I don’t like to think how many times that title has been used on posts around the internet, but here we are once again.
This needs some prefacing: I love Rondo. I think he’s a great point guard — certainly top-5 in the NBA when healthy — and I think he can absolutely be the point guard AND the second-best player on a championship team. He’s flawed, but he’s brilliantly useful, like a rook in chess. He can only do a few things, but he uses those few things to get just about anywhere he wants on the board. He’s incredibly talented, he’s an enigma, and he’s supremely interesting. I love having him around.
But after the Celtics whiffed on a top lottery pick, there are real questions to be asked about Rondo’s fit with the team going forward. At number six, the Celtics will frankly find it difficult to put together a package good enough to make Minnesota surrender Kevin Love. The sixth pick would yield a solid replacement (Aaron Gordon and/or Julius Randle both promise to be available), but Boston’s only real asset is Jared Sullinger, and the Wolves don’t really want a poor man’s version of what they already have, especially if the best player available at number six will ALSO be a poor man’s version of what they already have. The collection of picks looks nice, but without young assets, the Wolves might very well choose to look elsewhere.
If that happens, Boston will be looking at a lengthy rebuild, which is where Rondo’s tenuous position with the team comes into play. He is 28-years old, and he’ll turn 29 during the 2014-15 season. Assuming the Celtics are once again a lottery team and assuming Boston’s picks in the 2014 draft take a little while to mature, Rondo will likely be in his 30s before the Cs really have a chance to be good again. How does a 30-year old star fit on a rebuilding team with no real potential to be good for at least a few years?
Therein lies the tough question with Rondo, one that Ainge will likely be asking himself as Draft Night 2014 approaches. There are a few teams that could use a solid point guard, but there are also few teams who could probably coax a guarantee to re-sign out of Rondo. Despite having several talented players, it’s hard to imagine the Kings getting Rondo to guarantee his return. The Magic are in the same position as the Celtics. Who else would be a possibility?
You are going to hate me for this one.
No seriously. REALLY hate me.
The Lakers make a lot of sense here. (ducks)
I know how tough it would be to see Rondo in a Lakers uniform (seriously, please read my preface. I really really like Rajon Rondo), but if dealing him becomes a possibility, LA would be a prime destination. He would likely re-sign the second his feet touched Southern California soil, he has the respect of Kobe Bryant, and the Lakers are attracted to flashy big names. Rondo would satisfy their craving for star power more than Noah Vonleh or Marcus Smart.
Why would the Celtics do this deal? For all the reasons above, and a couple more. First, having young players who can grow together makes sense. Assuming Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley (and whoever else survives the purge) can get along with (for example) Marcus Smart and Aaron Gordon, playing them extensively together allows chemistry to build without putting immediate pressure on young players to win. Let them learn how to win together, and you may create a good culture. Meanwhile, Rondo’s extension may price him out of Boston anyway. Picking up Marcus Smart to play point guard would give the Celtics a considerably cheaper prospect while they go through the rebuilding process.
If Boston somehow landed Love, Rondo would clearly be a part of the plan. They would be a deadly, fun combo, and having two stars together may attract a third. But if the Wolves remain uninterested in the sixth pick, trading for a complete youthful rebuild might be the move to make.
Nobody would dislike it more than me, but sometimes in chess, you have to sacrifice your rook.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.