Breaking Down What Boston Celtics Would Look for in a Rajon Rondo Trade

D.J. Foster@@fosterdjContributor INovember 19, 2013

Getty Images

There are only a few players in the NBA who are truly untouchable in a trade. LeBron James is one of them. Kevin Durant is another.

Rajon Rondo? Not on the list.

Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge is doing a nice job of trying to convince everyone that Rondo truly isn't available, though.

Even in the face of reports from Ian Begley of ESPN New York that the New York Knicks have made an offer for Rondo, Ainge denied it all. He even took it a step further when he told Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe"What’s real is, he’s going nowhere."

This is, of course, Ainge's job. He has nothing to lose by throwing all his support in Rondo's corner, as the offers will still come in no matter what stance he takes publicly.

This is all a part of the game.

That's not to say that Ainge is being disingenuous. It's very well possible that the Celtics see Rondo as the franchise building block going forward. Rondo is a four-time All-Star who is still just 27 years old, and the opportunity to build around a player with his skill set is enticing, to be sure.

WALTHAM, MA - JULY 5: New Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (R) is introduced to the media by President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge July 5, 2013 in Waltham, Massachusetts. Stevens was hired away from Butler University where he led the Bulldo
Darren McCollester/Getty Images

There's no reason to be anything but optimistic right now anyway. Rondo is still recovering from his ACL injury, and Boston's lack of success hasn't seemed to bother him. At least not yet.

Whenever he does make it back on the floor, Rondo might not be crazy about playing for a lottery-bound team, even if he's "the man" on that squad. Since he's headed for unrestricted free agency after next season, the Celtics may not have enough time to convince Rondo that Boston can become a championship contender quickly once again.

For Ainge, the decision comes down to this: reload or rebuild.

One scenario involves Rondo, and the other very likely does not. Once Rondo is healthy and his trade value is fully restored, there may come a point where trading him makes the most sense given the team's overall direction.

But what would the Celtics be looking for in exchange?

Draft Picks

By trading away Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Doc Rivers, the Celtics have acquired extra first-round picks in the 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018 drafts.

That's a lot of ammunition, but you'd better believe Ainge would want more in any deal for Rondo.

If the Celtics trade their last remaining star, this will be nothing short of a full-blown rebuild. Rondo is the only player keeping the hope of a free agent or big trade acquisition alive, but if he gets dealt, it will (and should) be all about the future in Boston.

Teams that are rebuilding don't often do straight player-for-player swaps, particularly if the player being acquired is already on a non-rookie deal. Since the Celtics will almost certainly want to attach the lengthy contracts of Gerald Wallace and/or Courtney Lee in any Rondo deal to clear salary going forward, the chances of a trade involving no future draft picks is very, very slim.

Those picks will be needed to balance out the likely talent discrepancy in a deal.

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 25:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics controls the ball against Jeff Teague #0 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on January 25, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by download
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

That said, gaining a 2014 first-round pick is going to be very difficult for Boston to do. That might not be the case if Rondo were fully healthy and ready to go, but there's a good chance he is nowhere near full strength by the time the trade deadline rolls around.

Teams know this draft is stacked, and only contenders who were absolutely certain they'd be selecting toward the very bottom of the first round would consider coughing up their picks. Problem is, those teams probably don't need Rondo in the first place, since point guard is the deepest position in talent league-wide.

What seems more likely is that the Celtics would ask for picks in the 2015 or 2017 drafts, which would mesh nicely with the picks the Brooklyn Nets owe the Celtics in even years ('14, '16, '18).

This is just one of the many reasons why the New York Knicks, who don't have an available first-round pick to trade until 2018, are probably not realistic suitors for Rondo's services unless a third team gets involved somehow.

Cap Relief

Moving Rondo's $12 million salary in addition to the deals of Wallace ($10.1 million) or Lee ($5.2 million) would require a team to have a great deal of expiring or soon-to-be expiring salary to offer in return. 

That might be difficult to find, but it's not impossible.

Even though the fit is questionable, the Charlotte Bobcats have $18.2 million in the expiring deals of Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions to offer. Kemba Walker's presence complicates that particular scenario, obviously. But there are teams that can give the Celtics cap relief (Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers) in a Rondo trade. That's not a big roadblock.

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 15: Courtney Lee #11 and Gerald Wallace #45 of the Boston Celtics look on following a foul against the Portland Trailblazers in the second half during the game at TD Garden on November 15, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Ja
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Boston may also be content with acquiring deals that expire next season instead of this year. The 2014-15 free-agent class should include players like LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love, and if all goes according to plan, the Celtics will have a young, proven stud from this year's draft class and plenty of cap space to serve as bait in free agency.

If Rondo does get dealt this season, there will be no rush to spend and compete right away. Even if they get the cap space, the Celtics probably aren't going to be able to sign a free agent better than Rondo this offseason anyways, so it might not be imperative to solely bring back expiring contracts. The Celtics just need the deals to be shorter than Wallace's and Lee's (three years remaining).

Young Assets

While the Celtics will have to take back players already on bigger salaries just to make the money match up, Ainge will almost certainly push for a young player or two in any deal for Rondo. Guys who still have a few years on their rookie deals are the best value deal in sports, particularly if you know they're already a producer.

Since the Celtics were unable to bring back any meaningful young players in the deals with Brooklyn and the Clippers, acquiring a young player in exchange for Rondo could be a priority.

Contending teams may be a little reluctant to fork over those types of players, but the Celtics are at least in a good spot in that they can take on any player, regardless of position.

At this point, Ainge can ask for a king's ransom for Rondo, primarily because there's no rush to action on his end. Rondo is his last real trade chip, and holding out for a "can't-miss" offer makes plenty of sense. Although Rondo's happiness or demands could change that in the future, right now Ainge can comfortably ask for the world or play hard to get by saying Rondo can't be dealt.

For the Celtics to actually bite the bullet and trade Rondo, they'll need future draft picks, cap relief and young assets, most likely in that order.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.