo would be a terrible fit next to him. Also, of course, Rondo won't be the only "fall back" free agent on the market; Joe Johnson, Brandon Roy, Lamarcus Aldridge, Ray Allen, Brad Miller, Josh Howard, Tracy McGrady, Rudy Gay, Jermaine O'Neal, Richard Jefferson, Michael Redd, Steve Nash, Shaq, Manu Ginobili, Andrea Bargnani, and Patrick O'Bryant all can be free agents that off-season. There's only so much money to go around, and there's no guarantee that Rondo will be the first choice of many teams. Lastly, even if Rondo does sign an offer sheet with another team next season, the Celtics have the option of simply matching any deal he agrees to.
Really, there is very little risk in declining to extend Rondo. Some might ask, "What if Rondo forgoes restricted free agency and decides to become an unrestricted free agent in 2011"? Well, in that circumstance the Celtics would have Rondo under their control for a very reasonable $3,018,783 salary next season. That would save the team a ton of money next year, allowing them to stay well below the luxury tax. This cost savings would potentially be used to upgrade the team in other areas. The following year, the Celtics would still hold Rondo's Bird rights and would be in the best position to give Rondo a contract, as they'd be able to offer more years, bigger raises, and more money than any other team. Again, whatever risk there is to the Celtics is very small.
On the other hand, the risk of signing Rondo prematurely is fairly large. First, should the Celtics sign Rondo to an extension this off-season, the Celtics would have no protection if Rondo got injured during the season; they'd still be on the hook for the entirety of his extension. With Rondo's aggressive style of play -- which has him knocked to the floor seemingly three times per game -- injury is a very real consideration for the Celtics. It makes sense, then, to minimize that risk by waiting another season before signing him. Even beyond the risk of injury, however, there are other risks that come with extending a young player's contract.
For instance, another risk is that there are still question marks regarding Rondo's true value. While Jeff focuses on the ability to potentially save money on a Rondo deal by signing him now, what if he's not as good as we think he is? There's no doubt that he's a good player, definitely above-average as a point guard, almost certainly in the top-ten (and arguably in the top five) at his position. However, he's not a superstar yet. In fact, he's not even a star yet. He's a borderline all-star player who is prone to extreme inconsistency. For instance, Rondo shot at or above 50% from the field in four of the first five playoff games this post-season, and scored at least 19 points in all of those games. In the next nine games, he shot as high as 50% only once, and only scored as many as 19 points twice. This follows his regular season pattern of performance: he shot an amazing 55% or better in 34 out of 80 games, but a terrible 38.5% of lower in 20 contests. As of right now, Rondo hasn't shown that he can be counted on for consistent performances. Can the Celtics justify paying a hefty contract to a player who only excels roughly half of the time?
Related to consistency is Rondo's scoring. As Doc Rivers recently said, "at the point guard level you have to be able to score". Out of a total of 80 regular season games played, Rondo scored in single figures in 36 of them (with five or fewer points in 18 of those games). That means that in 45% of all games played Rondo failed to score in double digits, with Rondo scoring a pedestrian five points or fewer in a whopping 22.5% of all games. That seems like an extraordinarily high number of low-scoring performances for a player people are mentioning in the same breath as Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Indeed, Chris Paul scored in double digits in 75 out of 77 regular season games (and never fewer than nine points), Deron Williams scored 10+ in 61 out of 67 games (and two of those sub-par games were while he was coming back from injury), and Derek Rose scored that amount in 71 out of 81 contests. In fact, no player who is mentioned among the near-elite point guards in the NBA came close to Rondo's percentage of sub-double digit performances. Again, until Rondo starts showing a greater level of consistency with his scoring, it makes sense to hold off on paying him an elite-level salary. What if he doesn't turn the proverbial corner?
Of course, scoring goes hand-in-hand with shooting, and as we all know, Rondo is a poor shooter. How poor? He finished the year with the second lowest eFG% on jumpers of any starting point guard in the NBA; only Russell Westbrook, a rookie, was slightly worse. The popular refrain among Celtics fans seems to be "yeah, but he's getting better". Is he? This season, Rondo's eFG% on jumpers, points scored off of jumpers, and percentage of total shots that were jumpers all decreased significantly. While he hit more three pointers this year, overall he took fewer shots from outside of 15 feet, and shot a lower percentage on those shots than he did last season. I don't think it's fair, then, to assume that Rondo will automatically improve his game next season.
And why hasn't Rondo improved? Well, that brings us to the most contentious issue in the debate over giving Rondo an extension: "character issues". Now, when people talk about character, they're generally referring to a player's criminal rap sheet. However, character also involves traits such as work ethic, leadership, intensity, etc. On the issue of Rondo's shooting, the following quote is instructive:
Rondo is often compared with Tony Parker, another late-first-round pick, who guided the San Antonio Spurs to the 2003 championship even though he lacked a reliable jumper. Whereas Parker overhauled his technique and has developed into a long-range marksman, Rondo intends to change nothing.
"I'm set in my ways," says Rondo, who believes his accuracy will improve with practice. "I don't feel like I have to settle for a jump shot, because I can get to the basket at will."
One wonders whether that stubbornness will get in the way of Rondo improving at the rate that he should. As Doc recently said, "The playoffs will always be the toughest part for Rondo, because they'll always put it on him to make shots". Since that's the case, what does it say about Rondo if he's too stubborn to improve his form? Additionally, last season Rondo didn't "pick up a ball" from Game 6 of the Finals until early August. Was that a factor in his poor shooting this year?
Also, Rondo has admitted that he thinks he knows more than Doc Rivers at times, stating "I've learned to handle it a little bit better ... even though I think I'm right." This is nothing new; throughout his career, Rondo has clashed with coaches and teammates. Doc Rivers has described Rondo as "moody", and indicated that at one time Rondo's teammates "hated" playing with him. In the playoffs, Doc noted that Rondo's failure to play "with speed" was holding the team back. Recently, Danny Ainge said that "sometimes [Rondo] doesn't understand what the team needs to be successful" and "The single biggest thing with him is getting him to compete night in and night out." Lastly, of course, there is the issue of Rondo showing up approximately one hour before tip off in not one, but two playoff games (Games 1 and 7 of the Orlando series, two Celtics' losses in which Rondo played mediocre at best). Are these major questions marks? Frankly, probably not. However, they're something that the team should sit back and observe for another year before paying Rondo like a franchise player.
Nobody is claiming that the Celtics should be down on Rondo. However, with some open question marks about his game and his attitude, is there any reason to rush into an extension now? Why not wait a year, until Rondo can put some of these criticisms to rest? Another season's worth of evaluation time in this regard is certainly in the Celtics best interest. For all of the above reasons, Danny should do the right thing and tell Rondo's agent "thanks but no thanks".
So what do you think?