Add a pinch of the Doc Rivers trade, a dash of Brad Stevens' hire and two sprinkles of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce's departure, and what do you have? The Boston Celtics' recipe for bidding ado to Rajon Rondo.
Waving goodbye to the four-time All-Star isn't going to be easy. Emotionally, I mean. Trading him even after he tore his ACL will actually prove far less complicated than if Danny Ainge was tasked with Saving Silverman or Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Packages like these will be available—probably even better ones. Elite point guards aren't exactly rare, but they're not a dime a dozen either, especially ones who are earning a reasonable $25 million over the next two years.
Signing rookie head coach Brad Stevens to a six-year deal was a shrewd move by Danny Ainge and company. But it was also one that really eliminated the need for Rondo on the roster.
Doc, Pierce and Garnett's departures laid the groundwork for Rondo's removal from Boston, and Stevens' presence on the sideline should all but guarantee his days in Beantown are numbered.
Contrary to what Ainge told Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe, the time for him to deal Rondo is now.
“We have had calls," Ainge said. "On Jeff [Green], on Courtney [Lee], on Brandon [Bass], on Rondo, on Jared [Sullinger], on our draft pick, Kelly [Olynyk]— there’s been calls for all those guys. And maybe the assumption is we are just changing everybody. But we’re not.”
My question is, why not?
Playing the whole "we need to put fans in the seats" card isn't enough. Boston fanatics are some of the most loyal patrons in the NBA. Forcing them to endure a season watching Jeff Green and Avery Bradley lead the Celtics into the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes is hardly ideal, but they'll still show up.
Speaking of which, retaining Rondo effectively removes the Celtics from the Wiggins/Julius Randle/Jabari Parker/Aaron Gordon/Marcus Smart party. That is, unless Rondo pulls a Derrick Rose and sits out the entire season while the general populace calls for his job and questions his manhood.
Rondo has a bad rap sheet, but that's only because he sees his arms, the basketball and the league's referees and automatically thinks skeet shooting. Beneath his surly, sometimes violent exterior, there's a superstar.
Boston won't be a top-five lottery team with Rondo in the lineup. Players around him (Green, Bradley, maybe even Gerald Wallace) will get better because of him, and the Eastern Conference is teeming with underachieving teams.
On the outside, Ainge maintains he doesn't care about that.
"We are not tanking," Ainge told Holmes. "That's ridiculous. This is the Boston Celtics."
Though he says tanking isn't option, the first-round draft picks he's amassed implore him to say otherwise.
He doesn't have to look at trading Rondo as tanking. The Celtics can see it as moving forward. That is what they'd be doing, after all.
Were Ainge to strike a deal with the Golden State Warriors for the expiring contract of Andris Biedrins, then yes, that would be deliberately tanking. Packaging Rondo with some of the Celtics' less desirable contracts—Courtney Lee and Wallace—in exchange for picks and, yes, perhaps some no-names, is Boston positioning itself for the future.
At 27, Rondo isn't a part of that future. By the time the Celtics are ready to contend again, Rondo will have exceeded 30, and they may actually need to find a new point guard anyway. There's no dignity in that.
Not to mention the Celtics just inked an inexperienced, albeit well-respected, coach in Stevens. Rondo himself has admitted he can be difficult to coach, and he reportedly clashed with Rivers on occasion. If he won't hesitate to butt heads with a highly touted veteran like Doc, I shudder to think what he could do to Stevens when the Celtics aren't winning.
There's an obvious appeal to building around Rondo. I mean, he's Rondo. Crafty playmakers such as himself aren't easy to find. Ask the New York Knicks, who have been searching for one since what feels like forever or since they traded Walt "Clyde" Frazier.
Reality trumps the allure that Rondo presents. He's in his prime and will be on the wrong side of 30 before this project is complete. Capitalizing on his value now and further advancing the rebuild needs to be the priority.
Sitting on this concept won't do the Celtics any good either. Ainge could roll the dice and hope a healthy Rondo nets him an even bigger return when teams get desperate around the NBA trade deadline, but what if he still isn't Rondo by that point? Maybe he will be, but maybe he won't.
Worse still, there isn't much to gain by holding on to him in hopes of negotiating a better package later. By February, depending on when he returns, the Celtics could have played themselves out of the Wiggins fiesta.
We're not asking or expecting Ainge to piece together a garbage outfit, saran-wrap it, field it and call it a winner. No one wants him to do that. He and the Celtics must, however, commit to this rebuild, the one they've tried avoiding for more than two years, completely.
This is the furthest the Celtics have come in the reconfiguring process. They've dipped their feet in the reclamation waters before (Ray Allen, constant trade rumors), and after severing ties with Rivers, Pierce and Garnett, they're waist-deep in it now.
Something still keeps them from diving in, from submerging themselves in what rapidly became a necessary rebuilding. Rondo is that something—the lone remnant of an almost-extinct championship era.
He should be moved. If the Celtics are truly committed to doing this restoration and want to put themselves in the best possible position in the definitely-far-off future, Rondo needs to be put on the block.
Everything Ainge has done this summer has not been geared toward today, tomorrow, the next day, next year or even the year after. It's all about two, three or maybe even four years from now, a lifetime in NBA circles. His approach to Rondo shouldn't be any different.
Contending for championships—those days are gone. Garnett, Pierce and Rivers—they're all gone too. Rondo should follow them.
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