Rajon Rondo: Now What?

Rajon Rondo: Now What?
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"Trade Rondo." -Everyone, ever.

Okay, cool. Trade him. Trade him for whom? Trade him to what team? When should he be traded?

If you had trouble answering those questions, join the rest of the armchair GM society. Little discussion about Rajon Rondo, the basketball player, ever centers on his ability to play basketball. Fans of opposing teams are quick to yell "trade him" to Celtics fans without giving any thought to the matter. Boston fans themselves are divided on the issue of what to do with Rajon Rondo. Half of the fan base is neck-deep in the waters of Rondo admiration while the other half isn't even in the pool. Why is it that it's impossible for any group to have a unified opinion on him at any given moment? Kevin Durant earned his MVP award this year, Anthony Bennett failed to live up to his status as the #1 pick, and Stephen Curry can shoot. These are all indisputable facts. Rondo does not have this kind of backing.

Rajon Rondo has come out and said that he wants to be a Boston Celtic for life. Although he said that he would like to "explore free agency," Celtics fans have heard this before. In 2010, Paul Pierce wanted to test his free agency, and he came back to Boston on a new deal with little hassle. In fact, afterwards, he famously sent out his "Celtic for life" tweet which didn't end up being true due to the trade that sent him to Brooklyn last summer, but still. If Rajon Rondo makes it to free agency next summer with Boston, there's little doubt in my mind that he goes anywhere. That's not me being a homer; that's what makes sense. Why would he leave all that he's known in his eight NBA years to bolt . . . just for the sake of bolting? There's no Kentucky NBA team, so this trend of returning home doesn't really apply in Rondo's case.

There will certainly be teams that are on the cusp of being title contenders that will pursue Rondo next summer (Hello, Houston), but Boston isn't far off from contending too. If Carmelo Anthony can return to his team based on his faith in Phil Jackson's ability to build a title contender soon (he really only returned for the money even though he said he didn't return for the money . . .), then Rondo can return because of faith in Danny Ainge to build a championship contender. Why? Ainge has already done it before, and the Celtics are miles ahead of any other "rebuilding" team due to their war chest of picks and young talent. While it may not be enough to satisfy Flip Saunders in a package for Kevin Love (he's insisting on losing an All-Star but still making the playoffs next year when they couldn't make it this year. OK), proper use of those assets could always bring in other pieces who can help Boston contend along with Rondo (Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, DeAndre Jordan, etc.). Not to mention that Boston could potentially have around $35 million and upwards of cap space next summer depending on what moves they make throughout the season to shed salary.

Long story short: Boston is in a good position right now, and they're poised to be well off in the future. Although they may endure another losing season, Rajon Rondo should see enough where he can be comfortable returning as a free agent next summer. So that begs the question: what does Rondo ask for in his next contract? He reportedly wants a five-year, $100 million contract next summer, but I have a hard time believing that. First of all, no one is quite sure yet if Rondo is worth that kind of money. This upcoming season should prove it (along with proving that he is or is not a good shooter. A lot is riding on his contract year). He may very well live up to that number, especially if his athleticism does not decline but his shooting numbers improve. While Rondo made strides in his shooting mechanics and in the finer points of his jump shot, these improvements were lost in the fact that in-game shooting changes when one is recovering from a torn ACL. For that reason, Rondo, without his brace this time, has an entire season to prove to critics that he can shoot. Then, the numbers that teams (primarily Boston) will throw at him will increase in contract negotiations.

Rajon Rondo took a discount last time he signed a contract with Boston in 2009, and he wildly outplayed what his numbers showed later that season in the Finals. For Rondo to take less than the max this time around, he'll likely need to see a lot of improvement in players around him for him to take another (less drastic) pay cut. That said, no matter how much money Rondo gives up this time if he chooses to re-sign with Boston, if I were him, I would demand for a no-trade clause. Encircled in trade rumors since 2009, Rondo has appeared to not be bothered by them ever since. That said, we all know that's not the truth. Constantly hearing rumors about being shopped (although they, with the exception of a 2011 potential deal for Chris Paul, have all been false) can really take a toll on a player. Taking a pay-cut and demanding a no-trade clause allows Boston more flexibility to rebuild WITH Rondo and add pieces, and it allows Rondo to have peace of mind.

These are all important discussions to keep in mind as next summer approaches, but what if he doesn't make it then as a member of the Celtics? Explain fully a feasible trade scenario that makes enough sense for Boston to part with an All-Star point guard. You're likely having trouble. Why? Think about how many teams need a franchise point guard. Of those teams (Sacramento or Houston, for example), think about which of them have sufficient assets to swing a trade that Danny Ainge would approve. Barely any, if any, of the teams in need of a point guard could trade for Rondo. It doesn't make sense. Trade him where? Exactly. A team's best chance is in the summer of 2015, but even then, Boston has the advantage. Rondo doesn't hate Boston, and they've done little-to-nothing to upset him. Why leave when they could be good again really soon?

It's easy to say "trade Rondo." Anyone can do it, and it's the popular thing to do currently. Thinking past that dynamic is much more difficult. While it's possible that a reasonable trade proposal could come about after a ton of thinking and a potential third team, it's also difficult for Ainge to determine what he needs to get in return for Rondo. That's why this upcoming season is huge. With a full season ahead of him, Rondo can prove his worth, he can prove that he has a jumpshot, and he can prove to Danny Ainge that he's worth keeping. Short-term, Rondo likely isn't going anywhere. While nothing but mystery surrounds him, it looks like he'll be playing this season to prove that he can stick around long-term.