Is Rondo part of the future, or the next chip to be dealt?
The Boston Celtics cannot possibly be finished with free agency and the trade market. At this point, Danny Ainge is just getting started.
His obstacles are considerable, though. The Celtics aren't reveling in a ton of cap space, recently taking back Kris Humphries' $12 million expiring deal and Gerald Wallace's three-year, $30.3 million contract.
It is also important to remember that Ainge has a two-month moratorium to wait before being able to deal any players he received from the Brooklyn Nets trade in another package deal. However, it should also be of note that the Celtics picked up a trade exception of roughly $7.3 million to use in the next year.
As we have come to learn with this team, rumors are often just rumors, but always be ready for the unexpected.
Brad Stevens as a head coach was a hire out of nowhere. On the morning of his hire, Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe published a piece detailing 13 candidates for the job. Stevens was not mentioned.
Even the huge blockbuster trade with Brooklyn was rumored, worked out and finalized over the span of a couple hours on draft night. Ainge is as unpredictable a shot-caller as you'll find in the NBA.
With him at the helm, there is never a shortage of rumor and buzz surrounding the Celtics.
The question is: Do you buy it or sell it?
Given the recent signing of Josh Smith by the Detroit Pistons, that rumor is completely wiped clean from Boston. Smith has been a potential future Celtic for years now. If it was going to ever happen, it would have been this summer.
Rajon Rondo’s friendship wasn’t nearly enough to land the former Atlanta Hawk. In fact, it took Detroit four years and $56 million that the Celtics simply couldn’t offer.
While it would have been fun to see the two play together in green next season and beyond, Ainge was clearly more interested in preserving future cap flexibility and building around young assets. Smith will turn 28 in December but entered the league out of high school and has a lot of miles on his body already.
It was often easy to sell the rumor that Smith would wind up in Boston. It simply never seemed totally feasible. He is a wildly talented player but didn’t completely fit with the Celtics’ plans. Now that Boston’s attention has shifted, Smith aligns even less with the team's mindset.
While the door is shut on Smith, another window may have creaked open as a result. Since the relationship between high school teammates is legitimate and meaningful, the pieces of that rumor will never die.
With Smith now in Detroit, the Palace at Auburn Hills could become the location where Smith and Rondo get a chance to play together.
The Pistons were calling about Rondo even before signing Smith, as Ken Berger of CBS reported on July 2. Now, countless others have thrown out the possibility of Detroit pushing for a deal to bring in the star point guard.
As Yahoo!'s Mark Evans reports, the deal could be centered around Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight.
Pistons.com editor Keith Langlois reiterated in a July 3 Pistons Mailbag that Ainge would request either Monroe or Andre Drummond if a Rondo deal were to come about.
Knight, coupled with one of the Pistons’ young big men, would certainly catch Ainge's eye. Not only does it immediately shed salary, but the Celtics would be bringing in two talented players under 24 years old. Knight would immediately slide into the starting point guard role, with Monroe or Drummond earning minutes as a starting center in a weak frontcourt.
Just thinking aloud. If Joe D calls Ainge asking about Rondo and leading with Monroe, Danny's got to be listening....— Brian Geltzeiler (@hoopscritic) July 6, 2013
The Pistons, even after signing Smith, have the available space to take on a $5 million to $7 million salary difference between Rondo and the Detroit trade pieces.
This could be too stiff a price for Detroit. The team has a great deal of pride in its two big men. Both were drafted in the mid-lottery—wise picks that the franchise invested a lot of time into.
A Rondo-Smith-Monroe/Drummond core, along with 2013 lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, is quite impressive and definitely enough to find a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
It still probably isn’t enough to contend for a title, though. Especially with a brand new head coach in Mo Cheeks, who has a questionable success record as is.
What would you prefer in return for Rondo?
Though this deal remains a long shot to happen, buy the rumor. The Pistons have shown with the Smith contract and their willingness to put out feelers for players such as Rondo and Rudy Gay, that they are looking to win soon.
At the opposite end, Ainge will field any call on any player. He also has enough of a history now that it would be unwise to ever say he won’t do something.
The other Rondo rumor to come about recently also involves the Celtics point guard going to another team making waves during the offseason.
The Rockets obviously have Jeremy Lin under contract for $16.7 million over the next two seasons. Their roster is already fairly short, and Howard coming in for $20 million-plus per year will tighten things up for Houston.
Rondo has two years and $24.9 million remaining on his deal with the Celtics, a sizable undertaking for a team built like Houston.
Sources: If the Rockets can unload enough cap room, they're likely to make an offer for Rajon Rondo.— Brett Poirier NBA (@BrettNBA) July 6, 2013
Right now this rumor doesn't seem very substantial and is an easy sell. Poirier even hedges his report with later tweets.
Feeding this rumor is the report that Rockets center Omer Asik doesn’t want to play with Howard, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. While Asik is a long way from being the caliber of player to demand trades, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he views Howard as big-minute player at his own position.
Asik started all 82 games for Houston last season, averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds. The hitch is that his contract mirrors that of Lin.
The Celtics have been pretty stoic on the Rondo trade front. Since Ainge's claim that he wasn't looking to move him, rumors have been floated about but few had much juice behind them. This one seems similar.
Recently hired head coach Brad Stevens preached about his willingness to form a relationship with Rondo and work with him in the future. That doesn't sound like a guy who wants Rondo gone, and Ainge will be looking forward to this relationship as well.
If Rondo is traded this summer, it will be for some monster offer that will knock Ainge's socks off. Right now, I doubt Houston has the ammunition to make that possible.
Especially if Joe Dumars is waiting on line two with Monroe or Drummond, listening to Tommy Heinsohn hold music.
All salary cap numbers via Hoopsworld.