Boston Celtics team president Danny Ainge may have found his new coach in Brad Stevens this summer, but he hasn't necessarily settled on a franchise cornerstone player just yet.
The Detroit Pistons, long rumored to be a suitor of the rehabbing point guard, haven't lost interest even after acquiring Brandon Jennings in a sign-and-trade with the Milwaukee Bucks. In fact, Washburn added, Jennings may eventually be included in a trade package to bring Rondo to the Motor City.
While trading Rondo might be the official ending of this Celtics chapter, Ainge's reclamation project is already well underway. The executive traded his most recent faces of the franchise, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, along with the coach responsible for bringing Boston its last NBA title, Doc Rivers, this offseason.
Just 27 years old, Rondo is young enough to carry this team through a transition period and still compete at a high level on the other side. But there's still the risk of wasting the remainder of Rondo's peak years if Boston's younger players don't develop and Ainge can't add any more impact talent to this roster.
At the very least, gauging the league's interest in Rondo is a necessary exercise.
If the right ingredients come together on the trade market, Ainge may find no other option but to part ways with the two-time assists champ.
Finding an All-Star
A torn ACL in his right knee ended Rondo's 2012-13 campaign on January 25. Until he can show potential suitors that he's nearing his pre-injury level, his trade value is going be too low for Ainge to find a worthwhile return.
But this delay actually helps Detroit's chance of getting to the front of the Rondo race. The Pistons can't trade Jennings before December 15 since he signed a new contract this summer anyway.
Jennings is not an All-Star talent and will never approach that level without dramatically improving his career 39.4 field-goal percentage. But he is young (23) and reasonably priced ($24 million for the next three years).
Adding Jennings would give the Celtics ball control (2.4 turnovers in 34.6 minutes per game for his career) and a three-point threat (37.5 percent last season). He could eventually become something even greater if he learns to dial back his shot selection and bring consistent effort to the defensive end of the floor.
But he's not the budding star Ainge will target. Greg Monroe, a slick-passing three-year veteran, has the combination of production and upside that can get Rondo out of Boston.
The former Georgetown star boasts a career 51.2 field-goal percentage to go along with his near-nightly double-double contribution (career 13.5 points and 8.9 rebounds per game). He's also still operating on his rookie contract for next season, meaning Ainge will have the chance to secure him at a rate deemed reasonable by both parties.
Boston has a glut at the power forward spot, but it lacks an interior anchor. Monroe's offensive versatility, defensive smarts and high ceiling make him the ideal candidate to man Boston's middle for the next decade.
His passing skills out of the high post (career high 3.5 assists per game last season) draw the most rave reviews from scouts, but his across-the-board production ranks right up there with the game's elite big men, as seen below.
Filling out the Trade Package
A Jennings-Monroe combo at least gets the needle moving for the Pistons, but it might still fall short of getting a deal finished if Rondo storms out of the gate next season.
With the rest of the "Big Four" having made their exits, Rondo has the chance to actually improve his already lofty standing around the league.
He's often dismissed as a scoring threat, but he has shown the ability to create for himself when needed.
During Boston's seven-game clash with the Miami Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, he averaged 20.9 points (including the 44-point outburst in Game 2 shown below) on 48.8 percent shooting from the field. He stuffed the rest of his stat sheet with 11.3 assists, 6.9 rebounds and 1.9 steals, numbers that are rarely, if ever, matched by his contemporaries.
The Pistons still owe a first-round selection to the Charlotte Bobcats to complete last summer's Ben Gordon-Corey Maggette swap. Lacking any coveted draft picks to sweeten the deal, the Pistons will have to absorb a bad contract, send back an expiring deal or both.
Contracts don't get much worse than Gerald Wallace's remaining three years and $30-million-plus.
With Monroe out of Detroit, though, Josh Smith could move back to his natural power forward position, leaving only Kyle Singler and rookie Luigi Datome in the Pistons' small forward rotation. Wallace will never give them cheap production, but he wouldn't be just wasted cap space on the sideline, either.
If Wallace is too expensive for Pistons general manager Joe Dumars to take on, Brandon Bass (two years, $13 million remaining) could be an alternative.
Detroit also has a pair of enticing expiring deals to offer.
Both Rodney Stuckey and Charlie Villanueva have $8.5 million contracts that will come off the books at season's end. Stuckey's ability to play either guard position, combined with Boston's crowded frontcourt, makes him a more likely candidate for inclusion.
Will This Be Enough to Appease Both Teams?
The short answer here is that it's far too early to tell.
While each club will surely monitor the other's progression, they'll also want to use those first few months of the season to see if they can make their current rosters work.
Ainge will want to give Stevens every chance to make his leap from the college ranks a successful one. Stevens sounds like he wants the opportunity to coach Rondo, and given the point guard's far-reaching skill set, it isn't hard to figure out why he would.
As for the Pistons, their postseason chances have already grown exponentially this summer. A Josh Smith-Andre Drummond-Monroe frontcourt might present some logistical spacing issues, but it's tough to say with any confidence that swapping Rondo for Monroe in the starting lineup solves any of them.
Still, if things sour early on for either potential trade partner, there are reasons for both executive staffs to pick up the phone.
Stars have come few and far between for the Pistons of late, and they now could have a decent chance of adding a pair of them in a matter of months. Boston, meanwhile, adds two players with upside to its young core and continues to improve its financial situation moving forward.
For all of the reasons that this may never come to fruition, there are just as many making it something worth keeping an eye on.