Now that we are past the trade deadline and Rajon Rondo is still employed by the Celtics, we can start looking ahead to this summer and beyond. The question everybody wants to ask is “Will Rajon Rondo re-sign with the Celtics?” but nobody seems to be asking “How much will it cost?”
The latter seems like the more important, informative question. “How much will it cost?” directly influences “Will the Celtics offer it?” which (obviously) influences “Will he re-sign?”
Part of the problem lies in the rhetoric surrounding the debate. Every time he’s asked, Danny Ainge says he wants to “build around Rajon Rondo,” and franchise cornerstones generally receive max extensions. However, many potential franchise cornerstones (Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, DeMarcus Cousins, etc.) who receive max contracts are coming off their rookie deals and receive “cheap” max contracts . There’s a big difference between the max contract Anthony Davis will receive from the Pelicans and the max contract LeBron James will receive soon.
Here are the details: The maximum salary of a player with 6 or fewer years of experience is either $9 million or 25% of the total salary cap, whichever is greater. For a player with 7–9 years of experience, the maximum is $11 million or 30% of the cap. For the foreseeable future, the percentages are going to be the greater max contracts, especially with the NBA’s new TV deal looming, so you can pretty much ignore the $9 and $11 million dollar addendums.
This is Rondo’s 7th year, meaning he’ll be well into the 7-9 range when his current contract ends. The projected 2014-15 cap is
$75.7 million $62.1 million, meaning if Rondo was to sign a max extension, he would be paid about $22 million $18.6 million. Frankly, (even with the corrections, shouts to dslack for catching) that number seems unrealistic based on point guard salaries around the NBA.
Let’s start at the top. The highest-paid point guard in the NBA is (appropriately) Clippers star Chris Paul, who signed a five-year deal worth $107 million this summer. Paul’s contract builds, as he is receiving about $18.6 million this season, $20 million next year and so on until he has a player option for a massive $24.6 million deal in 2017-18.
Establishing the ceiling is easy. The floor, however, is a little more difficult, but we’ll go to Detroit, where the Pistons gave Brandon Jennings a three-year deal worth $24 million. Paul and Jennings are helpful as a ceiling and floor here because both signed their deals under the current CBA, demonstrating the pattern of spending: Only the absolute best players receive full maximum contracts. Jennings reportedly wanted a max deal (lol) about a year ago, but obviously general managers are getting smarter, and he ended up signing for considerably less than the max.
There are two things to balance here: Rondo isn’t as good as Chris Paul, and he is better than Brandon Jennings. In the current market, point guards who aren’t as good as Chris Paul don’t get the veteran max deal, especially after seeing how bad Deron Williams’ deal with Brooklyn looks. It’s not crippling to sign a less-than-six year vet to a max deal, but despite (or perhaps because of) the incredible talent pool of point guards in the NBA, the list of point guards who will command a veteran max is very short. Chris Paul heads the list. A healthy Derrick Rose is probably appropriate, although it’s looking less and less likely that the 2012 version of Derrick Rose will return. Russell Westbrook probably does as well. Other than that? No point guard is likely to get it.
Therein lies Boston’s hope for re-signing Rondo to a non-crippling contract. Recent leaks have made it pretty clear that the Celtics value Rondo higher than most teams, and they maintain his Bird rights, meaning they can sign him for more and have the contract itself be less damaging. Meanwhile, other GMs are getting smarter with their money, and they are realizing that despite the dependence on a star point guard for success, it’s extremely difficult to win a championship when a point guard is your best player. Not impossible, mind you: One could make the case that Tony Parker was San Antonio’s best player in 2007 or that Chauncey Billups was the best player in 2004. But if your absolute best player is a point guard, you better be able to surround him with other great pieces (ie. Ginobili/Duncan or Rasheed Wallace/Ben Wallace), and it’s hard to bring in many other great pieces when you already have a player signed to a max deal.
It’s also worth noting that neither of the point guards mentioned above were on max deals. Tony Parker, for example, is paid $12.5 million per year.
So what’s a fair price for Rondo? It’s tough to say. He would be justified if he didn’t want to give the Celtics a hometown discount, given the trade rumors which have swirled around him for years. He would also be smart to demand the no-trade clause (players who have played eight years in the NBA, four with the team they are re-signing with, can have the NTC included in their contract), thus determining that he gets to set his future with the team. But the Celtics can’t afford to overpay him. A healthy Rondo is deadly, especially in the playoffs, but he can’t win a championship on his own, and the Celtics will have young players who need to be re-signed as well, including (hopefully) one of the top rookies in the 2014 draft.
One way or the other, Rondo’s unique style of play makes him one of the most difficult players to project in the NBA. Is he the best player on a championship team? Probably not. But is he a point guard on a championship team? Absolutely, we’ve seen it already. What’s more, we are also fairly certain that his star power can attract other stars: The Knicks were desperate to acquire him, allegedly, because his arrival would virtually ensure that Carmelo Anthony would stick around.
My best guess? Rondo has said he doesn’t really like change, and that seems to line up with the limited amount we’ve read/heard about him through the years. Tony Parker makes $12.5 million, which seems low. Chris Paul will soon be making over $20 million, which seems high. Something in the $14-16 million range might be a good starting point, perhaps loaded with incentives and a no-trade clause. The Celtics could even make his contract a poison-pill, giving them flexibility while they rebuild and forcing them deep into the salary tax when his contract ends.
However the Celtics go about it, Rondo’s next contract is going to dominate headlines, not just because he’s a star, but also because the contract itself is likely to be as complicated, enigmatic and interesting as he is.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.