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Projecting Rajon Rondo’s Next Contract

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.

  • ian

    Chris Paul is better than Rondo? I diddnt know. Anyways, I agree it is very difficult to win with a point guard as the MAIN FOCUS but not as the BEST PLAYER and there is a difference there. Bill Russell was the best player on the Celtics but not the main focus offensively. Anyways, it stands to reason, in a game dominated by size, relying on the smallest guy on the court to do score all the time isnt very smart. Fortunately for the Celtics, we dont rely on Rondo to score.

  • ian

    Also, 17 mil over 4 or 5 years sounds about right to me.

  • jpbl1976

    I agree with Ian: I don’t think the gap between CP3 and Rondo is all that large. CP3 is a better scorer but Rondo is at least as good (and may be better) a playmaker.

    I watch the Clippers games quite a bit and there are some plays that CP3 makes that you just know that Rondo could have done too — but there are passes and plays Rondo makes that I’ve never seen CP3 do. Rondo is special that way. Rondo is also a superior rebounder.

    What’s more, as Doc himself told CP3 — “you haven’t done anything yet.” CP3 is an excellent point guard — probably the best all-around one in the league — but has he taken Lebron’s fastball and returned it the way Rondo did in 2010? There’s a reason Rondo is called the “Kingslayer.”

    To be sure, having KG and Pierce and Ray took a lot of pressure off of Rondo — but Rondo wasn’t exactly dead weight and there were crucial playoff games in the KG era where Rondo was doing a lot of the pulling. In addition to the Cleveland series in 2010, remember the exciting Bulls series in 2009 when Rondo nearly averaged a triple-double when KG was out with that mysterious knee injury?

    CP3 hasn’t had quite that level of success. Could he have made a bigger difference if he’d been wearing no. 8 for the Celtics instead of Rondo? Maybe — but we’ll never know.

    Where CP3 does have the edge over Rondo is leadership — I don’t see him missing a game (even if he weren’t playing anyway) because he had a birthday bash the night before. Having said that, you have to wonder whether Rondo did it on purpose as some strange payback for all the trade rumors. As Zach Lowe revealed in his Grantland piece — the Celtics made Rondo available on a targeted basis for a steep price.

    Seriously — you’re the captain of the team, its most battle-tested veteran and have been a model citizen for 100% of the season up to that point and YET you’re still in trade rumors? If this were any ordinary job and any one of us were shown this level of non-loyalty despite excellent prior performance, wouldn’t it be harder to lace up the shoes in the morning — especially if you weren’t going to do anything at work anyway? I mean, you’re Rondo — the “Kingslayer,” a Triple-Double Threat and the best PG in the East — and suddenly your entire worth is Chandler Parsons and two firsts??

    By the way, Chandler Parsons mentioned in an interview that he’d been told by the Celtics they’d take him in the draft but they chose JaJuan Johnson instead — so now, Ainge wants to use Rondo do-over for a mistake he made in 2010. If you’re Rondo, that probably doesn’t give you tingly feelings towards Danny. Of course, my bigger worry with the Rondo absence is to what degree it strained his relationship with Stevens. I like Brad — he’s got a brilliant basketball mind — and I hope it blows over entirely.

    As much as I respect Danny for his role in two of the 80’s championship, building the ’08 team (which included not only putting KG and Ray in uniform but also hiring Thibbs) and the haul he got for Pierce/KG/Crawford/Courtney Lee — his constant tweaking has a price and wears on Celtics fans. For every tribute video we put out for these former Celtics, there’s also the memory of all these trades rumors or near-trades that Danny pulled and the occasional thought of “if Danny hadn’t traded them, these videos wouldn’t even be necessary.”

    Plus, Danny likes to leak things to the media strategically — remember in 2010 when they got Rondo to sign the extension? That was preceded by targeted leaks about Rondo behaving poorly. I don’t know about you guys but I wouldn’t want to be working with a guy like that.

    My point is, all this is going to come back and haunt the Celtics eventually — it already did in a way — Employee No. 20 saved the hated Miami Heat in Game 6 last year.

    Regardless: if any of us are entertaining thoughts of Kevin Love wearing green (and I know Simmons is), then it’s worth pointing out that it’ll only happen if Rondo is here.

  • hax

    5 years/60 million is as far as I’d personally go.
    Look at the last 5 championship point guards.
    Chalmers x2
    Fisher x2
    Farther than that, you get Rondo and Parker before they were considered Top 5 PGs.(2008 and 2007)

    It’s not a point guard driven league, despite analysts always saying so.
    The three true contenders this year don’t even have good passing PG’s(Chalmers, Hill, Westbrook.)

    Unless Rondo says he -will- stay, it’s a tough decision not to offer him an extension next january or so, and trade if he declines.

  • dslack

    Do you have a link for the $75.7M?

    The cap for this year was $58.5M or something, so that would be a $17M increase in the salary cap. That would be completely unprecedented and sounds completely implausible to me. I’d appreciate a link to that info if you have one.

    • As it turns out, it sounds implausible because, well, it is and I was wrong. It’s been corrected, thanks for the note.

      • dslack

        Thanks for following up, and for the link!