This is crazy. This is fantasy basketball. This kind of stuff doesn't happen. But it just might. Similar to the Kevin Garnett trade a few years back, a ripple turned into a rumor which has turned into a boulder gathering speed as it races downhill. Chris Paul is going to be traded. The Celtics are very much (reportedly, but reported by everyone) in the running.
The question on many Celtics fans' lips is "why?" Especially if Chris Paul won't commit to signing an extension. I'll do my best to come up with some kind of answer.
First of all, by just about any measurable, Chris Paul is the better player and Rondo is only a few months younger. So regardless of the package, the Celtics would be getting the best player in the deal. When healthy, Chris Paul is a legit MVP candidate and the opportunity to pick one of those up doesn't come around every day. (Note: I'm also a big, big Rondo fan)
With that out of the way, the prickly issue of convincing Chris Paul to stay comes up. As of now he appears to be giving no promises to anyone except maybe New York that he'd sign any kind of extension anywhere. So why would Danny be willing to sign up for a 6 month rental? Because he thinks he can convince Chris Paul to stay.
Here's the sales pitch...
Come to Boston and kick the tires for a year. Play for Doc Rivers. Play with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen. Get to know them and the city. See how much fun it is to play for a title contender. If all goes according to plan, you'll be part of history, adding a banner to the rafters in year one.
Now look ahead. We don't have Blake Griffin, but we do have max cap space next year. If/when Dwight Howard is a free agent, you can pitch the parquet and yourself to him as a package deal. And here's the kicker - for the next couple years after that you can also keep playing with Pierce and probably KG and Ray on reduced deals. Even in the twighlight of their careers they'll be a lot of fun to play with. Or if that doesn't work out, Danny is nothing if not creative enough to reload on the fly.
Keep in mind, I doubt that either Chris Paul or Dwight Howard has any intention of signing right away with whomever trades for them (or their current teams). If they do, they leave money on the table.
Paul can get only one year added to his contract in an extend-and-trade, and he'd get the same money via a sign-and-trade next summer that he would get simply by leaving outright as a free agent for a team with room: four years and approximately $74 million, as opposed to the five-year, $100 million deal New Orleans could offer he he played out the season. Paul also could get a five-year max deal from a new team following a six-month window from the date he was traded.
So Paul has 26 million reasons to hold off signing anywhere (unless he really has worries about injury - in which case he might have just re-signed with New Orleans right away). So I'm guessing that with some time to think it through, he'd be happy to sign a max extension with the Celtics next summer.
With all that said, there's still that chance that Chris Paul would say "thanks but no thanks, I'm going elsewhere." So where does that leave the Celtics? Not as bad as you'd think. They'd still have enough cap room to sign two max players. Or they could trade for a big money player (under the cap they don't have to worry about matching salaries). Basically they'd still have options. They wouldn't have Rondo, but they'd have options.
So to sum up:
Best case: Celtics win one more title for the Big 3 and build around Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
Worst case: Celtics get nothing for Rondo but completely clear the deck and start over next year.
Danny Ainge is a gambler and a mad scientist, but some of his plans are so crazy they just might work.