Mar 19, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo (9) celebrates after defeating the Miami Heat 101-96 at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics: The Rajon Rondo Quandary

Rajon Rondo can’t shoot. Rajon Rondo is the best passer in the NBA. He’s hard-headed. He’s a walking triple-double. He cares too much about his assists. He guarded LeBron James on one of the biggest stages. He’s underrated. He’s overrated.

Rajon Rondo is at a crossroads.

After the New York Knicks booted the 41-40 2012-13 Boston Celtics out of the playoffs in the first round, Boston GM Danny Ainge became a demolition expert. He artfully dismantled the vet heavy, battle weary Celtic squad after six emotional, competitive years together.

Ainge turned Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and even coach Doc Rivers into oodles of draft picks (including this year’s two first rounders,  the Celtics potentially have 18 picks over a five-year span) and a path to a ton of cap space. Boston now has a cadre of young bigs and wings with tantalizing potential, a bright young coach, a couple of vets with juicy expiring (or soon-to-be expiring) contracts, and insane roster flexibility.

And then there’s Rajon Rondo.

The general consensus  among fans, writers, and bloggers alike seems to be “no way Rondo stays in Boston,” and ordinarily, the consensus would be spot on. What veteran, four-time All Star would willingly want to muddle through the growing pains of a rebuild after tasting so much success in his career?

Ordinarily, a player of Rondo’s caliber would have seen Garnett and Pierce on the move and had his bags packed so fast Ainge’s head would spin off of his shoulders.

But there’s nothing ordinary about Rajon Rondo. While the spotlight followed the intense Garnett and Pierce’s heroics, Rondo quietly, grumpily went about being a point guard on pretty much historic levels.

Before Rondo went down 42 games into the 2012-13 season, he was averaging 13.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 11.1 assists per game on 47.5 percent shooting. Three other players in NBA history can say they’ve posted stat-lines like that or better for a season: Magic Johnson (eight times), Oscar Robertson (three times), and Chris Paul (once).

That’s pretty decent company.

In the 81 games he played from 2011 (the NBA’s 64-game lockout season) to 2013, Rondo averaged at least 11 assists and contributed a whopping 49 percent assist rate (the percentage of his teammates’ field goals he assisted on while he was on the floor). Four other players in history have ever posted numbers like that: John Stockton (nine times), Steve Nash (four times), Chris Paul twice, and Magic Johnson once.

There’s no question that Rajon Rondo is an elite playmaker. When he’s in a groove, he’s nigh unstoppable, like when he stir-fried LeBron and the Heat in the 2012 playoffs with 44 points, 10 assists, eight boards, and three steals. So the question is: To Trade, Or Not To Trade?

  • Trade Rondo for Young Talent, Cap Space, and/or Draft Picks

The issue: Rondo is in the last year of his contract. Any team that trades young talent and/or picks for him would do so only if 1)  they were reasonably certain that he’d re-up there after the 2014-15 season and 2) they’re ready to pay Rondo $15 million or more a year in a long term deal after this season.

It’s reasonably certain that any team Rondo would potentially sign with would be at least a quasi-contender, meaning a team like Portland, Atlanta (yes, the Hawks–they were third in the East when Al Horford went down last season and reloaded by drafting talented big man Adreian Payne and inking defensive wing Thabo Sefalosha), and Houston, among others. Of these type of teams, what young talent do they have to give up that makes sense?

For instance, would Atlanta send $8 million dollar man Jeff Teague for Rondo? Maybe, but why would Ainge downgrade from an elite playmaker for a shoot-first, undersized point man under contract until 2017? Also, Rondo is a better player than Teague, but Teague’s ability to spread the floor from 3 might be a better fit for what Atlanta does than Rondo’s ball control, dribble heavy style.

Basically, any team good enough that Rajon would be content re-signing with doesn’t have the goods to make the trade, and any team with the pieces/picks that would be attractive to Ainge probably stinks too much for Rondo to re-sign if they made the trade.

  • Trade Rondo For Another Star

Danny Ainge is adamant that the Celtics are NOT tanking. Also? The Titanic was unsinkable and Michael Jackson didn’t turn himself into a middle-aged Caucasian woman.

Look, Ainge is executing Rebuild 101 perfectly; after adding talented power guard Marcus Smart (and nice complementary wing James Young) in the draft, it seems like it would behoove Boston to play hard, be fun, and be bad one more time, crossing their fingers for another high impact lottery pick. So 1) what player would the Celtics get back of commensurate value who 1) moves the needle 2) would be happy babysitting in Boston?

Which leads us to Point No. 3:

  • Trade Rondo If He Demands It

Nothing worst for a rebuilding team than a disgruntled, chemistry poisoning veteran who the young  players actually listen to. Pouting Rondo would throw a dark shadow over the good vibes that the youth movement is instilling in in the franchise and undermine everything Ainge and coach Brad Stevens are trying to do.

Here’s the thing: Rondo seems perfectly at peace running the show on his lonesome in Boston after bridling taking a backseat to Hall Of Famers Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. He’s already won a ring in Year 2, he’s made deep playoff runs, he’s done almost everything a point guard would want … except be The Guy.

In a league full of personalities, Rondo has proved to be one of the most enigmatic, quirky ones around. Maybe, just maybe, Rondo really IS just content, and, sort of like Paul Pierce during the lean 2003-07 years, has enough Celtic Pride to want to see this through.

Maybe Rondo wants to pass his knowledge on to Marcus Smart.

Speaking of Marcus Smart:

  • Trade Rondo If He Doesn’t “Fit”

Plenty of pundits saw the Celts draft Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart and immediately thought that Rondo’s days are numbered. Five years ago, those pundits would have been 100 percent correct, but now?

Phoenix’s Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe combined to be one of the best back courts in the NBA. the Oklahoma City Thunder routinely trotted out Russell Westbrook AND backup point Reggie Jackson in what was their most successful lineups.

Last season the Houston Rockets blew teams off of the floor with Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley both on the floor. The NBA’s positionless revolution is underway, and the only thing better than having a do-it-all point guard is having two dynamic players who can create for others AND themselves.

Marcus Smart is a defensive bulldog, is 6’3″, and is built like an Abrams tank: Watching him and Rondo wreak havoc on opposing guards will be a blast.

Danny Ainge has made it clear that Rondo has the keys to the Celtics heading into the season, and personally I couldn’t be happier. Rondo’s the last man standing from the Celtics late 2000s powerhouse, the precocious wunderkind-turned-savvy vet.

I want him to be part of a 2018 Boston Renaissance. However, the NBA is a business, and if Rondo has enough or Ainge gets a deal too sweet to pass up, no one would blame the point guard or Danny for moving on.

Rondo is a rare talent, but the Celtics are one of the flagship franchises of the NBA, bigger than any one player. With or without Rondo, the future of the Boston Celtics is blazing bright.

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