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.
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