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
Rajon Rondo is not the guy for the Boston Celtics moving forward. But not everyone still understands the reasons why.
Evan Turner is killing the Boston Celtics on the court. Could he hurt them even more when Brad Stevens finally decides to mercifully put him on the bench?
Kevin Garnett is wallowing away on what will be a lackluster Brooklyn Nets team. Would he put pride aside and finish his career helping Ray Allen and LeBron James win a championship on the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Major League Baseball is in the midst of a crisis due to their ridiculously long games. Could this become an issue for the NBA as well?
The Boston Celtics may have lost a lot of games in 2013-14, but everybody won. Especially the Boston Celtics fans.
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.
What happens during the NBA Draft Lottery is out of the Boston Celtics control. But to fans and media members, just remember to look at the bigger picture.
A little more than a week ago, the Boston Celtics had the audacity to win not one, but TWO home games in a row in a season that is supposed to be all about the draft and nothing else.
Not maintaining a winning culture. Not player development. Not the coaching staff establishing and adjusting their plans and techniques. Nadda. Just lose, baby.
What a waste! Or so they are saying. Many of the knights of the keyboard were fired up, and still are, but that’s no surprise. They’re fans. They’re emotionally invested fans. So they always want what they think is best for the team, which in their mind this year for the Celtics is losing games.
The media? Well, they’re a different story. You really don’t know what they want. Are they emotionally invested? Perhaps, but not the way fans are. Do they want what is best for the team? You presume so; especially considering much of the Celtics discussion that takes place is on Comcast Sports Net (the TV station that broadcasts Celts games), and 98.5 FM (the radio station that broadcasts Celtics games.) So you’d think, business wise, they’d want what is best for the organization. You’d think they’d go a little Pravda with the propaganda.
But I don’t know. Either way, whether it’s a ruse or just plain stupidity, Michael Felger, Dan Shaughnessy, and Lou Merloni did a segment on Comcast following the Celtics two game ‘winning streak’ that was, predictably, utterly cringe-worthy.
Good God …
Whether these guys are emotionally invested or not – the segment was based off the personalities’ emotions and not their brain-power (or so we hope.)
This is what it takes to get this kind of reaction? Two wins in a row, one in a game the Celtics were just three point underdogs in, and another in which they were FAVORED?
The ‘points’ those three made were:The season would be a “wasted year” if the Celtics go into the draft lottery in either the 4-6 position. ”If you’re going to be bad, you’ve got to try to be ‘the worst.’” (Yes that’s a direct quote.) If Tim Duncan were in this draft, then the Celtics should tank all over again (ummm, pretty sure Duncan, nor a player anywhere near his caliber when he was coming out of Wake Forest being the dead-mortal lock to be a franchise-changer, is not in this draft.) Even though the Celtics lost the ’97 lottery – they still came away with Chauncey Billups, and every Celtics fan should take a player of his caliber in this draft (even though Chauncey Billups types are routinely found in the 20s, and players like Tracy McGrady were picked well behind him in that draft, but whatever.) It’s “scary” that outside of 2-3 teams in the East, the Celtics are “as good as any of those teams.”
Tanking logic: So easy, a caveman …
One really has to stoop to a low-level of intelligence to speak similar languages with fans and media members who have been so rigorously advocating the tanking mechanism. Because it is all they think about, and nothing more.
And guess what? This writer will do so. Here’s a pretty simple Fact or Fiction. Served up just for you.
Fact: Boston already has a young franchise, or borderline-franchise, caliber talent in place. Of all the other bottom feeders in the league, only Sacramento (DeMarcus Cousins) and Detroit (Andre Drummond) can say this.
This is a prime case of Daniel Kahneman’s WYSIATI – What You See Is All There Is (found in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow.)
Coming into the season, for most, it was about nothing but the draft. The incoming so-called loaded NBA Draft. So it became easy to forget about the actual team at hand, the talent on the roster. Just lose games like the rest of the losers. Beat Philly, Milwaukee, Utah, et all to the punch.
And that’s the problem with that mindset. That’s all that they think about. Whoever loses the most will likely one day win.
Those that think that way are unintentionally clouding the big picture for themselves. Those teams (Philly, Utah, Milwaukee, and others) have a roster barren of star talent. That’s why they stink more than the Celtics and are losing more games! Duh!
They may have some intriguing pieces (the Sixers with Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Magic with Nikola Vucevic, etc) – none of them have certified stars. Some may say Giannis may turn into one, but I’d argue he’s just as likely to turn into Jonathan Bender as well (remember the hype surrounding him back in the early-2000s?)
As mentioned, there are only two other NBA losers with established, and young enough, star talent – Detroit with Andre Drummond, and Sacramento with DeMarcus Cousins. I’m not counting New Orleans with Anthony Davis – they aren’t a bottom feeder (and it’s inexcusable that they are as bad as they are with – the roster, outside of Davis, is just a mess.)
No matter, what you think of Rajon Rondo – and I don’t tend to think highly of him as noted here, here and here – he’s still regarded around the league amongst executives and players as a star (and that’s all that matters.) He was the best player on a team that was a sliver away from a championship, and the second best player on a Conference Finalist.
Whether the Celtics trade him or whether they keep him and build around him – Boston already has one star in place. Something that all these teams are desperately hoping this draft will produce for them. Would you sign up for a player that is as good as Rajon Rondo’s caliber for your coming 2014 draft pick?
I know I would. And so would all these other teams like Philly, the Lakers, the Kings, the Jazz, etc.
Boston is one step ahead.
Fiction: Not going the Philly route at the deadline and holding onto veterans such as Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries is only helping the Celtics gain ‘unwanted’ wins.
Yes, I’ve actually seen this float around some spaces in the Internet. Are these people aware the Celtics have won just two games since the deadline back in mid-February? Bass and Humphries are solely responsible for these two ‘unwanted’ wins in the past month-plus?
And this is before getting into the foolish notion of giving away players who have value now, as well as this summer (Bass in a trade, Humphries as a re-sign or a sign-and-trade with another team) for nothing. All in the name of losing games.
We’ll just end this idiocy here.
Fact: Boston has a proven ownership and a proven general manager both firmly in place. Some would even say a proven coach, but that remains to be seen. Regardless, the ownership, management, and coaching situation is set in stone for the Celtics for years to come. Other teams? Not so much.
It’s what Miami preached when they were trying to woo LeBron James and Chris Bosh to South Beach (and what they will tell them, particularly LeBron, as those two possibly consider other options this summer.) It’s what has kept the Spurs, well, the Spurs all these years as they seemingly shuffle in-and-out an endless array of characters.
These other teams? The Lakers? The D’Antoni experiment will end in a few weeks, and LA will look for their fourth head coach in the last two years. Five head coaches since 2011? (chuckles) Are Billy Martin, Bob Lemon, or Buck Showalter available?
Utah? Ty Corbin seems as if he’s on his way out the door too, and it’s doubtful the Jazz will be able to attract a legitimate head coach to Utah. They’ll likely get a retread or some young, cheap, unproven assistant.
Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown are completely unproven and are in Year 1 together. Rob Hennigan and Jacques Vaughn are in Year 2 together, and again, are unproven. And I couldn’t even tell you who the Milwaukee Bucks coach and GM are.
Danny Ainge, in the summer of 2003, took over a team in infinitely worse shape than this, and had them hoisting a flag in five years. Wyc Grousbeck et all have already proven they’ll spend the money when it counts. Good Lord, he was willing to pay Doc Rivers his seven million dollar annual salary as the team headed for the pits.
And Brad Stevens – yes, unproven (although no one has been displeased thus far), however one thing is clear: He has the organization’s back. And because he has that, it becomes that much easier to gain the players’ respect knowing that he’ll be in Boston for the long haul.
A turnstile the Celtics organization is not.
Fiction: The Celtics roster doesn’t match up with the young talent on other NBA losers.
Sure, there are some teams whom have rosters more attractive. But if that’s the case, it isn’t by much.
Sacramento with a young DeMarcus Cousins – they have the big name, but the rest of the roster? Meh. To boot it’s flooded with bloated salaries such as Jason Thompson and Rudy Gay.
Orlando? I’d say Boston is right there. For all the hype Victor Oladipo is getting, um…13.66 PER. And he’s supposedly their most attractive young piece. Jared Sullinger, just a few months older than Oladipo, has a 16.3 PER and plays a more premium position.
Even Kelly Olynyk, who some have criticized as a ‘bad pick’ is third in rookie PER for the 2013 season. And he’s 22.
Utah has Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, and it’s arguable their crop of young players beats out the Celtics. However, key word: arguable.
Detroit sports the big guy – Andre Drummond. But that’s it. Greg Monroe has since fizzled and is likely going to find a new home this summer. And for anyone who complains in Boston about Gerald Wallace being the stale fart on the Celtics cap sheet, well…how’d you like to have Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings?
The Lakers may have the benefit of playing in LA, but that’s a completely different argument. Right now, their roster is utterly barren.
The Scranton Wilkes-Barre…errr, the Philadelphia 76ers and their laughable NBDL roster?
And once again, I won’t even get into the Bucks. Or the Cleveland Cavaliers and their situation with Kyrie Irving.
Fact: The Celtics have a treasure trove of draft selections, which are now ultra valuable with the new CBA. Boston has more assets than any other NBA bottom feeder…and it isn’t close.
Why does this continue to be glossed over?
The Celtics own NINE first round draft choices over the next five years – all unprotected. Some other added bonuses are the rights to swap selections with the Brooklyn Nets in 2017, and potentially another first rounder in 2015 providing the Philadelphia 76ers make the post-season. Not to mention a few extra second round picks to kick around.
Quick caveat: Does that mean the Sixers will try to tank once again? So they can keep their first round pick? As Tom Ziller pointed out when he was dissecting the mess in Cleveland, it ain’t so easy turning the tank button on and off. The Cavs have found out that you can’t tell your guys: “Ok, we’re going to take it seriously and win now!” Their situation has become poisonous after years of deliberately trying to lose to stack lottery picks. Will Hinkie play with fire once again next year just to keep a first round pick?
But we’ve seen how absurdly valuable (and I deliberately use that adverb) first round draft choices, even if they are late, have become since the new CBA. The Bucks could not even get a first rounder for J.J. Redick. The Bulls couldn’t even get a guaranteed first round draft selection for Luol Deng, a borderline All Star in his prime. The Suns would not part with one of their four first round draft choices this season for Pau Gasol.
Reminder: Ainge has nine, possibly ten of these, with no strings attached. Each one of these picks is infinitely more valuable than a few percentage points of ping-pong balls.
Because every star that hits the trade market – Boston will be a player in any one scenario it wants to be. There will be no “we just came up short” as they did a few years ago with Chris Paul. Ainge and the Celtics will bring the most chips to any table.
That’s just reality.
And the ultimate reality is: What happens with the ping-pong balls happens with the ping-pong balls. Exhale, and take a look at the bigger picture. And also remember one thing – to quote Kahneman again, but here’s the most relevant equation of life:
Success = talent + luck Great success = a little more talent + a lot of luck
The Boston Celtics organization has three of four of those variables. The last one certainly would not hurt.
But it’s out of everyone’s hands...
…for the time being.