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Let’s set the record straight, when Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen have it both going, they are the best back court in the NBA, bar none. Given some more time together, they have the potential to become one of the best back courts the NBA has ever seen. If Ray Allen wasn’t going to be receiving his AARP card in a couple of years, I would go as far as to guarantee five of the next decade’s championships; that is how good they can be together.
Let’s crunch some numbers. The Celtics went 7-7 in the 2009 playoffs. Rajon Rondo had seven games with 10 or more assists and seven games with less than 10 assists. Here’s where it gets interesting. In the games when Rondo had 10 or more assists, Ray Allen averaged just under 27 PPG. In the games Rondo wasn’t finding his teammates as regularly, Ray averaged just under 10ppg. In the regular season, when Ray Allen scored 30 points or more, Rajon Rondo averaged 14 assists. Can you imagine if Rondo improves on his assist numbers from this year and starts averaging Chris Paul like numbers in 2010? Ray Allen would average Dwayne Wade numbers. These guys need each other. This off-season, everyone is reporting and buzzing about why or why not we should trade one or both of these players. I’ve got an answer for you. Let’s not. Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen are both in contract years. The Ray Allen situation is a little easier to explain so I’ll start there.
Ray Allen has an expiring contract worth more than $18 million. Large expiring contracts are a godsend to teams in rebuilding mode. Does the phrase “Theo Ratliff’s expiring contract” ring a bell? (On a side note, someone should make a book of famous sports quotes, it would obviously contain such classics as “the band is on the field” and “we talking’ about practice.” I assure such a book would have to contain “Theo Ratliff’s expiring contract.”)
With the way the economy is, there’s going to be a fire sale amongst teams with bad contracts. The teams at the top of the draft certainly have a couple of beauties that they are going to want taken off their hands. The Grizzlies have Marko Jaric and Darko Milicic. The Kings have Beno Udrich. The Wizards have Brendan Haywood. And the Clippers have…let’s not even go there. It wouldn’t be hard to get someone to unload on Ray Allen’s contract, especially with “the Summer of 2010″ looming in every GM’s mind (there’s another phrase).
Danny Ainge realizes that Ray Allen is quickly becoming a beloved figure in Boston sports lore, while also becoming the greatest clutch shooter of all-time. Using Ray Allen for his contract seems not only disrespectful, but also pointless. Why would the Celtics want to take a step back for a few years while KG and Pierce get a few more years into/past their primes.
Alright. On to the Rondo situation. The kid’s sure exciting to watch, but he definitely has his pros and cons. Before we get to his contract let’s look at what makes him an asset and a liability.
Rajon Rondo is a terrible, if not horrifying, free throw shooter. If there is one thing to be learned from the Orlando Magic’s colossal failure in the 2009 finals, (they could have won it, they should have won it), it is that when the game’s on the line you need great free throw shooters. The most important player on the court at the end of games is the one bringing the ball up the court, the point guard. Rondo ranks dead last amongst point guards in free throw shooting. After watching Dwight Howard clank those two brick in the infamous Game 4, this is cause for major concern, not just a small flaw.
Rajon Rondo is a bad jump shooter. When Rondo gets left open for a jump shot it’s like watching a math nerd at a high school dance: a girl finally starts talking to him and all he can come up with to say is, “your hair looks nice.” Yeah that’ll get you to second base, buck-o. He needs work, ‘nuff said.
Rajon Rondo can be erratic. As good as he was in the Chicago series, Rondo was equally inconsistent and unhinged in the Orlando series. This doesn’t really concern me, he’ll learn to make better decisions the longer he’s in the league.
Rajon Rondo can be a pain in the ass. Doc has said it himself, some of the players don’t like playing with Rondo’s demanding, diminutive style of leadership. Doc has also claimed that Rondo can be hard to coach. This could develop into a problem, but so far rumblings of it have been pretty quiet.
Statistically, Rajon Rondo is developing into one of the best point guards in the league. He has strong numbers in steals, FG%, rebounds, assists, turnovers, A/T ratio, and blocks. These are all the categories Rondo ranks among the top ten in for point guards. If he averaged three more minutes a game, he’d probably rank amongst the top ten in PPG for point guards, too.
Rondo is young. He turned just 23 in February, which means he won’t be hitting his prime for at least another two years. With his unique set of skills, the likes of which we really haven’t seen before, he could easily be the best point guard in the league in 3 or 4 years.
Rondo is lightning fast. Speed is not a skill that can be taught at 23, if you’ve got it, you’ve got it. Rondo has it. Along with Chris Paul and Monta Ellis’s left foot, Rajon Rondo is the fastest player in the NBA. That can’t be replaced. The jump shot really doesn’t really worry me that much. Jason Kidd learned to shoot consistently later in his career, and Mark Jackson and Andre Miller continued to be some of the most effective NBA ball handlers without ever really developing a shot. With Rondo’s current set of skills, somewhere between Mark Jackson’s and Jason Kidd’s jump shot‘s should do.
Let’s examine the contract situation. Rondo’s agent wants a max contract extension. Rondo isn’t worth a max contract. Danny knows this. All the rumors of trades are just hardball. Danny is letting Rondo know that he isn’t irreplaceable. If I had to put a number on him, I’d say Rondo is in the $8-10 million range. Certainly paying $14 million for someone with such underdeveloped shooting skills is too much.
The C’s own Rondo’s early birds rights. This not only means that the C’s have the first shot at signing Rondo, it also means that the Celts can match any offer Rondo gets from another team and Rondo will have to re-sign.
2010 is the year of the free agent: you know the big three of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh, but what about the others. Dirk Nowitzki, Ray Allen, Steve Nash, Yao Ming, Joe Johnson, Manu Ginobili, Richard Jefferson, and Michael Redd, are all free agents in ‘10 that are going to command contracts of $10+ million. Think about it, if you were a financially strapped team that had to choose between Joe Johnson and Rajon Rondo, I think at this point you’d choose the former.
The C’s don’t need to worry too much about signing Rondo to an extension this summer. They will be able to match any offer he’s given if they just hold out until next year. Danny is trying to bring Rondo back to earth after a few stellar playoff performances.
Rondo needs to realize that it is not he that holds the future of the Celtics, but rather the Celtics that hold the future of him.