Rajon Rondo Trade Would Have to Net Boston Celtics Legit Superstar

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2014

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 17: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics before the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on January 17, 2014 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Rajon Rondo has about as much chance of being traded for a modest return as the Indiana Pacers have of winning the 2014 draft lottery.

Dreamers, idealists and those hoping against hope are bound to be disappointed, but it's the truth. The Boston Celtics aren't going to sell low on Rondo, and this is coming from someone who thinks they should at least explore trading him.

Unlike the New York Knicks, though, the Boston Celtics assume a mindset dominated by logic. General manager Danny Ainge has no incentive to deal Rondo for anything less than a legitimate star prospect or active superstar. None whatsoever. 

That's what makes an approach like New York's, which USA Today's Sam Amick says highlights hoping against hope over common sense, so curious and absurd:

Despite the consistent claims from Celtics general manager Danny Ainge that Rondo isn't available, the Knicks have a strong belief that he can be had if—in a nod to another show—the price is right. They can offer the likes of Amar'e Stoudemire (one season remaining after this one, at $23.4 million) while taking future money back (such as Gerald Wallace and/or Jeff Green) and helping Ainge clear the way for the summer of 2015 that is known to be a priority of his. (That summer is a major priority for the Knicks, too, but it appears the Rondo scenario is one of the few, if not the only, where they'd consider the impact of his addition great enough to justify taking on some money from that point on.) The Knicks can include Raymond Felton (a much cheaper point guard option) or Iman Shumpert (rookie contract) and even discuss beloved rookie Tim Hardaway Jr.

In the Knicks' defense, they know they're grasping at imaginary straws (right?). With Carmelo Anthony approaching free agency, the team losing like crazy and an asset pool so shallow that it wouldn't reach an Oompa-Loompa's ankles, all the Knicks can do is hope against hope.

In further defense, there's no way they're the only ones hoping Rondo becomes or is available. The NBA is a point guard's league and Rondo is one of the best. Interest is going to be high, especially since Ainge hasn't definitively ruled out moving him.

Even a forever-whimsical franchise like the Knicks has to know Rondo won't come cheap, though. New York believes he can be had if "the price is right." What's the right price? Spoiler: Not some combination of Stoudemire and Felton.

For the time being, Boston has all the leverage. Rondo is steadily looking like Rondo again, and he's given no inclination he wants out. Fruitless extension talks aren't even a basis for outside leverage, because they mean nothing. Rondo stands to make more money by waiting for free agency in 2015.

Unless he demands a trade complete with a list of preferred destinations, Ainge and the Celtics are in control. And if they're in control, it means Rondo will only be flipped for what he's worth—a king's ransom.

Boston already has plenty of draft picks, more than some cats have lives. Simply dangling nifty, future first-round selections won't get Ainge to bite.

Likewise, offering the Celtics significant financial relief won't do the trick either. ESPN's Chris Broussard (subscription required) made it clear Boston is interested in dumping salary, specifically the contracts of Jeff Green and Gerald Wallace. Amick also points out that the Celtics have big plans for summer 2015, when plenty of superstar free agents will be available.

But after moving Courtney Lee, and taking into account the Atlanta Hawks' reported interest in Green, according to the New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence, the need to hold a salary-driven fire sale isn't as great.

Think of the Celtics as the girl who is genuinely only interested if you have game. They may not be opposed to moving Rondo, but trading him isn't their only avenue toward happiness. Ainge has made it so they have other options.

This puts all prospective trade partners in a put-up or shut-up situation. Either the Celtics wangle a significant return, like that of a current star, superstar-level prospect or top 2014 first-round draft pick, or they don't move Rondo at all. It's that simple for Boston.

Rondo can leave in 2015, but that's a problem for next season if the Celtics aren't impressed by any offers now. Switching him out for a rental's payoff makes sense when he's a flight risk just months later, not when he's on the books after this season.

The Celtics have already waited this long, mind you. Had they been inclined to ship Rondo out for spare parts and salary relief, they would have done so while he was still injured as opposed to when his stock is gaining more steam than a sauna set to "eternal damnation" temperatures.

"I wouldn’t say [the minute restriction is] completely off," Rondo said following Boston's loss to the Dallas Mavericks after logging a season-high 36 minutes, per ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg. "I won’t be playing 40 [minutes]. But when I’m out there and my adrenaline is going, I feel fine."

Expecting the Celtics to part ways with an unrestricted Rondo in a footnotes-type package is absurd. If he was playing poorly and physically incapable of increasing his workload, then there's a case to be made. Right now, there's no such case to argue.

Rondo's current production is steadily approaching its former glory. Over the last five games, he's averaging a near double-double with 12.4 points and 9.2 assists. Look at how his numbers during that stretch compare to his career numbers:

Rondo Being Rondo
Last 530.612.446.633.
Via Basketball-Reference and NBA.com.

Let's go ahead and dismiss the tanking card, too. There's no need for Boston to increase the value of its current draft pick. At 18-34, the Celtics are well outside the Eastern Conference's playoff picture and tanking quite nicely. Moving Green, their leading scorer, to Atlanta—or elsewhere—would have a similar impact without the repercussions of knowing they sold low on one of the NBA's top stars.

Does this mean Rondo is untouchable? No, but he's not expendable either. Prying him out of Boston is going to take a deal that CSNNE's A. Sherrod Blakely says will make Ainge swoon:

It's going to have to be a Brooklyn Nets-type of deal, one that is just too irresistible to pass up. It's going to have to be better than that deal. It's going to have to include some type of young, talented up-and-coming player, probably is going to have to involve multiple first round picks, they're probably going to have to be unprotected, it has to be one of those deals that Danny Ainge looks at and says, 'There's no way I can turn this deal down.'

Multiple first-round picks. Highly touted prospects. Future or current stars. That's who and what the Celtics will trade Rondo for.

There will be no surprise fleecing or a trade so lopsided David Kahn could have orchestrated it. There will be no giving up Rondo for anything other than a lion's share. 

Hopeless star-gazers without any assets of star quality or potential to offer, like the Knicks, will have to keep on staring, lusting after a player whom the Celtics will not deal just for the sake of making moves.


*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com (subscription required), and salary information via Shamsports, unless otherwise noted.


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