Best Potential Trade Destinations for Rajon Rondo During 2014-15 Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2014

Best Potential Trade Destinations for Rajon Rondo During 2014-15 Season

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    Technically, the Boston Celtics have a little less than a year to decide on the future of mercurial point guard Rajon Rondo.

    Realistically, the timeline could be significantly smaller than that, especially if the floor general has started his own trade clock as has been reported.

    During an off-air segment of ESPN's Around The Horn (via Deadspin's Samer Kalaf), ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan offered what sounded like a very definitive take on Rondo's eventual exit.

    "It will happen because he's told them he wants out, and no one believes me but that's the truth," MacMullan said. "And I don't see how you get 80 cents on the dollar for him. Tell me where."

    Both Rondo and his agent, Bill Duffy, have refuted the report, according to the Boston Herald's Mark Murphy. And earlier this summer, the 28-year-old seemed content to stick with the Celtics going forward.

    "I don't like change, really," Rondo told reporters in June. "I'm pretty comfortable. I have a beautiful home here, I love it. I don't want to leave. I'm a Celtic."

    Obviously, these two takes put Rondo's situation under very different lights. But when there's smoke from a reliable source like MacMullan, there is often fire. And when there's an expiring $12.9 million contract for a 25-win team, there are always swirling trade winds.

    If Rondo's feeling on rebuilding with Boston is closer to MacMullan's insider view than his own public stance, he may well be on the move during the 2014-15 season. If he is, these are some of his best potential landing spots.

The Major-Market Dark Horses

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    There's a reason the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks are often linked to the biggest names in the business, and it isn't a media bias.

    Both franchises are selling a lot of the same things: storied histories, off-the-floor business opportunities in a major metropolitan area, future financial flexibility.

    With good-not-great options (at best) currently filling the point guard ranks, it comes as no surprise that both have been linked to Boston's dynamic distributor.'s Marc Stein reported that the Knicks tried chasing Rondo at last season's trade deadline. The Lakers' links go back even further, as CBS Sports' Ken Berger said they had "preliminary trade discussions" of a possible Rondo-for-Dwight Howard swap in February 2013.

    So, what does that past interest mean for the franchises' present? That there's a chance Rondo ends up with oneif he makes it to next summer's free-agent market. They don't have the trade chips to pull off anything sooner, nor the motivation to try.

    Why would the Lakers (Julius Randle) or the Knicks (Tim Hardaway Jr.) sacrifice one of the few young pieces they have to pursue a player they might be able to sign sacrifice-free next offseason? They wouldn't.

    That won't keep these clubs out of the rumor mill, of course, but it should stop them short of reaching the transaction log.

Detroit Pistons

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    Could a possible reunion with former preps teammate Josh Smith lead Rondo to the Motor City? Smith said the two have talked about joining forces at some point.

    "The conversation comes up," Smith told The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes in March. "We always tell each other how surreal a moment that would be for us to be able to reconnect again in that realm."

    Smith obviously doesn't have the loudest voice inside the Detroit Pistons organization. That honor goes to president-coach Stan Van Gundy, who focused a lot of his offseason efforts on improving his team's perimeter shooting with players like Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin.

    One offseason task remains unfinished, though. Restricted free-agent forward-center Greg Monroe still hasn't signed his qualifying offer, although Perry A. Farrell of the Detroit Free Press wrote that the big man is expected to put pen to paper "soon."

    However, the Pistons should make a last-ditch effort to avoid another season with their ill-fitting frontcourt. It's hard to gauge Rondo's trade value after he labored through 30 games in 2013-14 following his return from a torn ACL (11.7 points on 40.3 percent shooting, 9.8 assists and 3.3 turnovers), and Monroe's messy situation might put him among the top names this market could bear.

    The Celtics could snag a 24-year-old centerpiece to help anchor their rebuild along with rookie point guard Marcus Smart. Monroe would have better shooting bigs around him and the space needed to work his back-to-the-basket magic. Rondo, meanwhile, could get two electric above-the-rim finishers in Smith and Andre Drummond, plus a horde of shooters to create optimal penetration lanes.

Houston Rockets

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    Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's favorite type of stars are the ones that come in threes.

    As Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported in June, the Rockets were " chase a third maximum contract free agent" over the offseason.

    The motivation wasn't hard to follow—the list of NBA champions is littered with talented trios—but the method proved costly. An all-in pursuit of perennial All-Star Chris Bosh wound up costing Houston Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin...and didn't even net Bosh.

    Houston's biggest summer investment wound up being Trevor Ariza's four-year, $32 million contract. But with Dwight Howard (28) and James Harden (25) entrenched in their primes, the Rockets aren't trying to practice patience.

    They tried prying Rondo free at the February trade deadline, via Stein, and the ESPN scribe called another attempt "inevitable" this summer. It's hard to think of anything that could have caused Houston's interest to wane.

    For all of Patrick Beverley's defensive tenacity, the Rockets' starting point guard doesn't move the needle much at the opposite end. Houston had the second-lowest assist percentage of all Western Conference playoff teams (56.3, tied for 23rd overall), and the Rockets had trouble getting Howard and Harden on the same page.

    A selfless star and dogged defender (when he wants to be, at least), Rondo could be a pivotal piece of Houston's championship puzzle if Boston has any interest in what the Rockets have left to offer. Morey has cashed in most of his future draft credits, so he might need the Celtics to bite on some of his young players like Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas.

Indiana Pacers

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    No NBA team had a worse summer break than the Indiana Pacers.

    Between Lance Stephenson's departure and Paul George's gruesome injury, the reigning Eastern Conference finalists may have had their annual playoff tickets revoked. The lost production (combined 35.5 points, 14.0 rebounds and 8.1 assists) will likely prove too great to overcome for a club that struggled to score consistently even when their wings were around.

    Rondo, a career 11.1 points-per-game scorer, can't change that on his own. He might be able to squeeze a few more points out of this group a night, but he couldn't pry the boards off Indiana's championship window.

    So, why would the Pacers have interest in him? Because George will return at some point—he's hoping for late next season, but his next action may not come until the 2015-16 campaign—and then the Pacers will have one of the league's premier two-way players to build something around.

    Why not get a head start on the construction project? Rondo already has a big Circle City-based fan in Pacers team president Larry Bird.

    "I appreciate the hell out of him," Bird told reporters before a Celtics-Pacers matchup in March. "...He's amazing to watch. To be able to defend and make plays for other guys, that's big. He makes a lot of players that are not really good look pretty damn good."

    The Pacers need someone to help lighten George's load. Even with his 21.7 points a night, the Pacers finished 22nd in offensive efficiency.

    Rondo could help them at that end without hurting them at the other. Bird would need to sell—and be willing to part with—what could be a valuable pick in 2015, then hope he has enough to build a decent package around it.

Phoenix Suns

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    Restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe is a 6'1" point guard physically freakish to the point that he's been dubbed "Mini-LeBron." Rondo is a 6'1" point guard with a physical profile so unusual it required an ESPN Sport Science breakdown.

    Is it possible that one specimen could be moved for the other? Comcast SportsNet's A. Sherrod Blakely said it should be.

    "For the Suns, it would give them the kind of difference-maker they'll need in the near future to get to the playoffs and potentially make a run," Blakely wrote. "...In Bledsoe, Boston would add another young, dynamic player to a roster that's already overflowing with good talent."

    The 24-year-old Bledsoe is only beginning to tap into his potential. Last season was his first as a full-time starter, and he was one of only 10 players to average at least 17 points, five assists and four rebounds. Of those 10 players, which included seven All-Stars, Bledsoe's 47.7 field-goal percentage trailed only LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

    Bledsoe looks like a budding star, or at least close enough to one that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge could spin him as such while explaining his rationale behind the deal.

    This combination of youth and ability rarely graces the trade market, but Bledsoe could be the exception. ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard described a sizable gap between what the Suns have offered (four years, $48 million) and what Bledsoe is after (five years, $80 million) in July, and neither side appears to have budged since.

    If Bledsoe is available, he might be the best player Rondo could fetch in a trade. Between Rondo's playoff experience and ability to maximize the production of the players around him, he could represent a best-case scenario ending to Bledsoe's saga for the Suns.

Sacramento Kings

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    The Sacramento Kings seem to be trapped in a constant battle between what they should be doing and what they want to do.

    Trapped in an eight-year playoff drought during which they have won only 33.6 percent of their games, they appear in desperate need of an overhaul. That's what they have given themselves—new ownership, new coach, new general manager, plenty of new roster pieces—only their moves often appear like pieces from different puzzles.

    "They acted at times like a rebuilding team determined to keep its cap sheet clean," Grantland's Zach Lowe wrote. "But over the same period, the Kings flipped roles to the part of a hungry 'win now' team willing to spend big on veteran players."

    That eagerness to add proven commodities has led them to Rondo. A few times, actually.

    The Kings tried landing him at last season's trade deadline, according to Yahoo Sports' Marc J. Spears. They made another run at him leading up to the draft, via Forbes' Mark Heisler.

    They need someone like Rondo. They finished 29th in assist percentage last season (51.1), and newcomer Darren Collison (career 6.1 assists per 36 minutes) is hardly the right remedy.

    But does Rondo need—or, more importantly, want—them? MacMullan said in the video clip, "Rondo's already told them flat out, 'I will never re-sign with you.'" Spears previously described a similar lack of interest on Rondo's end.

    Whether that matters to the Kings, though, is anyone's guess. A league source told Spears that Sacramento would have traded for Kevin Love without any guarantee that he'd re-sign, so it might feel the same way about Rondo. There is a lot of individual scoring talent in place, and Rondo might be the right guy to bring all of it together.

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