Another day, another rumor regarding the future of Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. It seems like everyone these days has a theory about potential trade destinations or where he may bolt in free agency this summer -- as if it's a foregone conclusion that he won't be staying in Boston much longer.
"There is one player that makes sense in LA next season: Rajon Rondo. Several rival executives believe the Lakers will make a strong run at Rondo next summer, and it's easy to see why. Rondo is young (28), plays a critical position and shares the same win-at-all-bleeping-cost attitude as Bryant. The Celtics are rebuilding and have a young playmaker in Marcus Smart, which may limit their desire to hand Rondo max money."
That the Lakers would be interested in Rondo should come as no surprise. He's shown in the early going this season that he's regained his All-Star form, leading the league in assists and flirting with a triple-double on a nightly basis. He's a proven winner that has already shown he can be the best player on a contending team and he lives for the spotlight of big games. Who wouldn't want a guy like that?
Adding to the speculation is that the Lakers are one of only a handful of teams that will have both max cap space this summer and an obvious need for an upgrade at point guard (moment of silence for the career of Steve Nash). Rondo happens to play what has become the league's deepest position, which limits the market for his services, but the Lakers don't have anyone under contract for next year that plays point guard. Linking Rondo to the Lakers is an obvious fit.
That doesn't mean he'll end up there. Sure, the Celtics are a rebuilding team and Rondo wants to play for a winner, but the Lakers are rebuilding too! Los Angeles has about $36 million committed to only five players on next season's roster (assuming they decline Jordan Hill's $9 million team option). A max contract for Rondo would likely approach about $20 million in the first year of the deal, depending on how much the salary cap rises for the 2015-16 season. With a cap projected to be in the $66-68 million range, that leaves them about $12 million to fill out the other half of their roster.
Rondo, a deteriorating Kobe Bryant and a bunch of question marks hardly makes for a contending team. Bryant's cap-clogging $25 million deal would come off the Lakers books the following season - unless Kobe decides he wants to keep playing, in which case the Lakers almost assuredly extend him with another overpriced deal. If Bryant retires after next season, the Lakers could potentially set themselves up with room for two more max players to join Rondo in 2016, when the salary cap is expected to take a massive jump due to the league's new TV money.
Except that by 2016, every team will have cap space. Outside of the potential to lure future free agents, the Lakers don't have a lot to offer. Julius Randle, the team's high lottery pick in last summer's draft, suffered a season ending injury that will set back his development. Their first-round pick in this year's draft is owed to the Phoenix Suns, unless it ends up in the top 5.
Meanwhile, the Celtics are loaded with young talent, a bundle of draft picks and will have cap space by 2016, even after factoring in a hefty raise for Rondo. Boston is developing a great core that could be one big move away from rising up to contender status again, while L.A. is essentially a blank slate full of question marks. What would make them a better choice?
Well, the weather is nicer. Aside from that, L.A. doesn't seem like a great fit for the brooding Rondo. He seems like he'd be more comfortable sitting at home playing Connect Four than out rubbing elbows with A-List celebrities. The glamour of Hollywood isn't likely to sway Rondo's decision. Boston can offer him more money and the incentive of being the captain of a team with the flexibility to rapidly improve by cashing in on it's wealth of assets. The Lakers will always be Kobe's team, as long as he is still around.
For what it's worth, the Celtics are fully aware that Rondo will have other suitors, but seem intent on keeping him in Boston.
"Everybody knows the circumstances with Rajon," Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, said on 98.5 the Sports Hub's Toucher & Rich show. "Rajon is a free agent at the end of the summer. We like Rajon. And Rajon has the freedom to go anywhere else. So we have to make this an attractive place to stay."
Boston's best option remains locking Rondo up to a long term deal. Even on a max contract, he could still remain a relative bargain if he signs this off-season, prior to when the salary cap is expected to soar at unprecedented rates. Ainge stated that his goal is to make Boston an attractive place for Rondo to stay, but keeping him in town would make Boston an attractive place for other stars to consider - which is vital for the Celtics to take the next step toward being a legitimate contender.
Speculation will continue to run wild about Rondo's future all season long, so get used to hearing more rumors like this. The thought of the Celtics star player jumping ship to a team that has historically been their biggest rival would make any fan shudder. It's the equivalent of a beloved Red Sox player defecting to the Yankees. The betrayal is heartbreaking, which is why even the thought of it has Celtics fans concerned.
Not to worry. While Rondo's future remains a mystery, making the cross-country move to join the Lakers is an unlikely scenario.