Ever since the rebuilding plan was initiated by Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge, the fate of point guard Rajon Rondo has been debated. Would Ainge trade his last remaining star and work from scratch? Or would it be Rondo choosing to leave, either via free agency or a trade demand?
It sounds like Ainge wanted the answer to be neither.
In an interview with Boston radio station 98.5 SportsHub via ESPN, Ainge provided some insight as to what may happen with Rondo.
We did talk to Rondo about extending him. But that's all part of the negotiation that will happen again this summer and most likely the summer after.
In the collective bargaining agreement, there are limits on what can and can't be done. Really, it's not that Rondo doesn't want to accept an extension, as much as it's just not financially smart for him to accept it right now. We didn't think he would [sign], but we did try.
While Rondo declining an extension may not sound encouraging, Ainge is right that he would be throwing away money if he signed now. Veteran extensions are limited to four seasons, including the seasons remaining on the current contract, so if Rondo extended his deal now, it would only be for two extra years.
In addition to that, the salary in the first year of a veteran extension can only go up to 107.5 percent of the player's previous salary. That would mean Rondo would accept a salary well below a max contract if he extended now. It makes more sense for Rondo to wait for free agency, where the bidding will likely be very high. Ainge addressed that in his radio interview as well.
"I think that Rondo will demand quite a bit in the open market," Ainge said. "The competition for Rondo in free agency will be very high."
Even though Ainge had to know he was fighting a losing battle, it was smart to try and take advantage of the timing. As Rondo explained to Jim Fenton of The Enterprise News, these talks took place before he returned from his ACL surgery.
I haven't really thought about it. It was a long time ago, it was maybe two or three weeks ago. I think it just hit the news yesterday. I never tell you guys anything but you seem to find a way.
Ainge beginning negotiations with Rondo, however futile that may have been, was a show of good faith. It's not unlike what the Los Angeles Lakers did with Kobe Bryant as he was rehabbing from his Achilles injury.
The difference, of course, is that Bryant's extension was more than any other team could possibly pay him, but the message to Rondo was similar: You're our franchise guy, and we believe in you.
That's something Rondo likely won't forget, and surely it was a welcome distraction from all the trade rumors that pop up at this time of year.
For all intents and purposes, Ainge changed the narrative surrounding Rondo.
And although he certainly didn't provide a confirmation that he wants to stay in Boston long term, Rondo has continued the trend of speaking positively about his current situation.
When the appropriate time comes around, if Rondo does decide he wants to stay in Boston, is there any price the Celtics should balk at?
As it stands, that's hard to say right now. So much can change over the course of a year-and-a-half, and we still don't know if Rondo will ever be able to reach his pre-injury performance levels.
But for right now? Rondo is absolutely worth his current contract, even if he's not producing at high levels quite yet. He's Boston's best route to acquiring another star, and he's the only marketable player on the roster. He'd be worth over $11 million a year just for those two things alone.
Rondo's future value will depend on a lot of different things, but a big part of his worth is tied to his ability to recruit another impact star. As we've seen in the NBA, one star typically isn't enough to win an NBA Championship. While Rondo is a great all-around point guard, he's a distributor first and foremost. He needs good players around him for his value to really be felt.
That's not an indictment on Rondo at all. It's an endorsement. You can win a championship with Rondo as one of your best players, and Ainge has a ring on his finger to remind him of that.
You can also rebuild around Rondo, but you can't do it forever. Boston has this season, this offseason and next year to acquire assets and try to bring in another star—and acquiring lots of assets (like draft picks) and cutting salary are good first steps.
So long as the Celtics can eventually acquire another elite player and Rondo can regain his old form, there's no price that's not justifiable. Rondo can absolutely be a max player, but there's still plenty of work to do before the Celtics reach that bridge.