How Boston Celtics Can Convince Rajon Rondo to Stick Around for Rebuild

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2014

USA Today

First came the rumor, this time courtesy of an online segment from ESPN's Around the Horn in which Boston-based scribe Jackie MacMullan announced Rajon Rondo's disaffection, saying, "He's told them [the Boston Celtics] he wants out. And no one believes me, but that's the truth," according to CBSSports.com's James Herbert.

Then came the inevitable blowback.

The Boston Herald's Mark Murphy subsequently tweeted, "Spokeswoman for Rajon Rondo's agent, Bill Duffy, said both men deny that Celtics guard has demanded a trade."

CSNNE.com's A. Sherrod Blakely likewise reports that "Multiple league sources have repeatedly said that Rondo wants to start the season in Boston and see where things go from there. A similar sentiment has trickled out of Celtics camp, as well.

"Multiple league and team sources agree the most likely scenario has Rondo beginning the season in Boston," adds Blakley. "Then, depending on how the team does, both sides will mutually agree to either ride it out or part ways sooner rather than later."

That's also consistent with what The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn had to say even before MacMullan appeared on ESPN.

As CBSSports.com's James Herbert correctly notes, "Regardless of what Rondo has or hasn't expressed to Celtics management, trade rumors are bound to persist throughout this coming season if he's not moved beforehand."

Regardless of Rondo's intentions, chances are he isn't going anywhere imminently.

BOSTON, MA - MARCH 14: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics passes the ball against the Phoenix Suns on March 14, 2014 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Even if the franchise point guard's exit is just a matter of time, time is important in this case. Team president Danny Ainge is almost certain to get better value for Rondo after other teams have an opportunity to see him in action this season.

The 28-year-old only played 30 games last season after recovering from a torn ACL.

While his 11.7 points and 9.8 assists per contest were more or less consistent with his typical production, a career-low 40.3 shooting percentage raised some flags. Rondo wasn't right, and his elusive rhythm wasn't especially surprising given the rust that accumulated during his time off the court.

If Ainge and Co. want to maximize the haul of assets they'd receive in return for Rondo, they first have to demonstrate that he's still an elite floor general.

But they'll also want an opportunity to prove something to Rondo, himself—namely that the Celtics may not be as bad as last season's 25-57 record indicates. Perhaps there remains a chance Boston's next chapter still features Rondo as its main protagonist.

It's a possibility to which he seems at least somewhat amenable.

"I'm pretty comfortable," Rondo told reporters in June. "I have a beautiful home here. I love it here. I have a great neighbor, the best neighbor in the world. I don’t want to leave. It's just part of the process that I'll talk about once the season's over. As of now I'm a Celtic."

On the other hand, there's little doubt the four-time All-Star wants to explore his options.

"Though he is not looking to get out of Boston, Rajon Rondo was quick to kill talk of an extension when recently approached by Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge," ESPN Insider Chris Broussard wrote in January (subscription required). "It didn't even get to the numbers stage. Rondo is looking forward to becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career in the summer of 2015."

And he'll really be looking forward to that free agency if Boston doesn't get its act together.

Ainge was cautiously optimistic about the club's prospects for improvement heading into the offseason.

"I'm going to try to blow off some fireworks, but I have to be patient as well and we have to make sure that we don't do deals just to do deals," Ainge told Boston sports radio 98.5 the Sports Hub in April, per ESPNBoston.com's Chris Forsberg. "We have to do the right deals. Those are a lot harder than most people think or believe or understand. I'm not making any promises, we have a busy summer ahead of us, and there's a lot of different directions we could go."

PORTLAND, ME - JUNE 21:  Danny Ainge, Celtics President of Basketball Operations, speaks at a press conference in Portland, Maine on June 21, 2012 announcing that the Celtics and Red Claws have entered into a single affiliation partnership beginning with
Rich Obrey/Getty Images

It remains to be seen whether one of those directions is up.

Boston used the No. 6 overall pick in this summer's draft to select point guard Marcus Smart. While the addition of another point guard may seem like a prelude to Rondo's exit on the face of it, that's apparently not how the organization sees it.

"I don't think this has any impact on Rajon at all," Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck told reporters after the draft.

"I don't think there's any doubt, I think they can play together," head coach Brad Stevens added at the time. "I think it will be great for Marcus to have a guy like Rondo to look up to, to learn from. Not many guys get that opportunity, especially early on in the draft like this."

TARRYTOWN, NY - AUGUST 3:  Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics poses for a portrait during the 2014 NBA rookie photo shoot on August 3, 2014 at the Madison Square Garden Training Facility in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledge
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

While it may very well be the case that Smart and Rondo can coexist, this certainly isn't the kind of move that guarantees an immediate turnaround. Nor was the selection Kentucky's James Young with the No. 17 overall pick.

The Celtics added some promising talent, to be sure, but convincing Rondo to stay may require the kind of help that's poised to win now—not a couple more rookies with upside.

Boston's already waiting on young big men Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk to reach their full potential. At some point, Ainge will probably have to part ways with some of these young pieces in a bid to surround Rondo with a more veteran presence.

In short, Ainge still needs to blow off some of those fireworks he talked about in April.

The club's agreement with swingman Evan Turner could be a step in the right direction, but make no mistake about this team's status quo. The roster is increasingly comprised of good—but not great—young prospects.

The patient approach Ainge has thus far touted could translate into a protracted rebuilding process, if not a downward spiral into the bottom rungs of mediocrity.

Rondo needs to see something bold, and he needs to see it fast. Such a deal may require giving up on someone like Smart or Sullinger prior to the trade deadline, but Ainge doesn't have a whole lot of options. 

Appeasing Rondo will require taking risks. But failing to appease him may be the riskiest move of all.