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Tuesday, 08 April 2014 14:17

Rajon Rondo Trade Scenarios for the Boston Celtics

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Rajon Rondo is still with the Boston Celtics…for now.  But will he be in a few months? Who knows? And don’t we ask this all the time?

 

Here’s something you see quite frequently: The words “Rajon Rondo” “Boston Celtics” and “trade” all mentioned in the same breath.

For one, I have never truly been opposed to it.  Heck, a little more than twelve months ago I argued that the Celtics “must” trade Rondo.  Although that was part of a rebuild-on-the-fly plan – something that isn’t feasible now with a 20-some win roster filled with young and unproven players.

To put it bluntly, I’ve never been a fan of Rondo’s game.  In short, his inability to get the free throw line and greater inability to convert such chances is far more detrimental than one believes.  He’s no longer a two-way player.  And most importantly, he’s not the most effective player in close-end-of-game-situations.  To get more detail on the claims this writer just made, feel free to read the previous piece as hyperlinked above, as well as this column and this column.  Yes, all were written by me.

For a player to be a star and for a player to be paid like a star – they absolutely must be able to do those aforementioned things.  No ifs, ands, or buts.

Then you throw the ACL-tear a little more than 14 months ago on top of this? Good God, you think I’d be driving this bandwagon like these guys (yes, I just linked one of my favorite music videos ever.)

But not so fast.  As I said, the scenario is far different than it was in say, February of 2013.

Right now the Celtics roster is barren of any proven playoff talent other than Rondo.  Despite his flaws, and he has a lot more than people, especially Celts fans are willing to acknowledge – he still has proven himself when it counts – in the playoffs.  He was the best player on a team that was minutes away from the NBA championship.  And the second best player on a team a quarter away from the NBA Finals.  Developing these players, particularly the environment Boston is currently in (you know, losing basketball games 70% of the time they step out on the court) is not easy.

And besides, what’s out there? Who really wants Rondo, and who would be willing to cough up something, anything, worth a damn?

Well according to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, the New York Knicks really, REALLY want Rondo.  The Lakers, Rockets, and Pacers have reportedly kicked the tires over the years.  There was that bizarre Sacramento rumor we heard a few months earlier.  What else? What could Boston fetch?

Well this writer has put his thinking cap on.  Below are trades that make sense, don’t make sense, and/or have no coherence whatsoever.  What a shocker.  And of course, I give my stamp of approval for all.

***

Rajon Rondo to the Sacramento Kings for: Jason Thompson, Isaiah Thomas, Ben McLemore, and two first round draft choices

 

Ah, the famed Sacramento deal.

Two words: No thanks.  There’s limited chance at star potential there, even if the picks sent over are unprotected (they’d almost have to be.)  You run the risk of becoming the early-2000s Bulls, just TOO young.  With that comes no leadership (even if Rondo’s leadership isn’t great, which it isn’t, he’s still a veteran that players need to respect.)  And you don’t like paying Gerald Wallace through 2015? Well you sure as hell won’t like paying Jason Thompson through 2017.

Thomas and McLemore are the two most interesting pieces.

Since being drafted as the NBA’s Mr. Irrelevant – Thomas has been a standout.  He’s one of the league’s most efficient scoring guards, and is actually having a better season than counterparts the likes of Kyrie Irving (quick caveat: wouldn’t Kyrie be the ideal Rondo swap?).

However, he’s 5’9”.  We all know how long those guys last.  And once the little guys even lose the slightest of athleticism and their first step isn’t what it was – they’re useless, and are out of the league at the drop of the hat.

McLemore is intriguing.  But right now, he’s all…there’s that word – potential.

And the draft picks would likely be late lottery picks or mid first rounders.  A Rondo-Rudy Gay-DeMarcus Cousins core won’t win a title, or likely even compete for one.  But it’d be good enough to make Sacramento a playoff, or fringe playoff team.

LHR’s Approval: 3

Rajon Rondo to the Orlando Magic for Arron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo, Mo Harkless, and two first round draft choices.

 

Would Orlando do a package centered around Nik Vucevic? Doubtful.  Because I would.  But we’re going to have to be somewhat realistic here.

I haven’t written about it anywhere on CLNS, but I might as well make it clear now: I am a huge, huge fan of Afflalo.  If this team were to get dangerously young this off-season with a Rondo trade, it would be in the Celtics’ best interest to swap Avery Bradley in a sign-and-trade with Orlando for Afflalo (who is owed seven million dollars next year.)  Sure he’s a bit older, but his veteran presence would essentially be required if Ainge were to take this team the way of the Oklahoma City Thunder circa 2008.  You just need to have at least some veteran experience on your team.  Afflalo would provide you with that – a great mentor for some of the younger players who need to know what it takes to carry themselves and eventually succeed as professionals.  Most importantly, Afflalo would provide above average two-way play at the two guard spot, at least for the next few years.

Oladipo would essentially be the centerpiece of the trade.  Is he a future star? Magic Insider Josh Robbins seems to think so.  But he isn’t having as good of a rookie season as people seem to believe.  After all, he has a lower PER than Kelly Olynyk.  Because this draft class was historically poor, we seem to be desperate to anoint someone, anyone, from the forgettable and wretched 2013 NBA Draft.

Oladipo has certainly shown flashes.  However, emphasize the word “flashes.”

Harkless is in the midst of a terrible sophomore slump.  If it is a slump.  Maybe he’s completely fizzling out as a player.  Again, another lesson for tankers: Young players, even with seemingly the physical talent, tools, and skills just do not develop as well as they would, or even as well as lesser players do in a winning and competitive environment.  The previously mentioned Jason Thompson and Mo Harkless – who have had nice stretches in their careers and have shown they can play in the league before fading – are prime examples.

The two, and necessary, first round draft choices could come from God knows where.  Because after the Celtics, no team owns more first rounders than the Orlando Magic (acquired three in the Dwight Howard trade alone.)

LHR’s Approval: Certainly a beard-scratcher, but after long thought – likely a no.  I’ll give it a gutless 5.

Rajon Rondo and Gerald Wallace to the Indiana Pacers for George Hill, Evan Turner, Chris Copeland, and two first round draft choices

 

Could Rondo be the pivotal piece used to get rid of the Gerald Wallace stale-fart-in-the-room?

Don’t sell this trade short: Pacers’ boss Larry Bird has always been a fan of Rondo’s – trying to trade for him on occasions such as December 2011.  If Indiana, who has really fallen off the past month and a half, implodes in the post-season, could they try a major trade that remakes their team?

And could Boston, seemingly desperate to dump Wallace, part with Rondo to do so?

In a word: doubtful.  While sending Wallace and his contract out the door with him would be a treat, that cap space would be useless (well not entirely useless as you can always use cap space in trades and to absorb bad contracts for draft picks) because no one, and I mean no one would want to play in Boston.  Think Boston isn’t the most attractive place right now? What about a team barren of recognizable talent? Forget it.

Evan Turner (the second overall pick in the draft a few years ago)…stinks.  And I mean stinks.  He’s a cap-filler, as is Copeland.  Hill is a nice point guard.  But that’s it.  He wouldn’t have much value on a team flooded with rookies and second and/or third year guys.  The two first rounders would also be in the late-20s.

LHR’s Approval: 2

Rajon Rondo, Brandon Bass, and the 2015 Los Angeles Clippers first rounder to the Houston Rockets for Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, and Terrence Jones

 

I like it.  But does Houston?

Houston’s another team that has been linked to Rondo in the past.  But to say they may not be willing to hand over Chandler Parsons may be an understatement.

Parsons has improved dramatically since coming into the league and is one of the league’s most unique forwards, equipped with an extremely versatile offensive game.  He also earned serious brownie points from the organization as he was crucial in recruiting Dwight Howard to the Rockets as a free agent.

But Houston, as stated on the most recent Celtics Beat podcast, is seemingly one player away.  How are they going to get that third wheel to go with Howard and James Harden so they can get to that next level and seriously compete for championships?

The question is whether or not they feel Rondo is that guy.

For the Celtics, this is a pretty substantial haul.  If there was ever a dollar for spare change trade – this is it.  Not only is Parsons a stud, but Terrence Jones has emerged as one of the best players from the pleasantly surprising 2012 draft class.  Even with Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk already on the Celtics’ roster – having Jones would be a luxury, and could make trading either of the three to address other needs that much easier.  Jones may very well be the best of the bunch, albeit all of them possess much different styles of play, particularly on the offensive end.

And Omer Asik is that rim protector that Ainge seems to so dearly covet, although paying him 15 million dollars next year before he once again hits the market the following summer isn’t exactly appealing.

The return greatly favors the Celtics.  In fact, as stated above, they’d likely have to throw in a first round draft choice to get it done – which is something Houston has apparently been looking for over these past few months.

LHR’s Approval: 9

Rajon Rondo to the Los Angeles Lakers for Steve Nash and the 2014 Lakers’ first round draft choice

 

Stipulation: It has to be in the top five, and since the Lakers likely won’t trade it if it’s top three, then lets call it the #4 or #5 overall draft selection.  Which to more accurately put it: Dante Exum.

I guess it could be, say, #7, but if Boston were to take that Nash contract, LA would almost certainly have to add another sweetener or three.  Rajon Rondo for, say, Marcus Smart plus having the privilege and honor of handing Steve Nash nine million bucks next year wouldn’t cut it.  I’m not exactly positive where the Lakers stand on draft picks, but I know they have to send another one to Phoenix (Nash trade) and Orlando (Howard trade), so I’m not sure how much they have left over.  As we know, the Stepien Rule prevents teams from trading first rounders in consecutive years, and the Lakers are operating in the red in this regard.

However, if you’re a fanatical Laker Hater, and Lord knows those exist amongst the Celtics fanbase as well as even in the organization itself – be wary of this trade.

Not just sending Rondo to LA and giving the Lakers a desperately needed young (borderline) star, but taking that Nash deal off their hands.

Sure, the return could be exceptional for the Celtics, (would a dream not be winning the lottery, drafting Joel Embiid, and then trading Rondo for Exum and then roll with that pair for the next decade?) – but this trade could help kickstart the Lakers’ rapid rebuild – something they’ve become notorious for over the last, oh geez, 40 years.

With Rondo in place and that dead Nash money out of the way, the Lakers have one (borderline) star, and virtually a wide-open cap sheet.  Signing Kevin Love as a free agent outright in the summer of 2015 (with the Lakers’ having to surrender zero assets) becomes that much easier for them.  Then once they get Kobe Bryant’s corpse out of there in 2016, they’ll have another max, or near max slot to offer…oh God…Kevin Durant?

For some, that would be a tough pill to swallow.  After all, if the Celtics can’t win a championship, their next ‘goal’ is generally the Lakers not winning it.

But still, the thought of Exum paired with the other high draft selection the Celtics will get in this draft, plus maintaining all of the poker chips the Celtics currently have as well as endless flexibility in the summer of 2015 may be something too juicy to pass up.  And yes, there’s always the possibility that Rondo’s best days are behind him.  Meaning Boston could come away like bandits.

At the very least, think of this as a détente deal struck between the United States and the USSR during the height of the Cold War.

LHR’s Approval: Rondo for Steve Nash and the rights to Dante Exum? 7.7 Rondo for Nash and the sixth pick or beyond with another first rounder as well? 3

Rajon Rondo to the New York Knicks for … ?

 

…A morning coffee and a crumbled up two day old tabloid found in a recycle bin at Penn Station?

Because that’s about all the Knicks have to offer.   New York cannot trade any of their first round draft choices from 2015-2017 because of the Stepien Rule (they owe draft considerations to Denver because of the Carmelo Anthony trade, and they owe another first to Toronto for the Bargnani trade.)   So the earliest they can trade a first rounder would be in 2018, and then they cannot trade another one after that because league rules prevent teams trading first rounders that far down the line.  So technically, all Boston could get from New York is a first round draft choice nearly five years from now.  Forget it.

Which is a shame because it’d be fantastic to fleece the Knicks, as it always is.  An aging Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo core is not going anywhere.  Even with a third “star” to go with them.  So those draft choices would’ve been enticing.  Alas, they do not exist.

And the rest of the roster? I’d rather eat horse manure.  Just as long as I can at least smother it in balsamic vinegar of course.

LHR’s Approval: Doughnut

***

So there you have it.  As one can see, the options are fairly limited.  And the return just doesn’t seem to be there.  The teams that want Rondo the most (i.e. New York) have nothing to offer.  The teams that certainly have interest in Rondo in some capacity (Los Angeles, Houston) may waver on what they’d be willing to surrender.

Trading star players isn’t always easy.  In other sports like baseball or football, it seems to work out for the merchant as much as it does the recipient (the Herschel Walker Trade being the prime example, or the Seattle Mariners replenishing their roster so the Houston Astros could rent Randy Johnson, etc.)

However, historically in the NBA, the list is endless.  Endlessly bad.

The New Orleans Pelicans are still trying to find their footing after shipping out Chris Paul two years ago.  Minnesota has never recovered from the Kevin Garnett trade seven years ago.  Philadelphia has never recovered from the Charles Barkley trade 20 years ago.  The Milwaukee Bucks have never recovered from the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trade 40 years ago.

Rondo ain’t those guys.  Not even close.  But the lesson always seems to be: be wary of trading a dollar for two quarters, four dimes, and a couple of nickels.  It may seem to add up on the spreadsheet, but it never has on the court.

However, if the opportunity presents itself that Ainge could trade his dollar, Rondo, for some coinage that surpasses the value of said dollar? Then, of course, he has to consider it.

And he will.

Larry H. Russell

Senior editor and featured columnist for CLNS Radio. Celtics Beat Podcast Executive Producer. Celtics writer and historian. E-mail: LHRussell@clnsradio.com