Boston Celtics Trading Rajon Rondo Might Be Harder Than You Think

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2014

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Whether Rajon Rondo's days with the Boston Celtics are numbered may depend on whom you ask.

But it also hinges on whether there's actually a market for the 28-year-old floor general, especially in light of him becoming a free agent in 2015.

The latest update on the four-time All-Star's status comes courtesy of Boston-based Jackie MacMullan, who revealed a surprising nutshell during a previously unaired segment of ESPN's Around the Horn (via Deadspin).

According to's Jay King, "When [New York Daily News scribe] Frank Isola raised the topic of trading Rondo, MacMullan replied, 'Oh, I hope so. Just get it done. And it will happen because he's told them he wants out. And no one believes me, but that's the truth.'"

One of the reasons MacMullan may encounter doubts is that Rondo has yet to given any public indications that he'd prefer greener pastures. 

However, Rondo's agent has denied that his client has asked out of Boston, per Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald.

Rondo has backed up that stance with his public words in the past.

"I'm pretty comfortable," Rondo told reporters back 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."

There's mounting evidence that things may be more complicated behind the scenes, however.

At the very least, MacMullan is a pretty credible source.

As King put it, "She is a Hall of Fame scribe, one of the most solid sports reporters alive. When she speaks, it's typically wise to listen. So, yeah, her comments are clearly very interesting."

Moreover, this isn't the first time the notion of a Rondo trade has reared its head. 

In February,'s Marc Stein reported that, "The [Houston] Rockets want to acquire Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, according to sources familiar with Houston's thinking," adding that, "sources told that talks between the teams have not progressed to a serious stage because the sides can't agree on the framework of a trade."

If true, that suggests a willingness on the part of Celtics team president Danny Ainge to entertain the possibility of dealing Rondo. Whether that ostensible willingness means Rondo is on the same page remains unclear.

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

Even so, we can be fairly certain by now that Rondo fully intends to explore his free-agent options next summer in the event he remains with Boston all season.

"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's Chris Broussard noted 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."

To be sure, there's a difference between wanting to test the waters and calling for an imminent trade. 

MacMullan's revelation suggests the writing is on the wall, however, and that wouldn't be terribly surprising given the current state of the Celtics.

Having traded away franchise cornerstones Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett before the 2013-14 campaign, Boston now finds itself in the early phases of transition. With what may be a protracted rebuild on the horizon, Rondo may prefer a situation in which the playoffs are a realistic option.

The selection of point guard Marcus Smart with the No. 6 overall pick in this summer's draft further suggests that Ainge and Co. may be preparing for life after Rondo.

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
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At the time, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck certainly attempted to suggest otherwise. 

"That's a strategy that, when you're rebuilding a team, you take the best available athlete and then you let it all work out," Grousbeck said of drafting Smart, per ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg. "We've got an All-Star point guard, so that's not in question here. I don't think this has any impact on Rajon at all."

Head coach Brad Stevens even argued that Rondo and Smart were compatible, saying (per Forsberg), "I don't think there's any doubt, I think they can play together. 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."

In other words, Celtics leadership said exactly what it had to say. The organization has every incentive to avoid perception that it's desperate to trade Rondo. That kind of desperation could translate into low-ball offers in what may already be a weak market for Rondo's services.

Which brings us back to the matter of whether Rondo can be moved in the first place.

Even if he and the front office see eye to eye, the reality of the marketplace could make a trade difficult.

Despite Houston's reported interest prior to last season's trade deadline, Boston's demands were apparently too steep.

Stein explained at the time that, "One main stumbling block, sources said, is Boston's desire to acquire blossoming Houston swingman Chandler Parsons in a potential Rondo deal. Sources say the Rockets have informed the Celtics that they are not prepared to surrender Parsons as part of a Rondo package."

Now that Parsons is a member of the Dallas Mavericks, Houston's chances of landing Rondo are probably nonexistent.

PORTLAND, OR - APRIL  27: Wesley Matthews #2 of the Portland Trail Blazers reaches in on Chandler Parsons #25 of the Houston Rockets in the fourth quarter of Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Meanwhile, those Mavericks have a serious need for a top-shelf point guard, but the roster lacks the kind of young assets that would grab Boston's attention.

What about the Sacramento Kings? After dealing free-agent point guard Isaiah Thomas to the Phoenix Suns in a sign-and-trade agreement (and replacing Thomas with Darren Collison), someone like Rondo reasons to be a natural solution.

Unfortunately, Rondo may not see it that way.

As SBNation's Tom Ziller notes, "MacMullan said that Rondo has indicated to Boston...that he would not re-sign with the Kings, who happen to be the most obvious trade partner given their desire for a distributing and defending point guard."

The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers could both use an upgrade at the point guard spot, but neither organization is rich enough in expendable assets to acquire Rondo.

Big-market suitors don't have especially strong standing, either.

"Some other squads (like the Knicks) have little to offer Boston," writes King. "The Lakers and a few other rebuilding clubs could use a leading assist man, but might not be able to keep Rondo long term."

It's particularly difficult to see how Rondo could find his way to a team in the playoff hunt. Most of those teams—save perhaps Miami—already have pretty good point guards. The only teams with the resources to grab Boston's attention may be even worse off than the Celtics.

That said, Ainge doesn't want to lose Rondo next summer without getting anything in return—even as his potential suitors may view a free-agency pursuit as more attractive than coughing up assets in a trade.

Indeed, in Ainge's perfect world, Rondo would spend the first months of the 2014-15 campaign improving his value in advance of the trade deadline.

Rondo played in just 30 games last season after recovering from a torn ACL. Though he managed to produce at a respectable clip of 11.7 points and 9.8 assists per game, the Kentucky product never fully rediscovered his shooting rhythm, culminating in a career-low 40.3 percent from the field.

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 17: Head coach Brad Stevens and Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics talkd uring a time out against the Los Angeles Lakers on January 17, 2014 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and a
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

So Rondo's limited trade market is—at the moment—compounded by a limited sample of work from which to judge his post-injury performance. 

In short, a lot of things have to go right for the Celtics to make a trade work. Partners with young talent (and/or draft picks) must materialize in short order, and Rondo has to put on a show. 

Complicating matters even further is the fact that Rondo will almost certainly seek a lucrative payday when next summer rolls around. He'll make $12.9 million this season, and it's hard to imagine him accepting much of a pay cut after finishing as the league's assist leader in 2012 and 2013. 

Though there are shortcomings in Rondo's game—namely a reliable perimeter shot—his ability to distribute is virtually unrivaled, and his defense isn't bad either. He'll likely command another deal that starts in the $12 million-per-year range and escalates from there.

That's what he's worth in theory, anyway. The bigger question is who's willing to cough up that kind of money given the league's bountiful supply of skilled young point guards, many of whom reason to be more affordable than Rondo.

While the willingness to make a deal often implies some way to make it happen, Ainge may find it incredibly difficult to part ways with Rondo.

Even if that's exactly what Rondo wants.


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