Rajon Rondo's future has never been murkier.
Had the Boston Celtics made serious strides in upgrading their roster this summer, odds are Rondo would be along for the ride. But president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been quiet despite assurances in April that he hoped for big things during the offseason.
Outside of a draft that brought in Marcus Smart and James Young with the franchise's two first-round picks, there's been little movement.
Needless to say, there are no saviors in that equation—not for a club that went 25-57 a season ago.
At this point, improving the roster is more than a gesture of reassurance to a loyal fanbase. It could be essential to keep Rondo around.
The 28-year-old is on course to become a free agent next summer, and it's doubtful the current state of the franchise will persuade him to do otherwise.
"I have a lot going on here," Rondo said in July, according to The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes. "I can only worry about what I can control — that’s myself and my game. Obviously, nothing’s happened, but I still trust Danny [Ainge]. Danny wants to win, so we’ll make something happen."
When asked about his approach to free agency in 2015, Rondo seemed open-minded, saying, "I don’t know if I’m going to do 10 teams. I may do a lot. I don’t know. It’s kind of like college all over again, with recruiting, only times 50 because they have a ton of money to throw at the guys and they don’t have any restrictions on what they can do. No [NCAA] rules."
With Boston thus far unable to pair Rondo with another high-impact player or two, he'll likely keep his options open.
In turn, the Celtics should probably do the same.
Though Rondo could certainly age gracefully as this young team continues to evolve, it makes little sense for Ainge to spend big money on a star who should be well past his prime by the time this franchise is ready to compete.
It would be one thing if Boston could turn its ship around in a year or two. That seems improbable, and that means Rondo is set to become a very expensive babysitter.
"You’ve got Smart, the young kid, and you’ve got Young, the other kid from Kentucky — both guards," Maxwell added. "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."
In other words, Boston has positioned itself to take a cheaper route—one that's far more consistent with the general time frame and trajectory of what could be a protracted rebuilding process.
For the record, Rohrbach notes that "Rondo cannot command his five-year, $104.7 million max deal until reaching unrestricted free agency in 2015," meaning an extension that rich isn't in the offing.
You could argue that Rondo is worth that much at his best, but the bigger question is whether he's worth that much to the Celtics, a team that won't be in position to contend anytime soon.
Ainge would be better off preserving cap flexibility and staying the course on a transition centered around young pieces like Smart, Young, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger. Keeping Rondo around would likely make the Celtics the kind of middling club that neither wins nor loses quite enough to secure premium draft picks.
If this franchise is going to take another step forward, it should do so with a clean slate—and as many young assets as possible.
A trade for Rondo could yield those kinds of assets, adding further urgency to dealing him away before he can leave on his own terms next summer.
Stein added that "sources told ESPN.com that talks between the teams have not progressed to a serious stage because the sides can't agree on the framework of a trade."
However, The Boston Globe's Steve Bulpett refuted that notion, writing, "In the wake of more reports that Houston again targeted Rajon Rondo, multiple sources confirmed that there has been no such communication between the Rockets and Celtics."
While the status of actual conversations involving Rondo remains unclear, the odds he'll be dealt seem to increase given the organization's inability to land a co-star. One difficulty in the meantime is that Rondo's value isn't what it was a couple of years ago.
The Kentucky product has only played in 68 games combined over the last two seasons on account of injury. Though he tallied 9.8 assists through 30 games last season, he made just 40.3 percent of his field-goal attempts and never quite shook off the rust.
It may be easier for Ainge to find a haul to his liking closer to the trade deadline. By that point, Rondo will have had ample opportunity to re-establish himself as an elite star and become a more attractive trade asset in the process.
To be fair, Rondo has been nothing but patient and professional when it comes to the Celtics' current direction. And that may very well remain his attitude when it comes time to explore free agency.
But the Celtics would be wise to do their star point guard a favor, however unsolicited. There are situations out there that would be better for Rondo. And there are certainly backcourt solutions that will be far more affordable for Boston, including the recently drafted Smart.
Parting ways with the face of the franchise won't be easy. Rondo is a reminder of better times in Boston, a connection to a fondly remembered past.
Unfortunately, his paycheck and playing time could also impede a brighter future.
Rebuilds are never pretty. We shouldn't expect the next step in Boston's to be any different.
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