There’s been a lot of talk around the blogosphere about the fact that the Celtics and Rajon Rondo appear unlikely to agree on a contract extension before the Oct. 31 deadline passes. Here’s Marc Stein on TrueHoop:
Rondo would be part of that class as a restricted free agent, true, but at worst that means he’d likely be forced to sign an offer sheet with one of the many teams that have positioned themselves to have significant salary-cap space next July and then return to the Celtics if the offer sheet is matched. Some team out there will inevitably test Boston’s resolve if it gets that far.
“It’s not the worst situation,” one Rondo confidante insists. “He will get paid. It won’t affect him if he has to wait. He is fearless.”
He’ll definitely get paid. especially since the Blazers just gave a true second banana (LaMarcus Aldridge) $13M/season over five years. But I just want to remind people of something I wrote in July: Several of the small number of teams that have the cap space necessary to pay Rondo about $10 million per season are poor fits because of entrenched point guards or other priorities. The Clippers have Baron Davis, the Nets have Devin Harris, the Bulls have Derrick Rose, the T’Wolves and Kings have about six point guards combined, the Thunder has to start the process of re-signing Kevin Durant and Jeff Green (and they have Russell Westbrook at PG) and the Cavs, should they live out the nightmare of losing LeBron James, have Mo Williams.
The presence of an entrenched point guard with a contract beyond 2010 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible for one of these teams to make a run at Rondo. Teams could make trades between now and then or decide that Rondo could somehow fit on the same club as, say, Tyreke Evans and Kevin Martin. After all, teams aren’t afraid to make wacky decisions even if the fit seems obviously wrong or tricky. The T’Wolves drafted Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn (and then signed Ramon Sessions) and the Blazers used their cap space on a point guard (Andre Miller) who is apparently going to come off the bench.
But these roster realities make it unlikely that there will be, say, a half-dozen teams hard after Rondo. In fact, I’d rank the market like this:
1) The Celtics. By far and away the favorites to retain Rondo, if only because they can (and almost certainly will) match any offer shot of the max.
2) The Knicks. If they don’t get LeBron or Wade—and I’m skeptical they will get either—the obvious plan B is to re-sign David Lee and use their cap space on a second-tier free agent like Rondo. This, to me, is a much more likely scenario than the Knicks luring LeBron James. People continue to say the Knicks can sign LeBron and another max-level free agent (Reggie Miller, in fact, parroted this fiction in a conference call earlier this week, according to the New York Times).
It’s not true. The Knicks have about $27 million tied up between six players under contract beyond 2010. But to really get to this number, they’d have to renounce salary cap holds on Lee and Nate Robinson. And even then, signing LeBron to a max deal (likely worth about $16.6 million in its first season, according to salary cap guru Larry Coon) would leave only about $10 million in room below the league’s projected cap of $53.6 million.
That is not enough for James and Wade. It could be enough for James and Rondo, though the Celtics would almost certainly match a $10m/year offer from a rival team.
But would they match a $13M/year offer from a rival team desperate to sign someone after realizing the James/Wade/Bosh crew doesn’t want to come to New York to play on a crappy team?
3) Miami. The Heat have cleared the decks completely after this season in an attempt to re-sign Wade and lure another top free agent with a max offer. And they could actually have the cap room to pull it off, even if they exercise options on both Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers.
This is purely speculative, since there about a thousand variables in play, but Rondo fits less cleanly here than in New York. First, the Heat have Chalmers. At 6’1”, he can’t play anywhere but at PG. I can’t see them spending on Rondo if they exercise the (very cheap) player option on Chalmers. Second, the Heat want Wade and James. Or Wade and Bosh. Or Wade and Stoudemire. They want two First Bananas, and Rondo, as good as he is, is not a first banana.
So I’ll say it again: Rondo will be back in Boston if the Celtics want him.