Rajon Rondo trade rumors are battling with the legality of Cuban cigars and North Korean films hackers as the most popular water-cooler topic in offices across New England. This is a yearly tradition around Boston, so much so that we've grown accustomed to the rumors, but this time they are quite different.
But Boston Celtics fans are in a panic, sputtering out bizarre comments about the future of the franchise, probably because the twisted reality of Rondo in another uniform seems so unfathomable. He's been "close" to being traded so many times that this is just another rumor that'll die, right?
Probably not this time, because this seems pretty real. The picture painted by the local and national media is that Boston initiated conversations with several teams, and so far Dallas is the leader with an offer centered around Brandan Wright and a 2015 first round draft pick.
Fans and pundits have asserted that Boston would be getting the shaft in a deal like that, but value is subjective, and each opinion of the deal is quite honestly unimportant in the grand scheme of things. There are many other factors to look at, because trading Rondo is not a move that can happen in a vacuum, as there are many other factors to look at.
There probably needs to be a third team in most deals
A lot of trade ideas have been thrown around using ESPN's Trade Machine as of late. One of the more popular ones involves Dallas Mavericks center Brandan Wright and point guard Raymond Felton coming to Boston for Rajon Rondo. This works using the trade machine, but it doesn't in reality.
That's because Boston has 15 players on their roster, the maximum allowed by the NBA. They would have to waive or trade another player in order to accept a 2-for-1 deal.
Many will assume that the Celtics would just waive Dwight Powell, this June's 45th overall pick and a fringe NBA player spending the majority of his year playing in the D-League, but that is not the case. Boston loves Powell and is encouraged by his development in Maine; he may never pan out to be a top rotational player, but he isn't someone they'll just get rid of, especially if they're also losing Rondo.
That means Boston needs a third trading partner in a trade, unless it's an even 2-for-2 or 3-for-3 swap, or if they send out more bodies than they get back.
Maybe that means veterans Jeff Green, Marcus Thornton, and/or Brandon Bass could get shipped elsewhere, or maybe if the Celtics do end up with Wright, they'll find Vitor Faverani expendable. As Adrian Wojnarowski hinted in his latest report on Thursday, there are "a lot of scenarios in play."
Boston should be aggressive in quickly completing a deal
Many Celtics fans seem like they'd like to see the front office drag this out to get the highest offer possible. The only issue with that is Boston could run the risk of seeing Rondo's stock drop even more than it already has. By prolonging this slow dance through the cold winter months, Rondo could get hurt or continue to struggle, or non-contending teams could find themselves completely out of the playoff race, thus dropping the amount of pursuers of Rondo's services. Why risk that, when you can jive and get things done now?
On the surface, it looks like Boston is leaking information with the hopes of escalating the process and getting this done as soon as possible. With the Western Conference playoff race as tight as it is, maybe they can even get their trading partner to cough up a little bit more than expected. Even though Boston isn't very good themselves this year, at just 9-14 on the year, they have a lot of quality talent that can help contending teams.
Not to mention that the Boston front office has the support of both the fan-base and ownership. Never before has a star player in any sport been involved in trade rumors as much as Rajon Rondo has been over the years.
In the video above, you can see a few surveys in which fans have consistently backed the possibility of trading Rondo. I have put up "trade Rondo polls" on nearly all of my related articles for the primary reason of finding the pulse of the fans. Surprisingly, they seem open to the idea of a Rondo-less Boston Celtics roster.
For Wyc Grousbeck and the rest of Boston's ownership, this is important, because they do care about what the fans think about the franchise, and they are ultimately the deciding factor in what Danny Ainge and the front office do. Because the fans support the trading of a star, the owners do as well.
Boston is always self-evaluating
"Rajon Rondo is a goner" - that's the impression I had after reading Steve Bulpett's column in The Boston Herald and after listening to Danny Ainge's interview with Toucher & Rich on 98.5 Sports Hub. Ainge has always protected Rondo in the past, especially through Bulpett's coverage and in his interviews with the media.
But this time around Ainge did nothing to quiet down the Rondo rumors; if anything he only added fuel to the fire. However, it's not just the front office that evaluates the roster, but the coaching staff, which is something that I believe has gone overlooked this season.
In fact, I can't help but begin to think that Brad Stevens himself isn't exactly convinced that Rondo is the perfect fit for his motion offense. Rondo has certainly integrated himself quite well, but at times things don't run as smoothly as they do when the reserves are in the game.
Sometimes you have to read between the lines, especially when Stevens is speaking, because he will never publically criticize his guys for any of their possible weaknesses.
For example, Stevens has consistently praised Phil Pressey for his ability to "change and push the pace," which also happens to infer that the pace isn't exactly what he'd like it to be when "the other point guard" is in the game.
Also, after last night's game against the Orlando Magic, Stevens lumped more praise onto Pressey, as well as other bench reserves for their defensive effort.
"Adding Marcus Smart healthy will help [the defense], that's obvious. But I think playing Gerald Wallace helps that, and playing Phil Pressey helps that," Stevens said. "We have to really evaluate that as we continue to evaluate our team."
"Evaluate," huh? I'd say a lot of that is happening now.
Stevens later said that the defense isn't good when they don't get into the ball handler, but they're at their best when they do. Pressey and Smart, as well as Avery Bradley, have consistently done that this season; Rondo hasn't. Reading between the lines, maybe Stevens also thinks his defense is better with Rondo on the bench.
And it wouldn't be too surprising if that were the case; Rondo's defense has deteriorated over the years because of his increasing responsibilities on the offensive end of the floor; this season he is allowing opponents to shoot 50 percent from the field, which is the worst of all Boston's guards, according to SportVU.
Quality point guards other than Rondo do exist
There will (likely) be time for more in-depth speculation at a later date, but I do want to touch on a topic I discussed in my March piece, "Playing Devil's Advocate: Reasons to trade Rajon Rondo." (As an aside, I have a confession to make: I wasn't playing devil's advocate, I really thought they should've traded Rondo. Sorry.)
In that piece, I quoted an anonymous NBA scout who said that Rondo's pound-the-ball style doesn't fit in Stevens' free-flowing, read-and-react offense. Interestingly, Rondo has actually done a good job of succumbing to his coach's demands by working within the offense, but it's still not perfect.
Rondo is shooting 32.4 percent from mid-range and 25 percent from behind the arc, which are not effective totals for a point guard in this offense. On a team desperate for scoring, having a point guard that can shoot effectively out of the pick-and-roll would do wonders for the spacing and overall potency of the offense.
Is it out of the question that Ainge, Stevens, and Boston's whole think-tank have gotten together and come to the conclusion that could potentially be better off without Rondo? Definitely not, because there are always other options to play point guard, especially in the NBA, where seemingly every team has a quality starter at the position.
The long rebuild is something fans have feared, but that doesn't mean Boston can't continue to pursue impactful players on the market when free agency begins next summer. Goran Dragic, Reggie Jackson, and Brandon Knight may all hit the market, and all three are arguably superior options in Boston's motion offense. If Boston trades Rondo, they'll get value in return, and still have the cap space to try and land valuable players.
Rajon Rondo could immediately return to his All-Star level if he plays in Houston or Dallas, or anywhere else, but maybe the Celtics' front office has looked in the mirror and found that he has run his course in Boston. As the Boston Celtics trudge towards Banner 18, let's consider that taking the road less travelled could make all the difference.