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Are LA Lakers or Boston Celtics the Better Free-Agent Fit for Rajon Rondo?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 6, 2014

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 14: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics reacts after a play against the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden on November 14, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

In due time, Rajon Rondo will have a decision to make.

Does he remain with the Boston Celtics, the team that drafted him and is now deep into an extensive rebuild? Or does he seek out another opportunity, perhaps with the Los Angeles Lakers, the transitioning franchise aiming for a quicker turnaround?

This is not a decision for Rondo to make now. The 2014-15 NBA season in still in its infancy, months—and therefore a lifetime—away from free agency.

This eventual decision isn't limited to the aforesaid teams either. More than two suitors will angle for a meeting with Rondo, a three-time All-Star (four selections) floor general with an unrivaled sleight of hand and uncanny ability to flirt with the most provocatively atypic stat lines.

These are, however, questions that will be among the many he must ask. And there's no such thing as "too early" when searching for answers. 

Preexisting Ties

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 9: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics on February 9, 2012 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

No, this isn't about a breakfast shared between two friends.

Well, not entirely.

Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo were caught breaking bread—or perhaps crepes—ahead of Boston's matchup against Los Angeles, per ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes:

Baxter Holmes @Baxter

Another shot of Kobe & Rondo grabbing breakfast in Boston: http://t.co/TK6qBEB5qx

Naturally the whole (basketball) world swooned as it tried to understand what this meal meant.

The verdict?

They were hungry.

We don't need to use a morning meeting as a lucrative launchpad. There's a connection between Rondo and the Lakers that's been years in the making. It's this bond, forged many times over, that makes it seem as if his free agency will be a two-team race, pitting storied franchise against storied franchise, glittering market against glittering market and incumbent friend against untried temptation.

It was in February 2012, not three years ago, the Lakers and Celtics apparently discussed a potential Rondo swap involving Pau Gasol. Roughly one year later, with the 2012-13, star-stuffed Lakers slumping, rumors heated up again. This time Dwight Howard was the alleged centerpiece of a blockbuster deal that never materialized.

That same year, there were also some pointed comments made by Bryant himself, per ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg:

Chris Forsberg @ESPNForsberg

Kobe on Rondo back in 2013: "You don't want Rondo? Send him my way. I love everything about him. Everything."

Fast-forward to November of this season, and Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated revealed that Rondo would be one of the Lakers' primary free-agent targets over the upcoming offseason.

And then, yes, there was this breakfast between friends—the one that culminated in ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne unearthing another suggestive piece of intel.

"While there are no active talks between the two franchises involving a trade for Rondo, sources said the teams did have a brief discussion a few months ago," she divulged. "It's not clear which team initiated the call."

More of the same followed after that: Rondo is still high on the Lakers' list of summer targets; the Celtics have every intention of re-signing him.

Nothing has changed. The Lakers are still linked to a point guard they don't have, and the Celtics remain in this rumor-torn limbo that has them either devaluing or coveting who is, for now, their franchise cornerstone.

The Celtics

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

To Rondo's credit, he has done nothing to fuel speculation, having been forthright with his desire to remain in Boston, regarding the place he's called home for nearly a decade.

"The love I get is kind of overwhelming in Boston," he told reporters on media day ahead of 2014-15, per MassLive.com's Jay King. "Why would I not want to stay here?”

Rhetorical questions don't get any fairer. 

Boston is familiar. The Celtics are his team. They can also offer him the most money—a max contract worth north of $100 million that Rondo is believed to be seeking, per Holmes, and one team president Danny Ainge hasn't balked at, according to the MetroWest Daily News' Scott Souza.

Though his shooting percentages are still shaky and his point totals unimpressive, one is hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't think Rondo is still a superstar. He is the craftiest, most resourceful point guard in the league when healthy, able to slither through and around defenses with explosive grace.

Should he remain in Boston, he has the opportunity to be the foundation on which the Celtics build. The roster will be filled out to complement his talents. Assuming health, he will be the reason other players see Boston as a first-rate destination.

Boston's core is far more put together than Los Angeles, a team that will look to free agency instead of the draft to determine its fate.
Boston's core is far more put together than Los Angeles, a team that will look to free agency instead of the draft to determine its fate.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

More importantly, he'll be at the forefront of a conventional rebuild. The Celtics are swarming with young, productive talent in Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley. They will also own the rights to at least three other teams' first-round draft picks between 2015 and 2019, plus their own, per RealGM.

That trounces the Lakers' core by a wide margin. Only Bryant, Julius Randle, Nick Young and Ryan Kelly are under guaranteed contract beyond this season. Theirs is a rebuild founded upon cap space and the ability to recruit stars, like Rondo, to come play for one of the league's flashiest franchises.

Put in that context—money and pieces already in place—it's hardly a question. The Celtics, as of now, are closer to being whole than the Lakers. How can Rondo walk away from this, let alone for a Lakers team built around an ebbing Bryant, banking on money and mystique to prevail?

The Lakers

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

If there's one thing that could possibly drive Rondo out of Boston and into the arms of Bryant and the Lakers, it's the past.

Superstars aren't normally used as trade fodder, unless they themselves are unhappy. Rondo has been the source of rumors for years, a recurring reality that may never break from its still-existing cycle.

"Celtics president Danny Ainge is notorious for not hanging up on anyone with a trade offer," writes CBS Sports' Ken Berger, "and it wouldn't be the first time he's discussed dealing Rondo—something he has said repeatedly that he doesn't want to do."

Another contract won't necessarily remove Rondo from the rumor mill permanently. Temporarily, maybe. But locking him up for the next four or five years also makes him easier to trade later on.

His market value is curbed right now because he's a flight risk, not to mention still working his way back from numerous injuries. If the Celtics were able to receive top dollar for his services, they wouldn't have been in talks with this asset-bare version of the Lakers.

The threat of a trade will always be hanging over his head in Boston. And while he's not immunized against anonymously sourced chatter anywhere else, the threat is likely higher in Boston, so long as Smart, a top-six prospect and point guard, is on the roster.

Smart's presence complicates things in Boston, too.
Smart's presence complicates things in Boston, too.Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

What is Rondo supposed to make of the future with Smart in tow? Neither one of them is accustomed to playing off the ball, so their styles aren't conducive to coexistence. The Celtics are also approaching a point where they will have to seriously invest in their current core—the same one that hasn't yet proved playoff-worthy.

Bradley is already on a new deal. Sullinger and Olynyk will both be due for extensions over the next couple of years. All those draft picks Ainge has amassed, while valuable, imply that the Celtics are in this rebuild for the long haul, unless they're used as a means to acquire polished players.

For all the Lakers' doom and gloom, their impatience can be seen as an asset.

Like Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding has underscored on numerous occasions, they're trying to wedge Bryant's title window back open. That needs to happen over the next couple of years, as Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, Paul Millsap and so many other stars become available.

To say an instant turnaround wouldn't be something that interests Rondo is blasphemous. Pushing 29, he's neither old nor young. This is his time to win, and there's a strong chance he'll be on the wrong side of 30 or 31 or even 32 by the time Boston, barring blockbuster trades, is ready to contend again.

Might the Lakers' impending cap space be enough to lure Rondo out of Boston?
Might the Lakers' impending cap space be enough to lure Rondo out of Boston?Nick Ut/Associated Press

Similar things can of course be said about the Lakers. Superstar arrivals are not guaranteed. They could find themselves Bryant-less, and therefore starless, by the time 2017 rolls around.

But imagine what Rondo and Bryant could accomplish together. Picture the sales pitches they could make in 2016, if Bryant continues playing, when the salary cap explodes.

An abbreviated rebuild, though impossible to predict, becomes a lot more feasible if Rondo decides to become part of it.

The Better Fit...For Now

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 14:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics looks on from the bench against the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden on November 14, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading a
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Too much can happen between now and July to properly predict Rondo's decision or the circumstances under which it will come. 

Looking at right now doesn't make it any easier either. Neither Boston nor Los Angeles has distinguished itself as a nearly infallible option. Both rebuilds are flawed in more ways than one as they pertain to Rondo.

"But for now, the grass isn't greener with the Celtics' draft picks, and the globe isn't more golden with the Lakers' cap space," Ding writes. "They're both stuck in this netherworld, where the fantasy of Kevin Love coming to town has been as compelling as anything that has actually happened." 

What has actually happened thus far isn't enough for Rondo—or us—to render any definitive verdicts.

And that says more about the Celtics than the Lakers.

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 9: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers helps up Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics on February 9, 2012 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and o
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

They should have been able to separate themselves from the pack by now. Rondo may be fiercely loyal, but these rumors are a stain on the Celtics' service to their point guard.

Trade rumors imply indecision, as if after all this time, the Celtics still don't know if they want Rondo. If he's forcing their hands behind the scenes, it's a different story. That holds doubly true if the scuttlebutt we're being fed now is inaccurate.

At this point, though, it's Boston's turn to show some good faith. The repetition of this topic, of these rumors, qualifies as the exact opposite.

Los Angeles' future is imperfect, and the ball-dominant Bryant may not be the ideal running mate for the ball-dominant Rondo. But, as of now, the Lakers' interest—and subsequent impatience—is the better fit for a veteran point guard who doesn't have the time to wait out a rebuild in Boston that, by design, may wind up not even including him.

*Contract information via ShamSports.

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