Should rebuilding Celtics consider trading Rajon Rondo?
Though they operate under the guise of opportunism, general managers more aptly tend to swarm as scavengers. At the first sign of trouble from some imperiled team, they swoop in — all in the hope of making gain from some ailing roster’s dissolution. They ask about any player with a remotely sizable contract, angling that such cap-filler might be a luxury unbefitting a rebuild.
And then, out of due scrounging diligence, those general managers might ask about even the the presumed fixtures on the roster, simply to see if they might be available. It’s a futile effort in most instances, but when stripping a team for parts, the league’s foragers would only naturally try to pry loose the most valuable piece.
Such is reportedly the case with Boston’s Rajon Rondo, the lone remnant of the Celtics’ long-standing core. Doc Rivers has been released from his contract to coach the Clippers, replaced by former Butler coach Brad Stevens, while Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will soon be shipped to Brooklyn for a haul of draft picks. Rondo remains, and because Boston figures to be a miserable team next season with or without him, GMs have phoned the Celtics’ Danny Ainge just to see if the four-time All-Star point guard, 27, might be available. From Sean Deveney of Sporting News:
A source told Sporting News on Monday that, while Ainge gets calls on Rondo regularly, he has no intention of trading him, but rather, wants to see how Rondo operates as the team leader without Pierce and Garnett around.
As one opposing general manager put it, “I don’t think Danny has made a single call about Rondo. He has gotten calls. But it would be wrong to say he has considered shopping him.”
And Rondo is perfectly happy to be part of the Celtics going forward. He has not issued a trade demand or a request or even so much as a trade inquiry, a source told Sporting News. He has no incentive to do so. In fact, Rondo welcomes the challenge of taking over the new-look Celtics, however things might pan out.
By the word of Deveney’s source, Ainge may indeed have “no intention” of trading Rondo to one of the buzzards flying overhead, nor should he. Even with the disintegration of the roster around him, Rondo — who is still on the mend after tearing his ACL in January — remains a valued player well worth building around, and he shouldn’t be dealt as a component of change for change’s sake. But that isn’t to say that the concept isn’t worth exploring, as even Rondo isn’t so sacred a building block as to be untouchable. If the appeal of keeping a top point guard on a reasonable deal is obvious, what’s also obvious should be the potential to reap serious dividends from an interested team.
While there’s no denying Rondo’s talent, it’s fair to refer to both his personality and game as enigmatic. He’d undoubtedly prove difficult to some potential coaches and teammates, if only because he’s reportedly a bit adversarial. That seems to come from a good place — a thinking player probing and challenging at every turn — but nonetheless appears to grate on those around him.
We need not overgeneralize Rondo’s stubborn nature as some kind of “character issue,” but it’s well worth wondering if such a combative personality makes sense in a rebuilding context. Ainge knows that Rondo could be used effectively with Rivers, Garnett and Pierce around, but the removal of that buffer puts Rondo in an entirely new light as a locker-room personality. Rondo has to be true to himself, but Ainge and the Celtics need to consider whether Rondo is well suited to be the one-man hope of a now-flailing roster.
Things are further complicated by the greater questions about Rondo’s game, highlighted by his aversion to scoring and questionable defensive discipline. Rondo is widely and fairly regarded as one of the league’s preeminent playmakers, someone who can see the floor in a way that few can, and yet he hasn’t led an above-average offense since 2009. One might blame Rivers or the regression of Boston’s aging stars for that. But if the mark of an elite point guard is to transform and elevate, one could certainly — and easily — make the case that even Rondo’s amazing court vision has come up short.
Rondo was able to play his way because Boston’s defense was so consistently great and because Pierce and Garnett could do so many things, but the Celtics may not have similar luxuries on the roster next season. Even if they land talented players to flank Rondo, it’s entirely possible that those players might not be flexible enough to account for a point guard who can’t shoot and doesn’t care to score, or may lack the defensive capacity to prop up the Celtics on the whole in the same way that Garnett did.
Boston doesn’t figure to be competing for a playoff spot next season (much less contending for a title), and thus has a low-pressure window to evaluate and, if desired, gauge interest on a number of potential deals that may or may not involve Rondo. There’s power in those options, especially as Boston attempts to shed the incoming deal of Gerald Wallace, the mid-level-ish deals of Courtney Lee and Brandon Bass and perhaps even the $27.9 million owed to Jeff Green over the coming three seasons. Rondo is far too good to be a trade sweetener for Boston’s weightier contracts, but he’s flawed enough to be considered a potential trade chip with so much in flux for the Celtics.
Rondo is clearly a prize when framed in the right way and with the right players. But his game remains curious enough that Ainge must at least consider what trading him might bring, strange as that might sound. Dealing a high-level point guard in his prime is rarely a popular move, but constructing a roster around Rondo’s idiosyncratic game is a precarious experiment in itself.