Given their height advantage, it would be safe to say that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett wear bigger sneakers than Rajon Rondo. Next season, the size won’t matter, though, as Rondo will be filling those shoes for the Boston Celtics by any means necessary.
The term "face of the franchise" is probably a little overused in today’s sports vernacular. Sometimes we feel a need to conduct ourselves under the pretense that every franchise must have a player’s face at the forefront of its operation. While that is a discussion for another day, the Celtics are a franchise that needs a face.
It isn’t simply because they are a storied organization with more championship banners and retired jerseys hanging in the rafters than anyone else. Though that is true.
It isn’t simply because over the last seven to 15 years, the Celtics have witnessed some of the best leadership in the sport’s history. Though, that is true too.
It isn’t even simply because there is no Doc Rivers at the podium next year, or Garnett in the locker room, or Pierce at the charity event. Though, that is also true.
It is because of all these things and more that it is now or never for Rondo to become the franchise’s face.
This is an organization that needs and deserves a face. The leadership that Pierce and Garnett bestowed on that team was amazing and possibly irreplaceable.
The Celtics are in a war of constant friendly fire in the area as well. If they slip, the Boston Bruins and New England Patriots are right there, plowing ahead. The Boston Red Sox will always maintain steadfast progression, even through down years.
In many ways, the Celtics can’t risk fading to the back of New Englanders’ minds. Owner Wyc Grousbeck knows that better than anyone, as he bought the team during a series of doldrum years in the early 2000s.
Now that the Detroit Pistons have made their move to acquire a point guard, there are no apparent suitors out there for Rondo. While that doesn’t mean President of Basketball Operations, and part-time magician, Danny Ainge won’t pull another Brad Stevens rabbit out of his hat, Rondo should be with the Celtics next season.
The Pistons had entertained the idea of going after Rondo. However, Ainge must have wanted one of their young, talented bigs. Instead they pick up Brandon Jennings, a slightly lesser player, for just Brandon Knight and change.
This can be viewed multiple ways for Celtics fans. Both sides feature Rondo at point guard for the foreseeable future. However, one side is positive and the other negative. There are some who would like to see Rondo traded, allowing the team to bottom out. With a full season of Rondo, this team may threaten for a middling spot in the conference and another fringe lottery pick.
Rondo’s goal for the upcoming season should be to make sure there is only a positive side before the 2014-15 season. In other words, enter your contract year on a good note, Rajon.
The Washington Wizards really helped out Rondo this summer by working to give John Wall a maximum extension. They made him the face of their franchise, something they’ve been searching for since Gilbert Arenas went south. Being that Wall is a similar player, with less accolades and experience, Rondo will have leverage to get a max deal himself.
Come 2016, that will be a paramount consideration for both him and the Celtics.
As a player with, at that point, nine years of NBA experience, Rondo’s maximum possible salary will be 30 percent of the cap. The cap number for this coming season has been set at $58.679 million, giving Rondo an approximate yearly paycheck of $17.6 million. Note that because Wall has less than six years of service time, his maximum is only 25 percent of the salary cap, which explains the discrepancy in final salary.
If Rondo remains with the Celtics through the completion of his current contract, that $17.6 million will be the maximum he can earn in the first year of his next deal. However, should that deal come from Boston, it can be worth up to five years, with a 7.5 percent increase in salary each season.
In this scenario, the Celtics are hypothetically paying Rondo north of $21 million for the 2019-20 season. He will turn 34 in February of that year, which seems like an odd age to envision the precarious young point guard we’ve grown accustomed to so far.
If Rondo returns healthy and puts up numbers equivalent to previous seasons, that contract is sure to come. However, where it comes from will depend greatly on if he can become a face the Celtics would be proud of. Proud enough to pay nearly $100 million over five years, to be precise.
That is what Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose earn right now. Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving and Wall will be right behind them. That is the group with which Rondo associates himself, both talent-wise and financially.
That means being on his best behavior in dealing with a new coach, new teammates and of course the big worry, referees. Regular suspensions and locker room clashes are generally not tolerated by the face of a franchise. Rondo is no longer a kid in his early 20s; he is a 27-year-old man and a leader.
The possible future earnings should be enough on their own. But Pierce and Garnett didn’t become leaders just for the money. They did so to win. They wanted to impart wisdom on their successors and have them follow in those footsteps. That is the most satisfying way to win.
Brad Stevens, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley, supposed pillars of next year’s team, have 190 combined NBA regular season games between them. The young players won’t be looking up to Pierce, Rivers or Garnett anymore. Those eyes will seek out Rondo and absorb anything he does.
Rondo’s assists have been making teammates better on the court for years now. It is time for him to make them better in a new way. The face of the Boston Celtics will lead by example as much as transition passes.
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