I've enjoyed reading Sean Deveney of Sporting News for many years and especially this summer since I find his measured and informed take on Rajon Rondo to be on point. He's provided perspective and updates at various points this summer and my viewpoint on the situation aligns very much with his angle.
I've kind of steered away from Rondo topics in recent days but given the opportunity to interview someone who has sources and has a good handle on the most important topic surrounding the Celtics headed into this year, I couldn't resist. So I steered into the slide and dedicated this whole High Five to Rondo questions. Enjoy. (or skip this entirely if you are that tired of the subject)
1. Is Rajon Rondo "worth" a max deal? Given the upcoming TV deal and likely higher salary cap, will someone give him a max deal next offseason? (I'm cheating by giving you a 2 for 1 question)
Well, "worth" is a matter of opinion, of course. We can argue whether Gordon Hayward is worth $15 million, but it doesn't matter because that's what he is being paid, and so that is what he is worth.
I think we will see a monster year out of Rondo. I am assuming he is healthy, and of course he knows a few things going in --- he knows it is his last chance to earn a big paycheck before he gets into his early 30s, he knows he has the reins of this team for at least the first three-and-a-half months of the season and he knows that teams all over the league want to see him produce as a scorer as well as a playmaker.
You know how Rondo had that string where it seemed like every time the Celtics were on national TV, he would post a triple-double? I think you are going to see him approach a lot more games like that this season. He is fine with making plays for others, but when he has a little extra motivation, he can put up really dominant games. My guess is that the contract situation will have the same effect on him this year that playing on national TV did in the last few years. I am thinking 15-16 points with 10 assists and 6- 7 rebounds a night, that'll be his average.
Big disclaimer: IF he is healthy.
Now, if he does that, if he averages say 16.0 points, 10.5 assists and 6.8 rebounds, makes the All-Star team and gets the Celtics to 35-40 wins and on the fringe of the playoffs in the East, he will command a max deal. A lot of teams have cap space next year, and as you mention, they're OK with handing out big deals ahead of the new TV contract. There will be a lot of big men on the market next summer, but not a heck of a lot of point guards. That's a big bonus for Rondo.
If he has the kind of season I think he will have, he'll be a max guy.
2. It seems like the league has a lot of good-to-great point guards and the number of teams that actually need help at the position is kind of small. The usual suspects get mentioned a lot (Sacramento, Detroit, New York, etc.) but are there any teams out there that might be in the Rondo market that we haven't talked a lot about?
Houston is certainly one. But I would keep an eye on teams willing to make sign-and-trades, and willing to play point guards together. Remember, a lot of teams have really good point guards but they are more like shooting guards, and teams are more willing to try playing those combinations together, as Phoenix and Minnesota did last year and as teams like Utah and Orlando are likely to try this year. It might not work, and teams might start shying away from it. But increasingly, the shooting guard spot is not what it used to be in the Michael Jordan heyday, and teams will either have a spot-up shooter or a second point guard there.
The Thunder could be one to watch. They have pieces to shed in a sign-and-trade, and a Russell Westbrook-Rondo backcourt would be fascinating. Might not work financially, but it's a possibility. Charlotte has young pieces to offer and they've been slowly building toward making that one big move that pushes them to the next level. Not sure it's Rondo, but he would be an upgrade. Dallas has pursued pretty much any big-time free agent it can, I would assume they'd at least express interest.
It's all speculation at this point, but I would not rule out teams simply because they won't have cap space or they already have a decent point guard.
3. Bledsoe for Rondo - who says no?
Phoenix. They're going to commit to Goran Dragic next summer, and if they move Bledsoe, it is because they don't really want to keep going with the two-PG experiment anymore. A Bledsoe-Dragic backcourt seems a lot more feasible than a Rondo-Dragic backcourt, doesn't it? Especially if you're paying about $31 million per year for a Rondo-Dragic backcourt.
4. There doesn't seem to be any Kevin Love level players available to pair with Rondo at the moment. Do you see any becoming available at the trade deadline or are we stuck with 2nd tier talent or the prospect of waiting till next summer?
This is the problem with rebuilding in the NBA, isn't it? There are so few elite players. I think a lot of teams saw what the Rockets were able to do with Dwight Howard and James Harden and have tried to position themselves in just the right way --- set yourself up with assets and cap flexibility and wait for the stars to shake free, either because of the restrictiveness of the new CBA or because players simply get disenchanted, like Howard and Love (and Carmelo Anthony, and Chris Paul, and so on ...).
That is what the Mavericks did after they won the title in 2011 --- Mark Cuban pretty much spelled it out, that they would not re-sign Tyson Chandler because under the new CBA, flexibility would be king. The Hawks did the same thing under Danny Ferry, his stated goal was to gain flexibility and assets and pounce on free agents or disgruntled stars.
But Harden and Chandler are really the only examples of All-Star caliber players who were casualties of the CBA. It just has not happened as much as Cuban (and others) thought it would. Think about the big-contract free agents to actually change teams in the last few years -- LeBron, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons, Andre Iguodala, Josh Smith, Tyreke Evans. The teams who let these guys go were not motivated by the CBA.
So Dallas was in on Dwight and in on Carmelo Anthony and in on Deron Williams. They could be in that position because they had flexibility. But so what? They signed elsewhere.
Danny Ainge is taking a similar tack. He has assets, all these draft picks, plus some decent young players. He has flexibility, so he could take on a guy like Love if Minnesota had been willing to make that move. But having the flexibility, like Dallas and Atlanta, doesn't mean much until you actually get a name on a contract.
It sounds frustrating, but that is really the only way to do it in the NBA. That is the approach the Celtics will be taking, mostly because there is no other choice. Obviously, you work the phones and try to find a trade for an elite player. If that fails, you get yourself in the arena and at least make your pitch to LaMarcus Aldridge and DeAndre Jordan and Brook Lopez and Greg Monroe and Marc Gasol. It's all you can do.
If the Celtics can't land any of those fish, then it will be interesting to see what Danny Ainge does with his what-next phase. The Mavs, two years ago, put together a ramshackle group of one-year contracts so that they could do it all over again the following summer. But when that did not work, they started making longer commitments to second-tier players like Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon. It got them to 49 wins. That's not so bad.
So, if the Celtics miss out on the top big guys, do they still keep Rondo and try surrounding him with the likes of Amir Johnson and Rudy Gay? You can build a mid-range playoff team out of second-tier pieces in the Eastern Conference. Even a pretty good playoff team, like Toronto.
All of this is a long way to say, I don't know. Ainge has put them in the position they need to be in, with lots of tradeable assets and plenty of flexibility. But a lot of teams have that now, and a lot of teams have found that to be a recipe for mediocrity because there are so few elite players. When one does come available, Ainge will be at the front of the line with an offer, as he was with Love. It didn't work out, of course, but it's the best he can do.
5. At some point, all the picks and players with potential have to be turned into top talent and winning basketball players. If there's any hope at all of keeping Rondo long term, don't you have to take that chance - even at the risk of losing him for nothing? (Sorry, this is a blatantly leading question.)
Well this relates to my very long answer to the last question. Yeah, you'd love to be able to turn your assets into Harden or Howard. But a lot of teams have learned it is not that easy, that just because you have great trade chips doesn't mean you'll get the star. Ask Dallas. Ask Atlanta. Ask the Celtics when it comes to Love. Stars do move, of course. But there are not many of them, and they don't move often.