Nothing changed when they left. Nothing changed when last season rolled around and Rondo was working his way back from an ACL injury.
Nothing is going to change now. Not when Rondo is entering the last year of his contract, speeding toward free agency, approaching a future that, out of necessity or preference, may not include the Celtics.
Debunking Rondo rumors has become a full-time job for Celtics president Danny Ainge, and it's not going to get any easier after making Avery Bradley an insanely wealthy man, per The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes:
Can confirm that the #Celtics & RFA Avery Bradley have agreed to a deal. Terms: 4-year-deal worth $32 million.— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) July 2, 2014
Bradley and Rondo's compatibly has been a point of issue for the last four years. The former isn't technically a floor general, but at 6'2", he's an undersized 2-guard.
Small backcourts have grown in popularity over the last few years or so, adding merit to any experiment Boston wishes to stage. But rule of thumb dictates at least one of those guards—preferably both—be a deadly shooter.
Neither Rondo nor Bradley fits that bill.
Fortunately, Bradley may soon be right there. He shot 42.2 percent outside 15 feet last season, per NBA.com. He also drilled 39.5 percent of his three-pointers, a conversion rate that climbed to 43.7 when shooting off the catch, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).
Although Bradley must piece together two healthy seasons of consistent offensive production before he's officially hailed as a double-ended shooting guard, his extension is a gamble the Celtics aren't unjustified in making, Rondo or no Rondo.
Undersized backcourts can inevitably be put at a defensive disadvantage, but this duo can work. Bradley is a physical enough defender that he makes up for his diminutive stature, so there's not much to see here.
Unless you count Marcus Smart.
Avery Bradley's new 4yr/$32MM deal will absolutely be worth it as long as he can complement Rondo/Smart on off. So...it won't be worth it.— Adam Fromal (@fromal09) July 2, 2014
Drafting Smart with the sixth overall pick in this year's draft changes things, even if Ainge himself argues the contrary, per ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg:
Absolutely. No question. And [Smart] and Avery. No question. He’s a very versatile player. He can play off the ball. He can handle the ball. With his length and his size, he can probably play against a lot of small forwards — 6-3, long wingspan, 230 pounds. He’s a very versatile player. Easily those guys can play together, and I think they would really thrive playing together, all of them.
Rondo and Smart make for two ball-dominant guards who cannot knock down jumpers consistently. Smart never hit 30 percent of his deep balls while at Oklahoma State, so he's not going to help space the floor much, if at all. He's also not accustomed to playing off the rock that long.
Talk of Rondo's improving jumper isn't urban legend. It's much better than it was. He shot 42.2 percent between 15 and 24 feet last season, and 45.9 percent in 2012-13. There has been movement on his jumper.
But he still can't shoot threes or, more pressingly, play off the ball. He put in just 23.1 percent of his spot-up attempts last year, and 41.3 percent for 2012-13, per Synergy. Those numbers get even worse when he moves outside the rainbow, where he has failed to drain more than 22.7 percent of his standstill threes over the last two seasons.
Serious hope exists that Rondo can make it work alongside Bradley, if mostly because the sample size for this dyad remains too small four years later (thanks, injuries).
Smart is a completely different story.
Marcus Smart said that he can definitely play the two-guard alongside Rajon Rondo in Boston because of his versatility.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) June 27, 2014
Coach Brad Stevens can stagger Rondo and Smart's minutes, but to what end? Sixth-overall draft picks aren't selected to ride the pine. If the Celtics see Smart as part of their future, there's a good chance Rondo won't be around much longer.
All About the Benjamins
Much of this admittedly has nothing to do with how a Rondo-Bradley-Smart troika will pan out. Finances will still be the driving force behind Rondo's return or exit.
One year from now, he will be a free agent and eligible for a significant raise. The Celtics have already talked to him about an extension, but he rebuffed their overtures, per Holmes. And of course he did.
Extensions are basically worthless this side of the 2011 lockout. Players stand to make more money by hitting free agency and signing brand new deals. Rondo and, more notably, his agent know this.
"He’ll be paid a lot," Ainge said, via Holmes. "He’s a four-time All-Star. He’s 27 years old. He’ll be paid a lot, is my expectation."
How much is "a lot?"
Nine figures. Apparently.
Cedric Maxwell, a former Celtic and current Celtics color commentator, told Yahoo Sports Radio that Rondo was looking to get use-hundy-sticks-as-toilet-paper paid, as quoted by WEEI.com's Ben Rohrbach:
Rumor has it that Rondo has asked for a $100 million extension. You’ve got Smart, the young kid, and you’ve got Young, the other kid from Kentucky—both guards. And in the NBA system right now, the way they’re being paid, you would pay both those guys probably about $4 million for one year instead of the $100 million right now that Rondo wanted to ask for.
So, if you’re Rondo, you might want to start calling that moving company and say, "Eh, come get my stuff. I don’t think I’m going to be here too long."
Look beyond the roster references. Is Rondo worth that kind of coin?
For years, he has been touted as one of the NBA's best bargains. All-Stars are typically earning more than the $12.9 million he's slated to make next year.
Yet Rondo isn't the crowning example of an underpaid or favorably priced player anymore. He now has an ACL injury to his name, and he's yet to make the playoffs as a team's main linchpin.
Pierce and Garnett were his safety net for so long. This isn't to say he can't lead the Celtics on his own, but they have one year to decide whether he's worth max money.
That's not enough time no matter what he does. It would be easier to trade him and cut their losses instead of making long-term guesstimates off short-term sample sizes.
Bye, Bye Rondo?
This early into the offseason, it would be foolish to write Rondo's Boston-based obituary. There's a strong chance he'll stay.
There's an even stronger chance he's available.
Don't make the mistake of thinking he's untouchable. Ainge doesn't play that game, for one. Mostly, Rondo just isn't indispensable. The Celtics have other guards on the roster—cheaper playmakers they can elect to move forward with if investing max money in Rondo isn't something that interests them.
Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley will be the NBA's best defensive backcourt in 3 years (This is not a Rajon Rondo subtweet)— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) July 2, 2014
Moving him is the difficult part. Rondo isn't going to net the kind of return recurring All-Stars should. Whatever the Celtics get for Rondo now would pale in comparison to what the Minnesota Timberwolves can get for Kevin Love.
He not only plays at a ridiculously deep point guard position, but he's still working his way back from a serious injury that gave us only a glimpse of what he has left last season. Red flags don't get any brighter, and like Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley argues, trade proposals will reflect Rondo's ambiguous future:
In Rondo, Boston has an elite player already on its roster. While a rebuilding club might stock its cupboard by moving a top-shelf talent, the problem is the league doesn't see Rondo as such at the moment.
Trading the floor general for a pennies-on-the-dollar return won't fuel the Celtics' rebuilding efforts.
Impending free agency only complicates matters. Interested teams won't fork over first-rate assets for someone who can leave in less than a year.
Unimpressed by trade offers, the Celtics could—for lack of a better phrase—be stuck with Rondo. But again, that doesn't mean he isn't available.
The dollars and cents of this marriage don't make sense. The backcourt setup doesn't make sense. The Celtics, in turn, have a situation on their hands—one that isn't going anywhere so long as Rondo calls Boston home.