Tuesday was an unexpectedly busy day for the NBA, which garnered several headlines leading into this Saturday's draft. The Spurs traded for Richard Jefferson and the Timberwolves moved Mike Miller and Randy Foye to Washington for the fifth overall pick, giving them four in the first round this year. But the most intriguing story of Tuesday was about a trade that didn't happen.
The original report came from Yahoo! that the Celtics had offered the Detroit Pistons Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen for Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey. The rumor sent buzz for the Celtics skyrocketing, and called for an almost immediate press conference. Of course, the Boston media always feels entitled to an explanation for rumors of this magnitude.
Celtics President and GM Danny Ainge was quick to debunk the notions that the Celtics were trying to deal Rondo, but made it clear that the Celtics love Rondo as much as one would expect.
What's obvious from Ainge's comments is the speculation that arose from the trade rumor, like the dissatisfaction with Rondo's character and work ethic (he apparently showed up late to a playoff game against the Magic) or his contract situation, is merely just speculation.
Like any great GM, Ainge would only make such a drastic move as trading two core players if he feels the Celtics will improve as a result of it.
But what's also clear is that the Celtics are not ruling out the possibility of a major trade in the future. Ainge doesn't see anything big happening this offseason, but what they will do between now and the 2010-11 season is still up in the air.
Rondo is set to become a free agent after the 2009-10 season, joining perhaps the greatest free agent class in the history of sports. If the Celtics do not extend Rondo's contract in the next year, his name will be added to the likes of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudamire, Chris Bosh, Steve Nash, and yes, Allen as well.
Allen's contract expires after 2010, making him the most likely player to be moved. The Celtics will remain in control of Kevin Garnett's contract through 2012 and Paul Pierce through 2011, owing them over $40 million combined during the 2010-11 season. This will make signing Rondo to an extension very difficult for the Celtics, especially if he commands a top-tier salary.
But with the way Rondo has improved over the last two seasons, it's looking like he's on his way to a hefty payday. After helping the Celtics win their first championship in 22 years in 2007-08, Rondo took his game to another level in 2008-09. His points, rebounds, assists, and percentages all improved, and he averaged a triple double (16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.8 assists) in 41.2 minutes per game during the playoffs. And he's still only 23.
Needless to say, Rondo will be seeking a raise over the $2.6 million he'll make in 2009-10. To reward his movement into the upper echelon of NBA point guards, the Celtics will need to dish out some serious dough. Can they afford it?
If you ask me, keeping Rondo in Boston for his prime years would be worth moving Garnett within the next year. That may mean sacrificing another championship run, but I think it's still worth it to keep Rondo in a Celtics uniform for the long-term.
It's pretty clear that Garnett is beginning to decline in terms of both health and performance, which is pretty normal for a man of his age and build.
The window of opportunity for the Celtics' "Big Three" is closing quickly, and soon enough they will have to look toward the future. That said, it wouldn't be easy for the Celtics to find a taker for Garnett's enormous $21 million-plus contract that doesn't expire until 2012.
But if he can prove to still be able to remain healthy for a full season, it would be tough for a contending team in need of a veteran presence to turn down a man of Garnett's ability and experience.
But I digress...If- and it's a pretty big if- the Celtics were open to moving Garnett and could find a deal that works, I would be all for it—provided the main motive is to retain Rondo on the roster.
Rondo doesn't shoot the ball very well at all; it's always been his achilles heel. He'll never be an elite scorer at the point guard position like Chris Paul or Deron Williams.
But he more than makes up for his shooting woes with deft quickness to the hoop, magician-like hands, and tremendous determination and confidence. He has a rare combination of skills that could make him an elite point guard even without great shooting ability.
He may already be there; I personally wouldn't quite call him elite yet, but he's already at the All-Star level and still has plenty of time to improve. I think all he needs is to develop a reliable three-point shot, and he can easily be mentioned among the likes of Paul and Williams.
He can already do everything else with his hands at a very high level. He quickly became my favorite Celtics player and arguably the most exciting player to watch since he came into the league in 2006.
It would pain me as a Celtics fan to see Rondo running all over the place, never tiring or letting up, always looking for the best possible pass or pestering an opponent for a steal, constantly wreaking havoc on the opposing team's game plan, in a different uniform. It wouldn't come as a surprise if a team like Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, or- gasp!- the Lakers were interested in his services come 2010.
Whatever the Celtics do with Rondo, I'm just hoping it doesn't come devoid of benefits. Trading him would be disappointing, but would also only happen if Ainge feels the Celtics would be better off doing it, and the Celtics would likely end up with some nice players and/or draft picks in return.
Letting Rondo walk to free agency and join another team would be extremely painful to watch, especially if he dons a yellow and purple jersey.
At this point, I would be open to seeing Garnett move elsewhere in order to make room for Rondo to stay here for the future. He's the most exciting, talented young point guard the Celtics have had in years, and without him for the future the Celtics could be headed straight back to the league basement by 2012.