If it seems like Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge is supervising a clever trade-deadline ruse, that's because he is.
Would you like fries with all that, Danny? Maybe a jumbo-sized fountain soda cup, too? And I don't know, let's say an arm, leg and whatever other appendages you're fascinated with as well?
Three-time All-Stars (four selections) don't come cheap and despite the New York Knicks' silliest hopes, Rondo was never going to come cheap. But Boston's current price exceeds cheap, crosses through costly, makes a pit stop at expensive and settles somewhere between highway robbery and unreasonable.
In the current trade market, where draft picks are held tighter than stress balls within a clenched fist, the Celtics are asking for too much. The combination of impact players and draft picks it would take to pry him out of Boston is too steep and a price few teams would be willing to pay.
One of the lone teams prepared to drain their asset pool is the Sacramento Kings, according to Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears, who was told by a source that the "Kings and C's discussed a deal involving Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore and a pick for Rajon Rondo, but Rondo wasn't interested in re-signing with Sacramento and the Kings strongly value McLemore."
Sacramento's offer opens the flood gates of information for those of us (me, you, Betty White, etc.) who love dissecting the push and pull of trade rumors.
First, there's a case to be made that the Kings are bonkers, in that they offered way, way (way) too much.
McLemore is a top-seven pick they're less than a year removed from drafting, and Spears writes they're still high on him. That matters. Trading him would be like selling your house. You value it way more than potential buyers will, but that sentimental value—in this case, projected potential—plays a role in negotiations. If the Kings consider McLemore a building block, they must view him as such in a trade.
Then there's Thomas, Mr. Irrelevant turned starting point guard for the NBA's 13th-ranked offense. Packaging him with so many other valuable assets for a point guard like Rondo who, while talented, is still recovering from an ACL injury, strikes me as odd.
ESPN's Ethan Strauss feels the same way:
Lowe offers a nice rebuttal to Strauss' argument, though:
Both Lowe and Strauss make valid points, neither of which prove Thomas should be immovable or has a higher ceiling than Rondo. But he's at least valuable.
Finally, we have those draft picks, or draft pick. We're not entirely clear on how many Sacramento is offering. Spears' report was amended to what's written above (one), but initially, there was believed to be a second pick involved. Either way, whether the Kings were dangling one or two draft picks, their proposed package was fantastic.
And yet, we're led to believe Boston was forced to decline the offer because Rondo wasn't interested in re-signing with Sacramento. While likely true, it's more revealing about the Celtics' plans than it is about Rondo's future in Beantown.
If the Celtics are going to limit themselves to teams Rondo would (likely) commit to, they're never going to receive an offer like this again. Restricting those they deal with based on Rondo's preferences most likely means negotiating with contenders, teams one piece shy of contending or, most notably, big markets.
Those teams—like the Knicks, for instance—won't be ready and willing to offer a package rivaling Sacramento's, because they won't have that many assets.
On the flip side, shopping outside Rondo's realm of desire results in what we're doing here: discussing a promising proposition derailed by Rondo's distaste for the team he's being dealt to.
Ainge and the Celtics are smart enough to know this. The early stages of their rebuild—from Kevin Garnett's and Paul Pierce's departures right down to the Courtney Lee trade—has been deliberate and calculated. Nothing has happened by accident or chance.
Boston—Ainge, specifically—knows the stakes. The Celtics know that if they actually want to deal Rondo, they must lower their asking price. They know his trade value, in theory, only decreases beyond this season, when a potential 18-month rental turns into a possible 12- or sixth-month hire.
They know this. They know all of it.
Days away from the trade deadline, though, the Celtics still haven't budged. Not even slightly. That says all we and the NBA's most fervid suitors need to know.
"What’s real is, he’s going nowhere," Ainge told The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes in November. "That’s what’s real."
Those words ring true three months later, at a time when Rondo has been portrayed as available in the "right deal," when no trade that is both realistic and capable of slaking Boston's growing demands exists.