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NBA AM: Celtics Need A Decision On Rondo

Ideally the Boston Celtics want Rajon Rondo to be their point guard of the future, but is that really whats going to happen?… Could Joel Embiid and Jabari Parker both opt to stay in school?

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What To Do With Rajon Rondo?:  Everywhere you go in the NBA you will hear a story about Rajon Rondo and how he treats others. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said it best “from what I understand he’s an a**hole like me”, truer words about a player have never been spoken.

The Celtics have a few weeks to decide what’s next for Rondo. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens admitted that the game plan has to change with Rondo on the floor. Stevens said some things in the offense have to come out because of Rondo’s skill set, but some things can be added in too.

As the Celtics face a rebuild in Boston, there is a belief that Rondo could very well be a big part of that – assuming he can be a leader. In his tenure in Boston Rondo has always had others to shoulder the leadership role, whether that was the enforcer of process in Kevin Garnett or the leader of the team in Paul Pierce. Rondo played a role, but was often kept in his place by his older and more vocal team mates.

Rondo is saying all the right things about his turn to be the captain of the team. He understands that he has a chance in Boston to be “the guy” and that’s something the Celtics want to see play out.

»In Related: The Boston Celtics salary cap information

‘I’m going on 28, it’s my eighth year in the league and being the point guard, it’s just all about timing. It’s a great opportunity,” Rondo said to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

“We’ve got a young team. I’m pretty much one of the older guys …”

Rondo says he understands that proving he can lead a team and be a focal point is bigger for him than just the moment he finds himself in, it’s a chance to learn and prove that he can do more beyond whats in front of him.

“And it’s not just being a leader here,” Rondo said. “If I want to go into coaching afterwards, it’s the next step to that, being a leader on the court and knowing how to talk to guys. You know, you can’t coach every guy the same way. Guys don’t take criticism the same. It’s a learning process, and I’ve been learning every year I’ve been in the league.”

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is saying all the right things and showing his support for his young guard, because according to those around the situation he genuinely wants to see this work with Rajon, simply because of how hard it is to find a point guard that can do what Rondo does.

“I really think he’s getting there,” Ainge said. “Rajon’s an emotional kid, but he’s not as emotional. He’s calmer. I think that this experience of rehab and sitting on the bench sort of as an assistant coach has helped him. He’s still developing and learning. He’s 27 years old, and I think that he’ll continue to get better and better as a leader as he matures.”

Rondo has this season and next season remaining on his contract, so the Celtics have to make some decisions on where they want to go with Rondo, especially with Rondo having the option to walk away from the Celtics in July of 2015 as an unrestricted free agent.

If the Celtics believe Rondo is their guy, they are going to have to put a max-level contract extension on the table and try and lock Rondo in. If they decide that Rondo is ultimately not their guy and he cannot mesh with Stevens, then moving him and moving him this year becomes very real.

The timing of Rondo’s return from ACL injury gives Boston some time to work and figure some things out.

The Celtics are rebuilding, there is no doubting that. The best case scenario is that Rondo and Stevens works, and the C’s can take point guard off the needs board. If the next few weeks are rocky or tumultuous, trading Rondo at the deadline or more importantly around the 2014 NBA Draft becomes very real.

The ideal scenario is this all comes together, but when dealing with Rondo – historically – things have been far from ideal and maybe that’s because as Bryant put it “he’s an a**hole”, but maybe even Rondo can grow out of that with the opportunity to be the next face of the Celtics organization or he could end up being the golden ticket to cleaning out the Celtics salary cap for the future.

The Celtics have roughly 30 days until the February 20 NBA Trade Deadline, so they have a full month to decide what Rondo really means to the team before the first window to extract real value out of Rondo closes.

» It is the mid-way point of the NBA season and Basketball Insiders take a look at each team and gives you the Six Thing You Need To Know About… The Orlando Magic, the Chicago Bulls, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Indiana Pacers and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Winning By Default:  A scary thing is happening in college basketball, and it’s bound to have a trickledown effect on the NBA. Some of the top prospects in the 2014 NBA Draft class are talking about staying in college.

Sam Smith from Bulls.com is reporting that NBA teams have heard Jabari Parker may be leaning towards staying a second season at Duke.

Kansas big man Joel Embiid, who some say could be the top overall pick in some situations, said to ESPN’s Dana O’Neil that he’s been researching the traits of some of the best big men in NBA history and has found all of them stayed in college for more than one season.

»In Related: Basketball Insiders 2014 NBA Draft player profile of Joel Embiid

“I was curious because I want to be great, I want to be the best at my position one day,” Embiid said to O’Neil. “I’m trying to learn everything and what other people did. All of the great big men went to college at least two or three years. I think it’s a big factor. I don’t know if it will always work, but I think it’s the best choice.”

Neither player has said they are coming back for a second season of college ball, and like most highly touted players, when it comes to the NBA and the draft there is a hesitation for some, especially players who are in great situations.

However, as the season of “Tank Ball” continues to play out in the NBA, it becomes somewhat scary for teams that were hoping for a draft pool with five or six franchise players sitting at the top, to hear that maybe two of the gems might be considering staying back.

Unfortunately for most of the teams in tank-mode, they are too far down the road of rebuilding to turn back and they won’t know who is really in or out until April.

It would be wildly disappointing to be that team holding the fifth overall pick if Parker and Embiid don’t come out this year, because grabbing Noah Vonleh (Indiana) or Gary Harris (Michigan State) is not the same consolation prize as Parker or Embiid would be, or Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart or Dante Exum if those two go at the top as projected.

The saving grace for NBA teams is that the odds either really stays in college basketball is very small, especially as both meet with agents that explain where they are likely to be drafted and the massive amounts of money both could earn at the next level.

But it will be scary for some teams if both players seriously contemplate another year of college basketball, especially with so many teams targeting the floor of the NBA standings this season in hopes of a high draft pick in June.

» Still trying to find your way around the NEW Basketball Insiders website? Here are the things you need to bookmark: NBA Salaries landing page, Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects, the NBA Page, the new Out Of Bounds section for the funny, amusing things of the day, and the daily NBA Rumors Round Up, notes and commentary on the rumors of the day, every day.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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Mavericks are expected to pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option

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Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.

On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.

This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.

However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs’ organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.

Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.

Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, or Philadelphia 76ers.

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Lakers Need More Than Big Three

The Lakers have their “big three” after trading for Russell Westbrook but is he the right fit in Los Angeles? The former MVP has had an incredible career but he may not be the point guard the Lakers desperately need.

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The Los Angeles Lakers have formed their three-headed monster as they pursue the franchise’s 18th championship next season. Just as the NBA Draft was getting started, the Lakers completed a deal with the Washington Wizards that landed them the 2016-17 league MVP, Russell Westbrook.

The deal sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft to Washington, paving the way for Westbrook to join fellow superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While the Lakers added a dynamic point guard, not everyone is sold on the idea that the Lakers are the team to beat in the loaded Western Conference.

Over the past several weeks, the Lakers were rumored to be seeking perimeter shooting. Some reports had Los Angeles linked to guys like Chris Paul, Buddy Hield and DeMar DeRozan. When the dust settled, it was Washington that made the deal as Westbrook informed the front office that he preferred the Lakers as a destination.

The move is a homecoming of sorts, as Westbrook grew up in the area and spent two seasons playing at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the 2008 Final Four. He had a solid 2020-21 season, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game for the Wizards, who earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Oddly enough, this is the third straight offseason in which the 9-time All-Star has been traded. After leaving Oklahoma City, Westbrook was not able to find postseason success in Houston or Washington. Will that now change in Los Angeles?

For all of his accomplishments, Westbrook’s legacy has been defined by his play during the regular season. This past season, the point guard passed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in the history of the game. Out of his 184 triple-doubles, only 12 have come in the playoffs. By comparison, Magic Johnson has the most playoff career triple-doubles with 30, and James is next with 28. Now all three will have played for the Lakers during their careers.

The thing about triple-doubles (and this is especially the case with Westbrook) is that they don’t always translate to wins. They clearly help the team overall but some would argue that a more balanced attack is tougher to stop. History has shown that having a “big three” is almost a requirement to be considered a legitimate championship contender, but this trio in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly fit together like many of those others.

As talented and valuable as Westbrook has been over the course of his career, he needs to have the ball to be effective. His poor perimeter shooting has been the big hiccup in his game, and that is something that this Lakers team desperately needs. The problem isn’t that any of these three won’t share the ball. In fact, they had already discussed checking their egos even before this trade went down.

Westbrook has never had a problem sharing the ball. He was able to co-exist with Durant in Oklahoma City, Harden in Houston and Beal in Washington. The difference in this scenario is that he will be occupying the same space as James and Davis. The concern is efficiency. Out of 34 players to average at least 20 points per game over the last four seasons, Westbrook ranked 33rd in true shooting percentage.

When James drives to the rim or when Davis is facing a double-team inside, how confident will they be in passing out to Westbrook for a three-pointer? Better yet, how patient will they be if the shot isn’t falling? We have already seen what happened with Danny Green and Caldwell-Pope.

Now that the Lakers have assembled their trio of stars, many fans are hopeful to witness an NBA Finals matchup where James and the Lakers meet Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. As juicy as that series would be, the Western Conference is a gauntlet. There is no guarantee that the Lakers will make it there.

What helps their path is that the crosstown rival Clippers will likely be without Kawhi Leonard next season. The Denver Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray and the Golden State Warriors might not be the Warriors from four years ago. There is also uncertainty surrounding Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and some potential roster changeup with the Utah Jazz.

Considering all of the top-tier point guard talent available in free agency this summer, the Lakers may have been better off trying to do a sign-and-trade. Such a scenario would have hard-capped them but after this deal, they are just $12.6 million below the hard cap with just five players on the roster. Putting together a deal for Hield is still possible, but the Lakers will have to get creative. Adding a third team to this trade, in particular, is one way to accomplish that. Again, it is possible but it will be complicated.

In a perfect world, the Lakers could have worked with Toronto on a sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry. Even though Lowry is older than Westbrook, the current window for Los Angeles to win with this group is closing fast. Lowry would be cheaper and a much better fit overall. His durability, toughness, defense and high basketball IQ would pay dividends for the Lakers. Adding in the fact that he is a much better shooter, one has to wonder why the Lakers wouldn’t pursue this route instead.

Westbrook is still going to help this team. He is a tremendous asset for them in the regular season, especially when James is on the bench or unable to play. Having another floor general on the court to generate offense is something they have not had since James arrived. If Los Angeles can land some above-average shooting to the roster, Westbrook could flourish in this role.

With James sliding to the power forward position and Davis playing more at center, the key for Los Angeles will be to surround these guys with shooters. The Lakers ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 25th in makes last season. Expect the organization to be busy when free agency starts next week. Targets will include guys like Duncan Robinson, JJ Redick, Norman Powell, Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, Patrick Mills, Reggie Bullock, Kendrick Nunn and Alec Burks.

Obviously, the Lakers are counting on their individual talent and figuring out the rest later. It likely means the end for Dennis Schröder. Can Alex Caruso fit in and where does this leave Talen Horton-Tucker? The rest of the roster is in limbo, but the star players and the front office both feel confident that they will land the other pieces that they need to raise another banner next summer.

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Jazz offering Mike Conley $75 million over next three years

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According to veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein, the Utah Jazz are preparing to offer point guard Mike Conley a three-year, $75 million contract to remain with the team. Of course, the exact amount is a ballpark figure. Stein stated, “Utah has made retaining Mike Conley its top priority, league sources say, and is preparing a three-year offer said to be in the $75 million range.” The 14-year NBA veteran is a significant piece to the Jazz’s championship window, playing alongside superstar teammates, such as center Rudy Gobert and guard Donovan Mitchell. He helped the Jazz finish their regular season with the league’s best record of 52-20 (.722).

Utah went on to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the first round of the playoffs. Though, the team lost four games to two in the conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and six assists per game in 51 games started. Then, in the postseason, he averaged 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. The 33-year-old also shot 44.4 percent from the field in the regular season. Last season, the 2007 fourth overall pick earned his first NBA All-Star selection.

On July 6, 2019, the Grizzlies traded Conley to the Jazz for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick. Furthermore, the Jazz can still trade Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles this offseason, if they wanted to improve their current salary cap situation. Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 cap holds, Mike Conley’s cap figure is $39,344,900. Cap holds are for pending free agents. Conley earned $34,504,132 last season.

The team’s current luxury tax space is $11,173,027. In addition to the aforementioned cap figures, Mitchell and Gobert have a combined cap figure worth 51.34 percent of the team’s total salary cap. These two players’ contracts alone are consuming a huge chunk of the team’s cap. Plus, on November 23, 2020, Mitchell signed a contract extension with Utah. He is set to earn $28,103,550 next season. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. He will earn $35,344,828 next season and $38,172,414 in the 2022-23 season.

However, if the team were to still trade Bogdanovic and possibly Ingles as well, this would clear up an additional 25.68 percent of the team’s salary cap. Bogdanovic’s future guaranteed cash amount total is $19,343,000. They are contributing role players who play together well with the team’s big three, but re-signing the most valuable players is the team’s main objective this offseason. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik might contemplate trading role players who are not worth their asking price. Competitive teams in both conferences have to trim the fat at some point.

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