Rajon Rondo can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2014-15 NBA season, which means the Boston Celtics will need to decide soon whether to trade him or try to re-sign him and risk that he leaves next summer for nothing.
According to Jackie MacMullan of ESPN Boston, the Celtics’ only choice might be to trade the veteran point guard.
MacMullan said Rondo “has told (the Celtics) he wants out” during a behind-the-scenes video from ESPN program “Around the Horn.” In addition to his desire to leave Boston, MacMullan also says in the video that Rondo would not sign long-term with the Sacramento Kings, who have been involved in a few rumors surrounding the All-Star guard.
At 28 years old, Rondo is in the prime of his career, and probably doesn’t want to go through a few more seasons of a rebuild, which is the situation Boston currently finds itself in. He already suffered through a rebuild early in his Celtics career.
Rondo missed about half of the 2013-14 season after recovering f…
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Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers apparently has a strong dislike for his former point guard, Rajon Rondo. While Rivers had a very successful run as coach of the Boston Celtics, there was several reports of friction between the two. And it doesn’t stop there. Rondo had a beef with sharpshooter Ray Allen during their […]
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But it also hinges on whether there’s actually a market for the 28-year-old floor general, especially in light of him becoming a free agent in 2015.
The latest update on the four-time All-Star’s status comes courtesy of Boston-based Jackie MacMullan, who revealed a surprising nutshell during a previously unaired segment of ESPN’s Around the Horn (via YouTube).
According to MassLive.com’s Jay King, “When [New York Daily News scribe] Frank Isola raised the topic of trading Rondo, MacMullan replied, ‘Oh, I hope so. Just get it done. And it will happen because he’s told them he wants out. And no one believes me, but that’s the truth.’”
One of the reasons MacMullan may encounter doubts is that Rondo has yet to given any public indications that he’d prefer greener pastures.
If anything, he’s hinted to the contrary.
“I’m pretty comfortable,” Rondo told reporters back in June. “I have a beautiful home here. I love it here. I have a great neighbor, the best neighbor in the world. I don’t want to leave. It’s just part of the process that I’ll talk about once the season’s over. As of now I’m a Celtic.”
But there’s mounting evidence that things may be more complicated behind the scenes.
At the very least, MacMullan is a pretty credible source.
As King put it, “She is a Hall of Fame scribe, one of the most solid sports reporters alive. When she speaks, it’s typically wise to listen. So, yeah, her comments are clearly very interesting.”
Moreover, this isn’t the first time the notion of a Rondo trade has reared its head.
In February, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported that, “The [Houston] Rockets want to acquire Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, according to sources familiar with Houston’s thinking,” adding that, “sources told ESPN.com that talks between the teams have not progressed to a serious stage because the sides can’t agree on the framework of a trade.”
If true, that suggests a willingness on the part of Celtics team president Danny Ainge to entertain the possibility of dealing Rondo. Whether that ostensible willingness means Rondo’s on the same page remains unclear.
Even so, we can be fairly certain by now that Rondo fully intends to explore his free-agent options in the event he remains with Boston.
“Though he is not looking to get out of Boston, Rajon Rondo was quick to kill talk of an extension when recently approached by Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge,” ESPN Insider’s Chris Broussard noted in January (subscription required). “It didn’t even get to the numbers stage. Rondo is looking forward to becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in the summer of 2015.”
To be sure, there’s a difference between wanting to test the waters and calling for an imminent trade.
MacMullan‘s revelation suggests the writing is on the wall, however, and that wouldn’t be terribly surprising given the current state of the Celtics.
Having traded away franchise cornerstones Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett before the 2013-14 campaign, Boston now finds itself in the early phases of transition. With what may be a protracted rebuild on the horizon, Rondo may prefer a situation in which the playoffs are a realistic option.
The selection of point guard Marcus Smart with the No. 6 overall pick in this summer’s draft further suggests that Ainge and Co. may be preparing for life after Rondo.
At the time, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck certainly attempted to suggest otherwise.
“That’s a strategy that, when you’re rebuilding a team, you take the best available athlete and then you let it all work out,” Grousbeck said of drafting Smart, per ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg. “We’ve got an All-Star point guard, so that’s not in question here. I don’t think this has any impact on Rajon at all.”
Head coach Brad Stevens even argued that Rondo and Smart were compatible, saying (per Forsberg) that, “I don’t think there’s any doubt, I think they can play together. I think it will be great for Marcus to have a guy like Rondo to look up to, to learn from. Not many guys get that opportunity, especially early on in the draft like this.”
In other words, Celtics leadership said exactly what it had to say. The organization has every incentive to avoid perception that it’s desperate to trade Rondo. That kind of desperation could translate into low-ball offers in what may already be a weak market for Rondo’s services.
Which brings us back to the matter of whether Rondo can be moved in the first place.
Even if he and the front office see eye to eye, the reality of the marketplace could make a trade difficult.
Despite Houston’s reported interest prior to last season’s trade deadline, Boston’s demands were apparently too steep.
Stein explained at the time that, “One main stumbling block, sources said, is Boston’s desire to acquire blossoming Houston swingman Chandler Parsons in a potential Rondo deal. Sources say the Rockets have informed the Celtics that they are not prepared to surrender Parsons as part of a Rondo package.”
Now that Parsons belongs to the Dallas Mavericks, Houston’s chances of landing Rondo are probably nonexistent.
Meanwhile, those Mavericks have a serious need for a top-shelf point guard, but the roster lacks the kind of young assets that would grab Boston’s attention.
What about the Sacramento Kings? After dealing free-agent point guard Isaiah Thomas to the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade agreement (and replacing Thomas with Darren Collison), someone like Rondo reasons to be a natural solution.
Unfortunately, Rondo may not see it that way.
SBNation’s Tom Ziller notes that, “MacMullan said that Rondo has indicated to Boston…that he would not re-sign with the Kings, who happen to be the most obvious trade partner given their desire for a distributing and defending point guard.”
Big-market suitors don’t have especially strong standing, either.
“Some other squads (like the Knicks) have little to offer Boston,” writes King. “The Lakers and a few other rebuilding clubs could use a leading assist man, but might not be able to keep Rondo long term.”
It’s particular difficult to see how Rondo could find his way to a team in the playoff hunt. Most of those teams—save perhaps Miami—already have pretty good point guards. The only teams with the resources to grab Boston’s attention may be even worse off than the Celtics.
That said, Ainge doesn’t want to lose Rondo next summer without getting anything in return—even as his potential suitors may view a free-agency pursuit as more attractive than coughing up assets in a trade.
Indeed, in Ainge‘s perfect world, Rondo would spend the first months of the 2014-15 campaign improving his value in advance of the trade deadline.
Rondo played in just 30 games last season after recovering from a torn ACL. Though he managed to produce at a respectable clip of 11.7 points and 9.8 assists per game, the Kentucky product never fully rediscovered his shooting rhythm, culminating in a career-low 40.3 percent from the field.
So Rondo’s limited trade market is—at the moment—compounded by a limited sample of work from which to judge his post-injury performance.
In short, a lot of things have to go right for the Celtics to make a trade work. Partners with young talent (and/or draft picks) must materialize in short order, and Rondo has to put on a show.
Complicating matters even further is the fact that Rondo will almost certainly seek a lucrative payday when next summer rolls around. He’ll make $12.9 million this season, and it’s hard to imagine him accepting much of a pay cut after ranking as the league’s assist leader in 2012 and 2013.
Though there are shortcomings in Rondo’s game—namely a reliable perimeter shot—his ability to distribute is virtually unrivaled, and his defense isn’t bad either. He’ll likely command another deal that starts in the $12 million-per-year range and escalates from there.
That’s what he’s worth in theory, anyway. The bigger question is who’s willing to cough up that kind of money given the league’s bountiful supply of skilled young point guards, many of whom reason to be more affordable than Rondo.
While the willingness to make a deal often implies some way to make it happen, Ainge may find it incredibly difficult to part ways with Rondo.
Even if that’s exactly what Rondo wants.
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It’s hard not to look at snapshots of Jeff Green‘s career and not come away impressed. The talent and physical tools are there: he’s 6’9″, long armed, and smoothly athletic. Early in his career, the optimism seemed justified–alongside precocious youngsters Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Green dropped 20 or more points in 24 games in his […]
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green is donating $1 million to Georgetown’s new athletic center.
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Celtics’ Jeff Green donates $1 million to Georgetown’s new athletic center
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ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg was kind enough to invite Celtics Life to contribute to it’s Summer Forecast series. Here are Forsberg’s and Celtics Life’s columnists’ predictions to some pressing questions:1) Will the Celtics trade Rajon Rondo?Chris Forsberg: My best guess? Let’s pencil in a record of 29-53. November looks incredibly daunting and we’re just not sure it makes any sense to rush Rondo back for opening night. Boston plays a whopping 18 games in November, including six back-to-backs, all of which close on the road (those second-night stops are in Memphis, Miami, Minnesota, San Antonio, Atlanta, and Milwaukee). The Celtics will know right away if they have the ability to overachieve. The guess here is that they’ll quickly realize that this is a season to develop further continuity with the young core, identify the future building blocks, and learn Brad Stevens’ system. But wins won’t come easy, or as easy as they used to come (remembe…
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With 33 championships between them, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are without a doubt the cream of the NBA crop. But after decades of consistent dominance, both franchises have fallen on hard times.
How hard, you ask? Last season saw the Lakers and Celtics miss the playoffs in the same year for just the second time ever. With both teams on the rebuilding path, that got us wondering: Which of the two has the best chance of nabbing its next championship?
Two of Bleacher Report’s NBA columnists, Dan Favale and Jim Cavan (neither of whom are Lakers or Celtics loyalists), took up the debate. What follows are the fruits of the two’s three-day email exchange.
This, to me, is really a case of what’s going to be more effective: the Celtics’ core or the Lakers’ free-agent ambitions. By conventional rebuilding standards, Julius Randle is really L.A.’s only cornerstone. Perhaps Ed Davis sneaks his way in there, but even if he does that’s rather unimpressive.
The Lakers’ ability to effectively rebuild hinges on their ability to recruit free agents. Restructuring through free agency has its incentives—see the 2014-15 Cleveland Cavaliers—but at what point do the Lakers become appealing enough? It took LeBron James to render the Cavaliers real free-agency threats. The Lakers are in a similar situation.
Kobe Bryant isn‘t a selling point at this stage. That realistically means it could take until summer 2017 for the Lakers to land a big fish and start playing for something other than draft-pick retention.
This gives the Celtics a head start. They have a younger star in Rajon Rondo and an actual core to build around. To be sure, we don’t know who Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk really are yet. But at its heart, having plenty of overlapping and unproven youngsters beats having nearly none at all.
Question is, do they actually believe in this core?
Investing a max contract in Rondo, given how the roster is currently structured, would be a huge mistake. And if they lose him—however justified his departure is—they lose all their star power.
They also lack the immediate financial flexibility to replace him; they could have close to $50 million on the books in 2015-16 even without him, per ShamSports. Jeff Green’s and Gerald Wallace’s contracts constrict them in ways the Lakers don’t have to worry about.
They’ll eventually reach a point where they have to make Bradley-like decisions with Sullinger, Olynyk and even Smart. Are any of them potential stars, or do the Celtics risk dooming themselves to mediocrity?
At first glance, the Lakers’ blank slate is better than the Celtics’ semi-full plate. Kevin Love’s trade to the Cavaliers certainly hurt them, but Los Angeles’ market mystique—with and without Bryant—is going to help more than most people realize.
Superstars win NBA championships. Armed with cap space, free from the worry of having to overpay an incumbent star for the next four to five years (Rondo), the Lakers are on a faster track to getting that star than the Celtics and, effectively, completing their rebuild.
If you’re talking about the sheer pull of mystique, the Lakers and Celtics are on a plane apart from the rest of their peers. On this, my friend and I agree. But where Dan misses the mark is in assuming that L.A.’s superstar pull and cap space are more important than something in which Boston clearly has the edge: front-office competence.
Ever since the passing of longtime owner Jerry Buss, the Lakers have been something of a rudderless vessel—Kobe Bean Bryant’s $48.5 extension being exhibit A in the case.
Perhaps Jim Buss will eventually find his front-office voice. Perhaps last season—and the painful few in front of it—will help L.A.’s brain trust better identify the direction they want to go. But here’s the thing: Boston, while outwardly haphazard, actually has a plan in place.
Like the Lakers, it starts with cap space. Lots of it, per ShamSports. In fact, as things stand right now, Boston only has $16 million committed for the 2015-16 season. And while the team is sure to exercise a number of its options (Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger being the most likely candidates), merely having that bounty of options puts them on a much sounder footing than their L.A. nemeses.
As for Rondo, I agree the Celtics see him as having one foot out the door. They drafted Marcus Smart for a reason, after all, and no matter what Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens might have you believe, they aren’t playing them in the same backcourt long-term.
Unless Rondo’s willing to come back at a steep discount, my guess is Boston bids adieu to its mercurial floor general next summer. Even if Smart doesn’t quite pan out, the C’s will have more than enough cap space to chase an elite-level point guard if and when the time comes.
Boston might not boast Tinseltown’s Hollywood nightlife or SoCal sunshine. What they do have, now that the Lakers have lost their philosophical North Star in Jerry Buss, is a decided front-office advantage—from Danny Ainge down to Brad Stevens.
If teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat have taught us anything these past few years, it’s that having talent in the boardroom is just as important as having it on the hardwood.
That a Celtics proponent like Jim (rightfully) points out the importance of cap space is what worries me most.
Kobe Bryant won’t appeal to free agents interested in playing for the Lakers. His imminent departure is perhaps the team’s greatest weapon. But the Celtics don’t offer much more.
I, too, see Rajon Rondo leaving Boston. But without him, what are the Celtics selling prospective free agents on? Jared Sullinger? Avery Bradley? Smart himself? That’s not much different than the Lakers using Julius Randle’s potential ceiling to attract available superstars.
Often overlooked, too, is how flexible the Lakers really are. Next summer, or the summer after, the Celtics should be able to afford one first-rate addition if they play their cards right. However, the Lakers will have the ability to pursue two between 2015 and 2016 if they spend accordingly. They could sell LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap, Marc Gasol or Rondo himself on the prospect of teaming up with Kevin Durant is one year’s time.
That’s going to mean something.
The Celtics don’t have that kind of flexibility. Sullinger will be eligible for an extension soon. Before you know it, so will Olynyk. The Celtics have to worry about paying those guys in addition to whatever star they might acquire.
It usually takes superstars to get superstars. Few all-world talents want to be the only all-world talent, left with only the hope another one arrives soon. If we’re to assume neither the Lakers nor the Celtics will have that incumbent star to sell, which team is more likely to reel in new superstars: the Lakers, who will have the flexibility to add a second rather quickly, or the Celtics, who will be waiting for one of their up-and-comers to maybe, quite possibly, develop into that second star?
This rebuild Ainge is staging remains, at its core, unproven. He’s done well acquiring draft picks, but he hasn’t turned those selections into anyone substantial yet. Of all the prospects the Celtics have now, not one of them appear on the cusp of significantly turning Boston’s fortunes around.
If this, in fact, comes down to both teams promising the delivery of something or someone not yet in their possession, I’m rolling with the party that has more immediate flexibility and, therefore, the means to turn things around in a more timely fashion: the Lakers.
I don’t disagree that the Lakers stand to have more cap space—and thus an ability to attract more top-tier free agents—sooner than the Celtics. I just think they stand a much better chance of making the wrong decision about who they reel in.
This isn‘t about who can “turn it around” more quickly; it’s about who can win a title first. While it might take years, and while the Lakers might well skyrocket back to relevance more quickly, I worry that said relevance will have been built on a faulty front-office foundation. For all the banners, this team has made terrible free-agent decisions before (Dwight Howard, anyone?).
Even if Boston’s youngsters don’t turn into stars overnight, they’ll boast more than enough in the way of redemptive promise to make for attractive trade pieces—perhaps in a deal to land a legitimate, proven star.
Pieces. Assets. Call them what you will, but Boston has recognized the best path forward lies in flexibility. And while cap space is certainly necessary to that equation, it isn‘t by itself sufficient.
We’re obviously still waiting to see what the prospect crop will look like, but suffice it to say Boston—with five picks in next year’s draft, per RealGM—should have even more intriguing prospects by the time training camp rolls around in 2015.
That’s not simply collecting assets for the sake of itself; that’s keeping with what’s proven to be the most effective path to competitive relevance. Add Boston’s fabled mystique to that equation, and you have a destination most should immediately recognize as easily the more promising and viable of the two.
In the end, Dan’s biggest arguments in L.A.’s favor are 1) the bullion, and 2) the beaches. We’ve already discussed the first, but let’s deal with No. 2 for a moment, shall we?
It’s 2014. Kevin Love—a West Coast kid through and through—just forced his way to what looks to be a long-term deal to play in Cleveland, Ohio. Do you know what they used to call Cleveland? “The Mistake on the Lake.” The Cuyahoga River once caught on fire, for crying out loud! It is not what we call a “destination city.” And yet, here he is. Why? Because Cleveland is built to win.
Make no mistake: L.A. will always be an attractive destination, both for its tremendous basketball legacy and its quality of life off the court. Considered in the full context of how the modern NBA team should operate, L.A. is still far too dependent on cultural clout and cap space alone magically saving the day.
Drafting Smart reeks of uncertainty to me. While Rondo seems good as gone, why select his, for lack of a better word, clone to rebuild around? If the Celtics let Rondo walk, it will be because they don’t believe he can effectively headline their pool of assets. What makes Smart so different?
Banking on the Celtics’ ability to flip Smart—along with their other assets—into a cornerstone also feels counterintuitive. The time to do that is early, before ceilings are realized. Trading Smart three years down the line because of uneven performances equates to the Celtics slinging leftovers as five-star meals.
None of which means Smart, or any of his compadres, will go bust. Jim’s argument that the Celtics have more developing assets is fair and, frankly, correct. But while the Lakers—and the entire NBA—witnessed firsthand how less-desirable markets can turn assets into a position of power (into Love), look at what the Celtics are now up against.
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Love may not figure it out all at once, but assuming James is sincere in guaranteeing he’ll retire in Cleveland, the Cavs—like the Miami Heat before them—are a team that will remain perched atop the conference totem pole for the next six-plus years.
The Western Conference is more wide-open. It’s deeper, and thus harder to win, but it’s also approaching a new dawn. The San Antonio Spurs will wind down sooner rather than later. Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder—thanks to shallow pockets—may have peaked; Durant himself could leave in 2016 if he hasn’t won a title by then. That’s going to matter.
It also, in a way, gives the Lakers more time to build from the ground up. Their draft-pick situation is in limbo these next few years, but once out of the commitment doldrums, the Celtics will still be chasing the uncatchable Cavaliers.
Finally, the Lakers have options outside cap space and historical awe. Their next two seasons may be largely fruitless, but the Celtics aren‘t looking at anything different—especially with James’ Cavaliers’ primed for lasting dominance.
Even if Boston executes its nebulous rebuild more quickly, the Lakers’ conference hierarchy—which, unlike that of their rivals, isn’t set in marble—makes their championship chances far more likely than Boston’s.
Regarding Cleveland: While its prolonged dominance feels like a foregone conclusion, there’s a reason James opted for a two-year contract—he wants to keep his options open.
Point being, if Miami’s Big Three taught us anything, it’s that nothing in the NBA is permanent. If James wins a pair of titles for Cleveland, who’s to say he won’t take on an altogether different challenge?
Moreover, I don’t think you’re giving nearly enough credit to just how deep the West really is. As you stated earlier, stars go to play with other stars, and the Western Conference is loaded with them. To my mind, I don’t see the West relinquishing hemispheric hegemony anytime soon. That is bad news for the Forum Blue and Gold.
Getting back to Boston’s rebuilding efforts, allow me to flip my own logic on its head for a moment and assume Rondo actually stays. By all accounts, his recovery from injury has gone pretty smoothly. Unlike Derrick Rose, Rondo has never been a point guard who relies almost exclusively on explosive athleticism.
If you’re a top-tier NBA talent staring down the barrel of free agency, who would you rather team up with: Another alpha-dog scorer or a player proven to make everyone around him better? Even if you’re getting a Rondo at 85 percent, that’s basically the Rondo we saw in the 2008 Finals, before he really rose up the league ranks.
Now, I still think there’s a good chance Rondo bolts. But if Ainge is hammering away at the phones the way I think he is, gauging the temperatures of every first- and second-tier free-agent star from now until 2020, Rondo has to entertain the possibility of sticking around.
With as many assets as Boston has, all Ainge would have to do is orchestrate a trade for a disgruntled star (say, DeMarcus Cousins), and use the resulting Rondo-Player X core to entice a third star—Durant, for instance—to join the fray in free agency.
Easier said than done? Sure. But unlike Jim Buss, Ainge has proven he can strike the game-changing deal while the iron is hot.
Is L.A. just as hell-bent on pulling themselves up by their basketball bootstraps? Absolutely. I fully expect the Lakers to reel in a star or two at some point in the next two or three years.
Rather, it’s in giving up what little the Lakers already have in order to attract those stars and—more importantly—what the Lakers will have left to surround them, that makes L.A., to my mind, much further from nabbing banner No. 17 than the Celtics are from No. 18.
So, where do you stand? Does L.A.’s impending cap space make it more likely to reel in title-ready talent? Or will Boston’s more coherent rebuilding plan prove the sounder path to a championship?
Feel free to continue the discussion down in the comments section. But as always, please be respectful.
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Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge did a solid job this offseason of adding quality, young players to his roster and did so without giving up any of his future assets or flexibility. The dilemma for Ainge now, is that his roster currently sits at 17 players and that does not include the soon-to-be signed […]
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But what if it wasn’t?
What if the Celtics knew his impending free agency wasn’t an issue? That they would want him back and he would want to come back? That he would be their primary cornerstone for the next half-decade or more?
Well, like most teams tend to do, they would presumably tailor the roster to meet the needs of their only star. That’s how rebuilds are supposed to work: Teams lay a foundation, then build on top of it.
And for all this hubbub about Rondo’s future and the money Boston may or may not want to invest in him, he remains the team’s only star. He’s a top-five point guard when healthy and an established franchise face.
Building around Rondo is, regardless of cost and depending on health, the safe play. The Celtics already know what they have in him. They wouldn’t be waiting around for one of their many (many) first-round draft picks to develop into the player Rondo already is.
The foremost challenge they would face with him would be assembling a supporting cast that adequately complements his skill set and retransforms them into the championship contender they used to be.
What Rondo Needs
Framing a roster around Rondo would be twofold.
First the Celtics must cater to his strengths and on-court propensities. Then they’ll have to address his weaknesses.
Incoming players will ideally do both, though that’s never the case. There will always be specialists—players that fill one hole rather than two. The goal, though, is balance.
To start, we’ll acknowledge Rondo’s greatest weakness: shooting. Yes, it’s still shooting.
Paint Rondo’s jump-shot acumen as you like. Call it improved or developing. Argue that it’s easier on the eyes. None of that makes it a strength.
Rondo still cannot shoot threes. Last year’s 28.9 percent conversion rate from deep was the second highest of his career. Though he’s clearly more willing and comfortable launching rockets—his 90 three-point attempts last season set a new career high, despite the fact he only played in 33 games—there’s still much to be desired.
Mid-range consistency continues to allude him as well. There has been some movement on his perimeter game over the last few years, little of which has proved sustainable.
Here’s a look at how he’s fared between eight and 24 feet since 2009:
Things don’t get much better when we isolate the range to 10 and 16 feet, either:
Even the most encouraging improvements—like his 47.2 percent clip between eight and 24 feet in 2012-13—must be taken lightly.
Appearances can skew the sample size in the wrong direction, but it’s Rondo’s shot selection that makes it difficult to draw profound conclusions. Over the last five years he’s favored the area inside eight feet, and it’s not even close:
Surrounding range is essential. The Celtics can ill afford to clog the paint and employ swingmen that aren’t accustomed to jacking up threes. Their point guard needs room to operate. One can simply hope he changes, yet said change has now been nearly a decade in the making. The chances of Rondo morphing into some deadly perimeter marksman plummet with each passing season.
Floor spacing is already an issue for the Celtics anyway. They ranked 27th in three-point efficiency last season, drilling only 33.3 percent of their long balls, according to NBA.com.
Acquiring additional shooters does come with a caveat, though. They cannot be ball-brandishing scorers incapable of playing off the rock. Rondo prefers to dominate the ball. The Celtics need players who can move without it and thrive when spotting up.
Catch-and-shoot opportunities is an area they struggled in last season. They ranked 27th in spot-up efficiency for 2013-14, hitting only 36.3 percent of their shots in those situations, per Synergy Sports (subscription required), and they’ve done little, if anything, to address said problem this summer.
Transition-savvy players should be targeted, too. The Celtics haven’t really played uptempo with Rondo. Part of that is on him and his knack for over-dribbling, but the team has never really had the personnel that allows the quick and incisive Rondo to pilot fast breaks in volume.
Only twice have the Celtics ranked in the top half of possessions used per 48 minutes since Rondo entered the league—his rookie season, when he averaged slightly over 20 minutes per game, and last year, when he missed 49 of Boston’s contests.
The Celtics have finished in the bottom half of transition efficiency for each of the last three seasons as well, per Synergy. Fast-paced teams aren’t the NBA‘s title-winning standard, but creating easy opportunities—and then making the most of them—is not unimportant; the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs ranked in the top seven of fast-break efficiency last year.
None of this offensive firepower should come at the expense of defense, mind you. The Celtics established themselves as defensive juggernauts prior to last season. They’ve finished in the top 10 of points allowed per 100 possessions four times since 2009, and in the top five three times.
Last season’s squad was shaky amid the early stages of rebuilding; the team ranked 20th in defensive efficiency. Rondo isn’t what you would call a liability on that end of the floor, but he gambles a lot and there’s no predicting how effective he’ll be in coming years following his ACL injury.
Pitting him alongside strong defenders who can clean up after his risks, help out on assignments and protect the rim—the Celtics ranked 19th in iron protection last season—in the event he’s beaten off the dribble is most important.
Now, with all the Celtics need in mind, it’s time for president and general manager Danny Ainge to start working some overtime.
Before doing anything, he has to figure out who’s staying beyond next season. (Spoiler: The list isn’t long.)
Avery Bradley is a must at this point. Investing $32 million in him over the next four years is a huge gamble, but it’s one the Celtics had to make.
Perimeter defenders like him don’t grow on trees. Opposing guards averaged a combined player efficiency rating of 16.2 against him last year, per 82games.com. That’s slightly above the league average of 15, but it’s sound enough for someone who played on a rather poor defensive team.
The ability to defend either guard position is absolutely huge. He can face up against the more threatening backcourt scorer on a nightly basis, be they a 1- or 2-guard.
This backcourt pairing also skyrockets in value if Bradley’s offensive evolution continues. He averaged a career-high 14.9 points per game in 2013-14 while shooting a blistering 39.5 percent from beyond the rainbow. His three-point prowess—or lack thereof—has been something of a roller coaster ride these last four years, but he banged in a scorching 43.7 percent of his spot-up bombs last season, according to Synergy.
Off-ball scoring will, once again, come at a premium for the Celtics. Passing on Bradley’s developing offensive game isn’t something they can afford to do. Not when he’s fresh off a season during which he shot over 40 percent on one of the most useful threats in basketball—the strong-side corner three:
Jared Sullinger won’t be going anywhere for similar reasons.
Not only is he a nightly double-double threat despite being undersized, but head coach Brad Stevens began grooming him to be a stretch forward. Enticing as the concept is, though, Celtics Blog’s Evans Clinchy reminded us at the end of last season the results weren’t pretty:
Except, of course, where efficiency is concerned. Sullinger‘s percentages fell off dramatically this year, and a lot of that can be attributed to him expanding his shooting range, firing 3-pointers with reckless abandon despite his…well, inability to make them. Sullinger attempted 208 treys this season, and he made just 26.9 percent of them. Only five players in the league were over 200 attempts with under 30 percent makes in 2013-14 – Michael Carter-Williams, Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Jimmy Butler. In other words, the five worst high-volume distance shooters in the league were an untested rookie, two defensive specialists and Josh Smith. And Sullinger. It’s not good company to keep.
Bad company, indeed.
At the same time, this is a process. Sullinger isn’t going to turn into Kevin Love overnight. That he missed 78.7 percent of his spot-up threes last season isn’t concerning now because of how early it is. He didn’t enter the NBA as a perimeter-skulking 4. If the Celtics wait this out and push forward, the return could be huge.
Not to mention they need his scrappiness. Size has been hard to come by for them. Last year was the first time they didn’t rank in the bottom five of rebounds per game since 2009, and they still finished 18th. Someone like Sullinger, who battles on the glass—height be damned—is a must.
So, too, is Kelly Olynyk, another big man—who, unlike Sullinger, is actually big—with three-point range.
Olynyk shot an impressive 35.1 percent from deep last year on 114 attempts. Only five other players standing at 7’0″ or taller, who were no older than 22, have ever hoisted at least 110 three-pointers in a single season. One of them was Dirk Nowitzki. Another one was Andrea Bargnani. Make of that—along with his mercurial summer-league stint this year—what you will.
His main attraction is the range itself and the circumstances under which he uses it. More than 20 percent of Olynyk‘s offensive touches came within spot-up opportunities last year, per Synergy, so working off the ball isn’t unusual. He boasts size and a versatile, Rondo-friendly offensive skill set, two attributes the Celtics need.
Moving forward without him—in this universe we’re building—should not be an option.
Targeting the Rest
Everyone else on the roster can pack their bags. Kind of.
Players such as Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green shouldn’t factor into the Celtics’ long-term future. If they want to keep them through the end of their contracts for the cap space that follows, fine. But we’re operating under the assumption that—in this ideal world of ours—they might not be around.
That holds true for rookie Marcus Smart. Assembling a team around Rondo means he can’t be there. It’s one or the other.
Smart and Rondo have overlapping skill sets. Both of them prefer to act with the ball in their hands, and neither of them can shoot especially well. If Rondo stays, Smart needs to go.
Bradley, Rondo, Sullinger and Olynyk would be the guaranteed core. Depending on cost, others—like James Young—might stick around. For now, it’s these four.
And that brings us to cost.
Bradley, Sullinger and Olynyk combine to make roughly $12.2 million leading into 2015-16, the season we’re most concerned with. The league’s salary cap increased to more than $63 million this past year, so going off that number, the Celtics would have more than enough wiggle room to make free-agency splashes next summer even after factoring in minimum cap holds.
One such splash will have to be re-signing Rondo.
Former Celtic and current analyst Cedric Maxwell previously told Yahoo! Sports Radio (via Ben Rohrbach of WEEI.com) Rondo was seeking a $100 million contract. In all likelihood, he’s not going to get one.
Point guard is a deep position. Rondo isn’t worth a max, cap-clogging deal to the Celtics. It would be surprising to see any team dangle one in front of him, especially after his ACL injury. If he plays out of his mind this year while remaining healthy, his value increases significantly. But a max contract remains unlikely regardless.
Signing an extension would be the most ideal scenario, as ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg laid out in January:
This summer, Boston has two potential extension options for Rondo. The team can tack on a three-year, $44.8 million extension to the final year of his current deal without a signing bonus, which would pay him the scheduled $12.9 million in 2014-15, $13.9 million in 2015-16; $14.9 million in 2016-17; and $16 million in 2017-18. Or, if Boston can stomach a signing bonus payment of $6.6 million, those annual salaries would drop to $11.7 million, $12.5 million and $13.4 million in the extended seasons.
Everyone should know by now Rondo isn’t signing that extension. Not if he’s seeking a max deal that could pay him $20-plus million in 2014-15.
In the name of idealism, let’s say he and the Celtics meet somewhere in the middle. Between $15 and $16 million with annual raises seems fair. That would put their financial commitment in their Core Four at $27.2 million for 2015-16—beyond rough numbers—leaving them with ample flexibility still.
Here’s where we’ll have to get super creative, which isn’t to be confused with ridiculous.
It would also be cool to breed flying possums that you flip for working magic carpets.
Ideal doesn’t mean absurd. The Celtics are unlikely to land a top-10 superstar in one of the next two summers.
Not that they don’t need another star. They do. But let’s be a little more real.
Available free agents in 2015 will include a number of talented players. If the Celtics can create cap space by shedding salary—specifically those of Green and Wallace—they could have enough to pursue top-flight names such as Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge.
Or, say, DeAndre Jordan. He’s slated to reach free agency next summer and would be perfect as an athletic, durable, rim-protecting big man for these theoretical Celtics.
Cost will be an issue—along with attainability—but Jordan’s only earning $11.4 million next season. If the price isn’t a max contract, the Celtics should be in play.
Paul Millsap is another affordable name that springs to mind. He’s developed into a dangerous stretch 4 who had success draining weak-side corner threes last season.
Picking him up in free agency, along with Jordan, would be difficult. But the Celtics could have enough young talent, expiring contracts and first-round draft picks to get trade talks—or sign-and-trade talks—rolling sometime next year.
Nothing out there suggests the Hawks are ready to unload Millsap. Let’s make that clear. There’s also no guarantee they want to pay him whatever he commands next summer, either. Plus, you know, we’re being green-tinged idealists and stuff.
To round out a starting five already consisting of Rondo, Bradley, Millsap and Jordan, the Celtics would need a small forward. A pretty cheap one, too. We’re already stretching Ainge‘s cap-navigating abilities wafer thin by entertaining the arrivals of Jordan and Millsap, along with the retention of Rondo.
How about a reunion with Gerald Green? The 28-year-old has found his scoring touch with the Phoenix Suns, remains an athletic freak and valuable defender and might not demand much more than the $3.5 million he’s making next season.
After all that pipe-dream actualizing, the Celtics’ starting lineup would be set. They would also have Sullinger and Olynyk ready to come in and wreak havoc off the bench. It’s now a matter of filling out the rotation.
Looking at backup point guards such as Mo Williams and Jameer Nelson would be a good start. Perhaps seeking relief on the wing in Dorell Wright would be a good course of action.
Here’s what a contention-worthy roster built around Rondo could potentially look like:
Incredibly unlikely? You bet.
Perfect? Not at all.
The second unit could have defensive issues and the Celtics have to create the means to sign or trade for all these players. But this is what a serious contender around Rondo should look like—a blend of talent that meets different needs and allows Rondo to be Rondo.
Forming the supporting cast is a fluid task. Names could, names will change. The core of the team he’s headlining is what’s most important. The starting five here—unrealistic as it may be—provides a nice balance between offense and defense, speed and calculated pace, inside and outside acuity.
Those are the player-types Boston will want to put around Rondo if it wishes pilot a rebuild in the right direction.
Separating Real From Whimsical
All this is pure conjecture.
There’s no telling how much cap space the Celtics can legitimately create or how much unwanted talent they can unload by next summer. There’s no telling which talent they even want to move forward with yet, and that includes Rondo.
Rebuilds take time as well. Completing it in one summer rarely happens if you’re not the Miami Heat or Cavaliers.
The point is retooling around Rondo is not impossible. It may take some time, but it’s feasible; it requires the Celtics follow a very specific path, but it’s something they can attempt.
“I want to win a championship-I want to win another championship,” Rondo said in an interview with Hoop China (via Red’s Army). “I want to get back to being a contender and compete for a championship.”
Rondo may win another championship. It may even be with the Celtics.
It all depends on what they have planned for him next, and what that plan ends up looking like if there is actually one at all.
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