Jeff Goodman (of ESPN) is not a fan of Rajon Rondo. I'm a big fan and supporter of Rondo. Oil and water, right?
The thing is, I can respect the fact that he has an opinion and he backs it up, even if it is an unpopular (with some) viewpoint. So we trade barbs on twitter about Rondo from time to time and it is all in good fun. But a lot of Celtics fans take issue with Goodman and I thought it would be interesting to get his full side of the story and see why he has the opinion that he has of Rondo.
So without further ado, here are my questions and Jeff Goodman's answers.
1.Let's get this out of the way. What is your overall opinion of Rajon Rondo? If you were running or coaching a team, would you want him on it? (and why?)
He is exceptionally talented. Let's start there - and maybe that's what frustrates me more than anyone else about him. He is so quick, has the potential (and we saw it early in his career) to be one of the elite defensive players in the world, and also the ability to make his teammates better. I have such high expectations. But he frustrates me for a variety of reasons - he doesn't show much leadership ability, more often than not makes the flashy pass rather than the simple one, has not improved his perimeter shot - and doesn't appear to care about being a great teammate (as some of his former coaches will attest to off the record). I would love to have him on my team - if I have established veterans who can make plays on the offensive end. For a team such as the one in 2008, he was the ideal point guard. KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were not only veterans who led the team, but were also offensive weapons that took the pressure off Rondo. Would I want Rondo? Sure, but it also depends on the team that surrounds him. I don't feel that he's the ideal fit with the current group - largely because he's forced to be the leader and also needs to make shots (two of his weaknesses).
The Brad Stevens and Rajon Rondo partnership
It starts at the top and the Celtics couldn't have two better guys in Rajon Rondo and Brad Stevens leading this team into Year 2 of the rebuild.
2. You've indicated in the past that you hear things from people around the league that have shaped your opinion of him. Are there any specific stories or are these more general impressions and opinions?
I talk to a good amount of players in the NBA - and have known a ton of them since they were in high school, when I first began covering them. They tell me things off the record. Many of them trust me because I have watched them in AAU, in college and now in the NBA. Many are not enamored with Rondo. Sure, there are some who clearly like him (i.e. Kendrick Perkins) and others who say positive things about him (K.G. Pierce, etc.). I'm not counting DeMarcus Cousins, because it's actually worse for Rondo that Sacramento's big man came out and said he thinks he's the best point guard in the league. Cousins is a complete knucklehead and just about everyone in the league knows it. Many of the opinions I have heard come from players throughout the league who either do not have much of a relationship with Rondo - or have heard negative things about him through other players. The problem is word gets around, and his reputation isn't exactly stellar with his peers. The landscape of the league has changed - as was evident when LeBron partnered up with D-Wade and Chris Bosh. These guys talk to one another, hang out together and text constantly. Rondo does not have that relationship with many players in the league - and that hurts him. One instance I will give you is that when he tried out for the Olympic team a few years back, he didn't exactly make a positive impression and the staff basically sent him home. There are, of course, differing accounts of what happened - but my sources told me that the coaches wanted him gone.
3. If you were put in charge of the Celtics today with the roster as it stands, what would be your next steps (or targeted steps)? If you think trading Rondo is the best move, what kind of realistic value would you be looking to get in return?
I would hold onto Rondo until his trade value rises back towards what it once was. Will Danny Ainge ever get full value - or what is perceived to be full value -- for him? I don't see it. I think maybe people have to come to grips with the fact that he's not an elite player. I do not feel that he's a Top 5 point guard in the league -- when you factor everything else in the mix. I would have dealt him to Denver for Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried or Danilo Gallinari and the Nuggets first-rounder. I'm not sure Denver would have done it - because I think they realize there's not nearly as much of a disparity between Rondo and Lawson as many "Rondo supporters" believe. Now that you have Marcus Smart in the fold, you can deal Rondo without having to get a point guard in return. That gives Ainge far more flexibility. I think the goal is to boost his stock as high as you can - by playing him back-to-back games and also Ainge, Brad Stevens and everyone else repeating what a great leader he has become (even if it's not true). Would you do Rondo for Paul George today? I would. Celtics have difficulty attracting free agents - and it's not as though Rondo is a star who has the ability to do so - so another year of being in the lottery is likely the best long-term solution. Maybe they can get lucky and add a quality big man in Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor in next year's draft. I wouldn't be ready to break the bank and give Rondo $20 million a year. He's not a guy you can build around - in my opinion. I might try and deal Rondo to Sacramento in a package that could bring someone like Rudy Gay back in return, or look to deal him to Detroit in a trade that brings back Greg Monroe as the key piece. The issue right now is there are a lot of really good point guards in the league, so there aren't as many teams that have a need for Rondo.
Analyzing Rajon Rondo's Jumper
Didn't we already close the book on the narrative that Rajon Rondo can't shoot? Rondo certainly did enter the NBA as an abominable shooter, but he has developed to a stage that defenders have to at least respect his shot.
4. Moving on to the rest of the roster, what do you think about our young core of players? Specifically the rookies, Olynyk, and Sullinger.
I think Olynyk is ultimately a rotation big man. He had some nice moments towards the end of last season, but for a team that wants to compete in the postseason, he's best-served coming off the bench. I think Sullinger can be a quality starter (as long as he remains healthy) for his career. He's won at every level - he's tough, skilled and knows how to score. I really like Marcus Smart a lot - he's a high intangible guy who is going to continue to improve his floor game and his perimeter shot (his two biggest weaknesses). Sure, he had a misstep at Texas Tech when he went after the fan in the stands - but the bottom line is that Smart is tough, is probably already a better leader than Rondo - and he works. His floor game as a point guard improved dramatically over the last two years (he had never really played the point prior to college) and his perimeter shot - which is his primary weakness - will get better over time. I'm not sure Smart will ever be an elite point guard in the league, but I think he can be a Top 10'ish point guard who brings a lot of the intangibles to the table that Rondo does not. James Young is a roll of the dice - he was worth the risk where the Celtics took him, though. He's long, has a ton of natural ability - but was extremely inconsistent with his effort and production as a freshman at Kentucky. He's a better shooter than the numbers (35 percent from 3) showed last season in Lexington, but the key for him will be work habits. That's one area I worry about this team; do they have a great leader for all these young kids to follow? I don't see it right now.
5. The Celtics will likely have 2 first round picks and 2 second rounders next year. How is next year's draft class stacking up early on? Any names we should keep an eye on?
It's a solid draft, not nearly as putrid as the one two years ago - but not quite what last season's brought with Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid at the top. As I mentioned, Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor will be one of the top players off the board due to his size (6-10) and skill in the post. I've seen him play a ton and while he's more of a below-the-rim type of guy, he's extremely skilled and is a true center. Kentucky's 7-foot freshman Karl Towns is another guy to watch due to his length, upside and versatility. He's a native of the Dominican Republic - and he will go in the top part of the lottery. Another name to keep an eye on is Emmanuel Mudiay - who bolted overseas and will play in China instead of at SMU due to academic and amateurism concerns. The 2015 NBA Draft won't blow anyone away, and my guess is the same will be said about the 2016 NBA Draft - so it may take finishing towards the bottom again (even lower than last year) or Ainge pulling off a major trade to get the Celtics back competitive in the postseason.
Thanks very much Jeff.