The Market for Rajon Rondo
A 109-102 overtime victory against Detroit Pistons may have been enough to end the Boston Celtics’ five-game losing streak, but at just 5-11 overall this season, emotions are running high as the time to make some tough decisions is nearing.
As Rajon Rondo and the Celtics’ decision-makers exchanged pleasantries leading up to the season, much of the league wondered how long the mood would remain so light between the two parties. Rondo, set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, is off to a productive, but highly inefficient start this season. He’s regularly flirting with triple-doubles, averaging 8.3 points, 10.9 assists and 7.4 rebounds per game, but he’s shooting just 41 percent from the field, 28 percent from distance and a horrific 30 percent from the charity stripe. He’s also turning it over 3.5 times a contest.
Yet, come free agency, the 28-year-old is going to be in high demand, even if his scoring woes persist. Teams are going to write off a lot of his struggles to the pieces he’s surrounded by, as Rondo has proven to be a championship-caliber point guard in the right setting. The Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons and Miami HEAT would all jump at the opportunity to add him and would likely make all of the necessary moves in order to clear space to sign him.
A lot of the Rondo speculation has been fueled by the notion that the Celtics aren’t going to be able to re-sign him, that Rondo is going to get lured away by a team closer to contending. However, with the way this season is going and the tough time he’s having adjusting to his new role in this post-big-three era of Celtics basketball, there’s legitimate reason to wonder whether they’re better off by moving him now.
Trading Rondo is tricky and not just a matter of finding the right combination of assets to acquire his $12.9 million expiring contract. He’s already made it clear that he’s going to become a free agent by rejecting the Celtics’ extension offers this offseason. However, those were made more as an indicator of their interest than anything; they’re well aware that it wouldn’t have made any sense for Rondo to take their offer. He would be limited to just three additional years in an extension, whereas he can receive the full four- or five-year max by becoming unrestricted.
Should the Celtics come to the conclusion that they’re better off exchanging Rondo for assets now, even though his value isn’t as high as it has been in previous points of his career, the visiting Lakers, who they host Friday night, would likely be one of the more aggressive pursuers. Lakers star guard Kobe Bryant was seen having breakfast with Rondo this morning in Boston and is a well-documented fan of his game.
“You don’t want Rondo?” Bryant said back in 2013. “Send him my way. I love everything about him. Everything. I love his attitude, I love his chippiness, his edge, his intellect, his know-it-allness. All of it. That’s what makes championship players.
“What guard have you seen at his size that will get you 18 assists, 17 boards and 20 points all in one game? That’s unheard of. I love that kid. I always make a point of talking to him during All-Star [Weekend]. He’s one of my favorites. From what I understand, he’s an a—hole like me.”
Baxter Holmes of ESPN LA speculated that the Lakers could potentially acquire Rondo for Steve Nash’s expiring contract and two future first-round picks. The Lakers currently owe the Phoenix Suns their 2015 first-round pick, which is top-five protected, and the Orlando Magic their 2017 first-round pick (although this can become two second-round picks depending on what happens with the pick owed to Phoenix). They own the rest of their picks, and the Houston Rockets’ first-rounder this year.
If the Celtics get to the point where all they want in exchange for Rondo is expiring contracts and first-round picks, they’ll likely have their pick of the litter of offers to choose from. That’s a low price to play for an All-Star-caliber point guard with a championship resume. It would likely take another quality, young asset in order to get them to be truly enticed enough to make a trade.
Luckily for the Lakers, they have an asset that fits that bill too in Julius Randle, although he’s out for the rest of the year with a broken leg. Power forward isn’t exactly an area of need for the Celtics either as they have a pretty crowded frontcourt with Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace, Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk, Vitor Faverani, Tyler Zeller, Dwight Powell and Jared Sullinger, but they did show interest in Randle leading up to the draft and if they’re able to unload an undesirable contract or two along with Rondo, they may view him as a good enough prospect to help seal the deal.
Any deal involving Jordan Hill from the Lakers could not be completed until January 15 or without his consistent, as his team option for next year gives him an implicit no-trade clause.
Although the two franchises are each other’s biggest rivals, they have worked together on trades before. Still, the Lakers’ best offer may not be enough to get DannyAinge and company to come to terms with giving them one of the league’s premier point guards. What gives the Lakers a little bit of an advantage is that they’re one of the teams that are willing to give up whatever they need to for Rondo without a long-term commitment from him. They won’t be scared off by his pending free agency, even after how poorly the last two summers have gone for them.
If the Kings are willing to take that same risk, they may be the team with the best combination of assets to give the Celtics. They have all of their future picks except for this year’s, and have proven veterans like Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions who could help the Celtics now, along with young talent in Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas. Their interest in Rondo dates back several months now, so they too seem eager to do whatever it takes to land him whenever the Celtics make him available.
A vast majority of the players who signed this offseason become eligible to be traded on December 15. The offers for Rondo should start to become serious at that point, but don’t be surprised if the Celtics wait until closer to the deadline before they make their final decision.
Pelicans Making Moves
In desperate need of depth in order to stay in the playoff mix in the Western Conference, the New Orleans Pelicans have added free agent forward Dante Cunningham and are said to be close to bringing in free agent point guard Gal Mekel next.
Cunningham is a four-year veteran, who last played with the Minnesota Timberwolves, with career averages of 6.3 points and 4.1 rebounds.
Mekel was a rookie last season with the Dallas Mavericks and was going to be signed by the Indiana Pacers after being let go by the Mavs, but visa issues forced them to go in another direction.
The Pelicans are 8-8 and a game and a half behind the Phoenix Suns for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. They’re currently without Eric Gordon, who suffered a shoulder injury that has him out indefinitely.
NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed
James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.
Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.
2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.
“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”
Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.
“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”
While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.
“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.
Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.
“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”
Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.
“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.
Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.
“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.
On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.
Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.
“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.
Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.
Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience
It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.
Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.
He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.
To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.
“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.
“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”
Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.
“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”
So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.
“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”
It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.
Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.
“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.
“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”
After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.
Whether the next chapter in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”
And it’s about time people are taking notice.
NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop
Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.
When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.
He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.
Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.
The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.
“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.
“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”
And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.
“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”
This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.
Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.
It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.
“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”
Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”
Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.
After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.