Rajon Rondo is halfway out the door in Boston, according to multiple reports, putting Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge on the precipice of dismantling the last of the franchise’s most recent championship era.
The Celtics are in substantive talks with the Dallas Mavericks to complete a trade that would bring a package centered around backup big man Brandan Wright and a first-round draft pick to Boston, according to Yahoo Sports, ESPN.com, the Boston Herald and The Boston Globe. The Houston Rockets reportedly have also discussed a deal, and the New York Knicks and Sacramento Kings also are believed to be interested.
Here are some things to be aware of as the situation develops:
– Rondo’s trade return is unlikely to match his actual value. Rondo’s stated desire to sign a maximum contract once his deal expires at the end of the season, coupled with career-worst shooting numbers, could embolden rival executives to low-ball Ainge in trade talks. While no single interested team appears to have the assets to make a trade worthwhile for Boston, they might recognize that the Celtics have reached the point where trading Rondo is inevitable.
The Rockets, in particular, would be operating from a position of strength. They have an MVP-caliber primary ballhandler in James Harden and the third-best record in the Western Conference, so for them Rondo is a luxury, not a necessity.
– The Celtics’ outlook has changed. Last summer’s high-profile pursuit of Kevin Love made it clear that Ainge preferred to build quickly around Rondo by adding another All-Star-level piece. But with such a quick-fix scenario becoming more unlikely, Ainge has changed his plan, according to Steve Bulpett of the Herald.
“Sources are telling the Herald that the reality of the marketplace seems to be setting in as regards to Rondo, leading to the belief the Celts could get less than they hoped — or maybe nothing at all — for the four-time All-Star point guard on the last year of his contract,” Bulpett wrote. “Ainge has, according to league sources, begun to realize that the chances of acquiring an impact player are moving from slim to pipe dream and that the feared ‘longer rebuild’ may be on the horizon.”
This doesn’t guarantee the Celtics are headed for a Philadelphia 76ers-style tank job, but it does suggest they are ready to take the long road to banner 18.
– Flexibility, rather than liquid return, might be Ainge’s goal. Wright isn’t much of a centerpiece; he’s a 6-foot-9 power forward/center hybrid who can dunk but isn’t really able to put the ball in the hoop any other way. He blocks shots but isn’t what anyone would call a fearsome rim protector, and his two-year, $10 million contract expires at the end of the season.
But looking at a potential Mavs trade as a Rondo-for-Wright swap misses the point. Ainge’s moves over the last two years have shown he is as interested in acquiring long-term flexibility in the form of draft picks and expiring contracts as he is interested in acquiring talent itself. If Rondo walks as a free agent next summer, the Celtics get nothing. If they trade him now, perhaps the Celtics get a late first-round draft pick, an expiring deal in Wright and a veteran point guard like Raymond Felton or Jameer Nelson, who have player options for next season and might not be keen on opting in to waste one of their golden years on a lottery team.
In either case, the Celtics would lose Rondo, but in the latter they add a pick without taking on any long-term financial obligation. That might be the best they can hope for now.
– What Rondo wants matters. Although he doesn’t have a formal no-trade clause, Rondo has the next best thing (for him): an expiring deal. In essence, he can control his fate by making it clear which teams he will or won’t re-sign with. Rondo already did this once by reportedly telling the Kings last season he wouldn’t re-sign there.
Yet Rondo is willing to sign a new contract with Dallas or Houston, Ken Berger of CBS Sports reported Thursday, giving these negotiations a different air than previous rumors. Of course, what Rondo and the teams believe he’s worth will influence whether he does re-sign, but at least he’d be willing to come to the negotiating table.
– This could be all noise. Trade rumors always begin to fly around this time of year, with free agents who signed this past summer eligible to be traded Dec. 15. It’s the unofficial start of the NBA’s trade season, which is why the hubbub has resurfaced now, of all times.
Some have speculated the Dallas talks could have been leaked by Boston’s side in an effort to announce to the league that Rondo is available — without picking up the phone and actually calling every front office individually.
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Trades that supposedly were imminent have blown up before. Ray Allen was packed to join the Memphis Grizzlies late in the 2012-13 season before the deal fell apart on Memphis’ end at the 11th hour, and Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee were convinced they had been traded to the Rockets almost exactly a year ago.
The point is, no trade is finalized until the press release is sent, the physicals are passed and every element of the deal is exhaustively parsed on the Internet. The potential end of Rondo’s days in Boston — like his tenure as a whole — will be must-watch stuff.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images