Despite all he has accomplished by age 27, and being in the prime of his career, Rajon Rondo is once again the subject of trade rumors. Whether or not Danny Ainge wants to accept it, Rondo is the face of the franchise. And contrary to popular belief, he didn’t assume that title simply by default.
He earned it.
If you need evidence, look no further than the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. When the Big Three was in decline, Rondo was there to pick up the slack. The team leaned on him, and he delivered.
He was excellent when he was on the court, and he almost never left it. Rondo played an average of 45.2 minutes per game throughout the series. And no, that’s not a typo. He played 316 total minutes in the series, out of a possible 336. Meaning he spent a grand total of 20 minutes on the bench throughout the entire seven game series. That’s an average of only 2.8 minutes on the bench each game. Rondo didn’t take the reins simply because the Big Three was increasing in age, it was a combination of excellent productivity, talent, work ethic, conditioning, and arguably his most valuable asset, heart.
What did he do with those minutes?
Like I said, he delivered.
Rondo posted stellar per game averages of 20.9 points, 11.3 assists, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.9 steals. He led the team by scoring 20.9 points per game. More than Paul Pierce, more than Kevin Garnett, and more than Ray Allen. Despite the high volume, he maintained a 49% shooting percentage, which was also higher than any of the Big Three.
Obviously, his assists were the most on the team. But if you need some more help understanding the extent to which Rondo ran the show, he dished out 79 total assists on the series, 63 more than Paul Pierce’s 16, which was second most on the team. The rest of the team handed out only 45 assists combined, which was 34 less than Rondo had himself. His steals predictably led the team, and his 6.9 rebounds per game were also good for second most on the team, behind only Kevin Garnett. Unfortunately, the Celtics couldn’t pull out the win in the series. Nonetheless, this remains a defining moment for Rajon Rondo, and, in my opinion, the moment when Pierce passed on the torch.
His entire career critics had called him overrated because he’s played on a winning team with future Hall of Famers, but now, he was the one carrying them.
After the departure of Pierce and Garnett, Rondo further exhibited the qualities that make him a franchise player, and he did so before he even took the court. He is no longer the protégé, he’s a leader, a veteran, and a self-described “best friend” of new coach Brad Stevens.
So the question remains, why would GM Danny Ainge consider making the (foolish) decision to trade Rondo?
To acquire draft picks?
With at least nine first-round picks in the next five years, the Celtics have no need to acquire any additional picks, especially if it costs them Rajon Rondo. Nine picks is certainly enough to both add talent for the future via the draft, and package in potential trades.
For salary reasons?
Rajon Rondo is under contract until the end of the 2014-15 season, and if the Celtics want to keep him, they’ll likely have to give him a max deal. However, that may sound more intimidating than it truly is. After the 2014-15 season, the only players that are under contract are Gerald Wallace at approximately $10 million, Jeff Green at $9 million (player option), the team friendly options of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk at a little over $2 million each, and Chris Johnson’s $900,000 team option. Even if all of the options are exercised, they only total about $24 million. Though that accounts for just five players, it adds up to only a little more than a third of the luxury tax. Also working in the Celtics’ favor is the fact that both Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green would be in the final years of their respective contracts, so the team would have an additional $19 million free in cap space the following year.
Not only will the Celtics have the funds to pay Rondo, but it wouldn’t keep them from being able to chase a superstar and potentially signing Jared Sullinger to an extension. Also, if the team has a shot at contending for a title, I don’t picture the team’s ownership shying away from exceeding the luxury tax.
At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to Ainge deciding how much he values Rondo.
Building for the future?
The team has already accumulated a minimum of nine future first-round picks within the next five years and a relatively strong group of young foundational players, so dealing Rondo for picks and inexperienced talent would be counterintuitive the progress of the franchise. The money will be there, and it won’t restrict Danny from trying to bring a superstar to Boston, even if ownership ends up going a little over the luxury tax.
Let us not forget, in order to build for the future, you need players to build upon. The Celtics have some promising young players, but as of right now, Rondo is the only one who is truly franchise-caliber. You also need incentive for other players to sign, and money is rarely the only factor. Rondo is the only safe bet, and despite constantly being dangled as trade bait, he continues to display loyalty to Boston. Offer him max contract money, and he won’t even test the market. If you trade him to free up some extra cap room, you run a high risk of striking out.
Yes Danny, trading Paul Pierce and KG was a good move for the future. But Rondo is the future. He’s the heart and soul of the team, he’s idolized be the fan base, and he’s the safest way to keep our beloved Celtics from falling into years of prolonged mediocrity. You’re going to have to pay him, and he’s certainly not the only step that needs to be taken, but he’s a necessary step towards regaining relevancy.
Don’t make the wrong decision, Danny. If you don’t handle this correctly, you will stunt the growth of the franchise for years to come, and this time it will cost you your job.