The Celtics might end up eventually trading Rajon Rondo. But I'm getting a little frustrated reading the narrative that "if the Celtics don't land Love or another big name, they have to trade Rondo." Why?
Oh I get the rationale. It goes as follows.
Rondo won't be happy on a rebuilding team and the Celtics would risk losing him for nothing at the end of the year.
Let's break this statement up into sections, shall we?
First of all, nobody likes losing, regardless of who they are or where they are in the pecking order. Rondo is not unique in being frustrated with losing games. If anything, he's been somewhat spoiled in terms of being on contending teams for most of his career. Before they left, Garnett and Pierce reportedly gave Rondo a pep talk on being patient through losing situations because every veteran has to go through them. I'm pretty sure Rajon knows about the changing seasons of an NBA team as well as anyone.
I fully understand where his reputation comes from. He's known for being difficult to work with at times. He admits himself that he's hard to coach. He's hot headed and makes questionable decisions that can be frustrating. He's also been rumored to be on the block so many times that one has to legitimately wonder how much of that is true and how much is rumor-mongering. You would think that a guy like that would be the first to act out and cause problems.
Yet he has still expressed time and time again his desire to stay in Boston. He's also shown a lot of confidence in Danny Ainge. He's even handled all the trade rumors and news cycles with the practiced disinterest of someone who's been through this drill every year of his career. He hasn't demanded a trade, hasn't given his team any ultimatums, and by all accounts he doesn't want to leave.
Still, lots of players say the right things and then act differently when the time comes to make a decision. So there's a legitimate risk of "losing him for nothing." But how much is that risk and what is being risked?
Rajon Rondo could re-up with the Celtics right now for 4 additional years. If he waits until next July, he'll be allowed under CBA rules to sign for 5 additional years if he signs with the Celtics. This isn't a matter of "wanting to test the market" so much as it is a matter of math. By waiting a year, he can lock in an additional year of max or near-max money. No other team can do that for him. If he signs outright with another team, he can only get 4 years and the raises are limited to less than what the Celtics can give him. This is one big reason why Carmelo turned down an opportunity to play in Chicago with what would have been a stacked lineup and instead chose to stay in New York and suffer at least one more painful season and then hope for the best after that.
Still, there's that chance that Rondo could decide that he really would like to move on to greener pastures. If he hits free agency next season, there will be no shortage of teams willing to throw all their cap space at him. So he might decide that he wants to take less money to go elsewhere. At that point, the Celtics might still get a sign-and-trade, (likely getting a pick or maybe a young player). That's small compensation for losing an All Star, but it is better than nothing and probably worth the opportunity cost of trying to retain him till the last minute.
Finally, if the sum of all fears happens and he simply walks away from the Celtics and they literally get nothing in return, where will that leave us? Well, we'd have young talent, tons of draft picks, and all the cap space in the world. Or you know, we could trade him now, and have young talent, tons of draft picks, and a lot of cap space. So, ...I guess about the same, though maybe with a few extra assets but no shot at keeping an All Star and no chance of convincing another All Star to join him.
So yeah, I suppose there's some risk to consider in terms of Rajon Rondo's impending free agency. I just think it isn't enough to necessitate trading him for pennies on the dollar.