Celtics Risk Irrelevancy in Letting Rajon Rondo Reach Free Agency


October 27, 2009

Celtics Risk Irrelevancy in Letting Rajon Rondo Reach Free Agency The summer is over, the basketball season is beginning, and everything should be sunshine and lollipops for the Celtics, but Tuesday morning's news that the Celtics won't be signing Rajon Rondo to an extension puts a dark cloud over the future of the franchise.

The report comes from Yahoo's Marc Spears, who spent the last two seasons covering the Celtics. According to Spears, Rondo and his agent are looking for a contract that would pay Rondo like "one of the NBA's top-five point guards."

The Celtics and general manager Danny Ainge, apparently, aren't willing to budge from their offer.

The consequence? Rondo will become a restricted free agent at the end of the season and in turn the Celtics have a good chance of fading back into irrelevance as soon as next year.

The fact is Rondo is a top-five point guard right now. Over the next 10 years, he'll unquestionably be in the top three.

He's a genuinely dynamic player. He?s fast. He?s exciting. He?s already proven to be a winner. He steps up his game in the biggest moments, and fills the shoes of superstars when they?re out due to injury.

His game isn't yet complete, and he can't yet carry a team, but top-five point-guard money isn't asking too much, especially considering that the futures of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in Celtics jerseys aren't exactly bright.

Garnett, 33, is as fierce a competitor as Boston has ever seen, but comparisons to Larry Bird, who had bone spurs removed when he was 32 and suffered injury upon injury thereafter, are too easy to make. Garnett may avoid the same fate, but continual breakdown of a power forward with 1,055 games logged on his body is a very real and very frightening possibility for the Celtics.

Ray Allen will be gone at season's end, unless he's interested in a major pay cut, and Pierce, who can still compete with the best of them at 32 years old, won't be the floor leader that he is now in two or three years.

Add in Rasheed Wallace's contract, which has him signed through 2011-12 (when he'll be 37 years old), and the future of the Celtics looks bleak.

That's where Rondo's value will be. He can't necessarily carry a team just yet, and that may never be his role, but put a couple of pieces around him (say Kendrick Perkins under the basket and a perimeter shooter behind the arc), and he'll drive your team.

The knock on Rondo has and always will be his jump shot. But Rondo's game doesn't need a jump shot. He hit 50.5 percent of his field goals last season — second in the NBA among point guards and 21st overall. He doesn't spot up, but he knows how to score. He accelerates to the basket and uses his freakish athletic ability to score where the big men play.

And his true skill is his court vision, most evident in his 8.2 assists per game and outstanding rebounding ability. He's only 6-foot-1, yet he was third among point guards in rebounds per game.

The other knock has been Rondo's maturity, or the lack thereof. Most of that damage, however, has come at the hands of Ainge. The GM publicly discussed issues he and the team had with Rondo last June. He may or may not need to work on his leadership off the court, but his performance on the court never wavered during the period in question.

As Spears points out, Rondo will hardly be the biggest name in the free-agent market of 2010, joining the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and possibly Dirk Nowitzki and Amar'e Stoudemire. But he will be the best point guard.

Letting him become a restricted free agent won't be foreign territory for the Celtics, who saw Glen Davis fishing for offers this past summer. With Davis, it worked out, but Rajon Rondo is not Glen Davis. Big Baby is a very good sixth man and perhaps a capable starter. Rondo is a starter for the next decade on any team that doesn't employ Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tony Parker, Devin Harris, Derrick Rose or Jose Calderon.

Rondo is tough. At times, he's unstoppable. He is without question a top-five point guard. He's also the best chance the Celtics have to remain a contender over the next 10 years.

Watching Rondo do what he does in another uniform would be a devastating sight for the Celtics, but it looks like Ainge and Co. are content to let that happen.

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