In this week's NBA offseason episode, we get treated to another will-they-or-won't-they storyline, bigger than Ross and Rachel, Daphne and Fred, and Tony and his psychiatrist put together. This recurring crutch happens to be Rajon and the Rockets.
The Houston Rockets and Boston Celtics are once again involved in trade rumors surrounding Boston's star point guard Rajon Rondo. There is little in terms of substance to these rumors, other than a he-said, she-said marathon. The Rockets have yet to volunteer exactly what it is they would be offering.
Rondo will play on the final year of his contract this coming season, earning $12.9 million. After that, depending on how this season goes health-wise, Rondo will likely be seeking a max-contract offer, or at least something close to it.
Should Boston fail to come to terms with its best player next summer, the Celtics will lose him with no compensation, beyond the nearly $13 million in freed up cap space. However, should the team make a move before February's trade deadline, it could maximize its return and be further along in a rebuild.
The problem, whether it is looked at as a good or bad thing, is that Rondo, unlike Kevin Love, isn't holding the Celtics hostage. He has made no such declarations of his intentions to hightail it out of town after next season. In fact, Rondo has stated repeatedly that he would like to stay in his first and only NBA home.
This is a nice thing to hear for Bostonians and New Englanders who have long been ignored by big-name NBA free agents, but it creates a fair amount of uncertainty. The will-they-or-won't-they storyline can apply to Rondo and the Celtics as well.
Enter the Houston Rockets, who have been staring at Rondo across their algebra class since general manager Daryl Morey began attempting to assemble a contender, convincing himself that Houston was a destination for big-time players.
In reality, though, it takes longer than one year to establish oneself as a contender and destination. Houston lucked into Patrick Beverley and Chandler Parsons, both afterthought second-rounders, and now it's lost the latter to its cross-state rival, the Dallas Mavericks.
The Rockets made the brilliant move of trading for James Harden, of course. Still, it was a trade, and while Harden is certainly an All-NBA performer, his style of play isn't going to draw a ton of guys who want to share an offense with him.
Of course, the Dwight Howard thing is still there. Yes, Howard chose to join Houston as a free agent.
Then again, he chose to join Houston after choosing to leave Orlando, then choosing to stay in Orlando, then getting one coach fired, then forcing a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, because that is what he thought he wanted.
Then, another coach got fired on his watch, and he may or may not have clashed with Mike D'Antoni and Kobe Bryant. Then, Howard flip-flopped on whether he wanted to leave L.A. before finally choosing to sign in Houston.
The Rockets signed possibly the most unstable superstar in the league, then went and got upset in six games by the upstart Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.
Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin came to town because other teams refused to sign the poison-pill contracts Houston had offered. The Rockets then had to pair Lin with two picks to unload him on Los Angeles. It was able to get decent value on Asik from the Pelicans in a deal which included a 2015 first-round pick, even after the year he spent brooding around the team.
All of this was done in an effort to make room for that third star to pair with Howard and Harden, but shockingly nobody wanted to come. Carmelo Anthony stuck around New York. Pau Gasol jumped ship to Chicago. LeBron James wrote at length about returning to Cleveland. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade re-upped in Miami, and Luol Deng joined them there.
Suddenly, the cupboard was and is bare for Morey and Co.
So, they fell back on the trusty will-they-or-won't-they crutch—a Rondo trade.
Even the mention of it can appease fans who are currently wondering what happened to the yearly contender they were promised not long ago.
"We love Rondo, and we had no intention of doing that deal," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald back at the trade deadline in February. "But someone can call and feel good about themselves and make some bogus offer and then have a rumor out there that they’re trying to get him."
Unfortunately for Houston, though, all its space-clearing to make room for that next guy likely cleared away too many assets that would draw the attention of Ainge. Either way, it appears Boston's front man is wise to those tricks. Probably because he has been pulling them for years in the New England market.
Now, before there are accusations of fandom playing a role in this analysis because of where this writer hangs his hat, this trade is a pipe dream for more reasons than just the Rockets overplaying their hand.
No team in basketball overrates its own players more than the Boston Celtics, which can and does occasionally become a hindrance to deals.
This is the franchise and front office that inked Jeff Green and Avery Bradley to lucrative, long-term contracts without the slightest peep of open-market competition. Could Green have been playing for Boston these past few years on a $7 million deal instead of $9 million? Since Boston had the rights to match on Bradley, was another team really offering him north of $8 million annually?
While there is no factual evidence that the franchise has any say in who commentates on its broadcasts, Boston's long-term television partner still employs Tommy Heinsohn, who regularly views the current roster through a lens that makes everyone look like Bill Russell and Larry Bird.
Rondo has been involved in trade rumors since his second year in the league, when it was doubted that he could be the starting point guard on a championship-caliber team. After he won his ring and we all got to know him a little better, the rumors continued because he was occasionally immature on the court and sour off it.
They were always there because he wasn't as good as somebody. Negative fans would ask why Boston should have to settle for Rondo when Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul are also human beings who play the same basketball position better than Rondo.
The rumors continued into this current rebuilding plan: Is Rondo a lingering presence from the last contending era, or a foundational building block the Celtics can manufacture a team around?
Throughout those seven years, Rondo hasn't been traded. He continues to represent the Celtics, and likely will through the coming 2014-15 season, his final contracted year with Boston.
The reason behind that, at least in part, is that Ainge and Boston overrate their own players. Certainly, 99 percent of the offers Boston has received over that seven-year period haven't been good enough. Maybe one was, though, and Ainge couldn't pull the trigger because in his, Doc Rivers, Wyc Grousbeck and Brad Stevens' green-tinted minds, Rondo was too good to deal.
However, as long as these rumors continue floating out there, Ainge can have the best of both worlds. He can continue to deny them publicly, which he flat-out loves to do, while at the same time reap the benefits of a partially satiated fanbase (the anti-Rondo segment) eating up the theories that he is trying his best to deal Rondo for the most appealing package.
The pro-Rondo segment is also viewing Ainge with loving eyes as he is crusading to get Love to Boston, another pipe-dream rumor—the latest brought to you by Sean Deveney of Sporting News (h/t MassLive.com)—that is continuous.
Or, at the very least, they love Ainge for shooting down all these Rondo rumors because he is their guy and is a much better player than any of these other teams want to believe, making their offers laughable.
Both Morey and Ainge know that their fans eat that stuff up. Just like Kermit and Miss Piggy for the past 40 years.
Will they, or won't they?
We should, you know, hang out sometime...
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