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Let’s jump in the DeLorean, fire up the Flux Capacitor, and take a trip back in time. Sorry, ancient Rome will have to wait. I’m more interested in conducting a social experiment in the recent past.
It’s May of this year, and I’ve brought with me two sports stories from the future. The experiment is simple — ask our sports brethren in the past which future headline they believe is true:
(A) Brett Favre Remains Retired, Joins Broadcast Booth
(B) Celtics GM Danny Ainge Shopping Rajon Rondo
Any fan worth his replica jersey knows the soon-to-be 40 Favre was coming off ten-car pile up of a 2008 season. With a QB rating of 81.0, YPA of 6.7, and 22 INTs, the man was cooked by any statistical measure.
Conversely, Rondo played a stellar regular season and carried the Green on his Popeye-like shoulders during the playoffs, averaging 16.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 9.8 assists over 14 games (Chris Paul: 16.6, 4.4, 10.4 in five games). The 23-year-old point guard had arrived.
The true future headline, our past selves would undoubtedly respond with authority, is (A).
Ah, but we know differently, don’t we? As unlikely as it seemed in the spring, Brett Favre is now throwing game-winning TDs for the undefeated Vikings, and yes, Virginia, Danny Ainge did shop Rajon Rondo.
When the story first leaked in early June, Celtics fans wondered aloud if Tree Rollins’ 1983 bite released a slow-acting toxin that eventually infected Ainge’s brain. The collective knee-jerk reaction was loud and clear: Rondo is our baby, trade him and feel our wrath.
Past the knee-jerk was a wave of confusion and a common refrain: Why?
As a fan with a Rondo tee-shirt folded neatly in my dresser, it pains me to say it, but it doesn’t take Perry Mason to get Ainge off the hook in this case. There is ample evidence that proves shopping Rondo was the right move, and Ainge played his hand brilliantly.
Exhibit A: Rondo’s trade value. After his coming out party in the playoffs, Rondo’s value has never been higher. Sell high, buy low, as they say, particularly in an economy where some NBA teams are looking to unload stars for pennies on the dollar. Rondo is 23, is on the books for just $2.6 million this season, is playoff tested (playoff approved!), and has improved his game by leaps and bounds. Why am I writing this piece again?
Exhibit B: Rondo’s “jump shot.” Less a jump shot and more of a shot put, Rondo’s jay is the antithesis of Ray Allen’s, pure, confident stroke. Rondo’s remarkable .505 FG% camouflaged the ugly truth: he shot 34.1% on his jumpers in the ’08-’09 campaign, and he looks terrified to take threes, attempting only 48 on the season and making just 15.
Exhibit C: Rondo’s free throw shooting, .642%. See Exhibit A. If Rondo isn’t twisting and turning through the lane and spinning the ball off the glass in a Baryshikov-esque effort, he looks dreadful shooting the ball, including at the charity stripe. His poor shooting, both at the line and outside the paint, are a liability for this team, particularly in pressure-packed playoff situations. Ainge himself admitted as much in an interview with the Boston Globe:
“As we saw in the Orlando series, they left him wide open,” Ainge said. “His presence hurt us in winning right now because his man went and doubled onto Ray [Allen] and Paul [Pierce] and made it difficult for us.”
In that Orlando series, Rondo made two of the 15 threes he chucked up. I can still hear them clanging in my mind.
Exhibit D: The Phil Jackson. You’ve heard the argument: take away Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe, and how many rings would the Zen Master have? Apply that to Rondo and the argument becomes: Take away KG, Allen, and Pierce, and how good is Rondo?
Exhibit E: Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence against Rondo — his attitude. At Kentucky, Rondo drove coach Tubby Smith nuts with his inconsistent play and his indifference toward teammates. The same behavior got to Doc Rivers in Rondo’s rookie year in Boston, prompting the coach to rebuke his young guard with this now infamous quote:
“Do you know your teammates hate playing with you? The point guard has to be the guy that brings energy to the team. You can’t be the guy that sucks it away. Your moodiness is affecting us. Change it.”
After it leaked Rondo was being shopped in June, Ainge revealed a bit more about the point guard’s attitude. The GM told Boston sports talk radio Rondo had been late to a few practices, had been fined for being late to a playoff game, and overall had some growing up to do.
Then there was the Bulls series. As brilliantly as Rondo played, fans got more than a glimpse of the behavior that drives coaches nuts. After judo chopping Brad Miller in the face as he drove the lane in Game 5 (how was that not a game-changing flagrant foul?), The Quiet Man shoved Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich into the scorer’s table in Game 6, and followed it up with an elbow. There is now a video clip of that play at Webster’s Online Dictionary under “cheap shot.”
Exhibit F: Rondo won’t be inexpensive for long. The Celtics have Rondo locked up at $2.6 million this season, the final year of his rookie contract, a deal even Building 19 can’t beat. If they don’t sign the point guard to an extension by October 31, he’ll enter the free agent market this summer.
The max contract for Rondo is five years, $85 million. He won’t get close to that because (A) Chris Paul and Deron Williams set the bar when they both signed for four years, $70 million in 2008, and (B) the global economy has since been set ablaze and thrown off a cliff.
He’s not a max contract player, and he won’t earn Paul/Williams money, but Rondo is due for a sizable raise.
Exhibit G: The potential players the rumored Rondo deals would have brought to Boston. Let’s not forget, this wasn’t Danny Ainge saying, “We’ve got to get rid of this kid at any cost,” it was Ainge saying, “I wonder what I can finagle out of Joe ‘Darko Milicic with the Second Overall Pick/Iverson for Billups’ Dumars.”
The deal that leaked in June — Rondo and Ray Allen (due a combined $22.3 million this season) to Detroit for Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, and Rodney Stuckey ($23.7 M) — would have been an absolute coup for Ainge.
A few other deals leaked, and they all bore the same characteristics: moves that would have kept the Green a championship contender this year while better preparing the team for the future without the Big Three.
In shopping Rondo, Ainge did what surprisingly few NBA GMs do — his due diligence. And he’ll continue to play all his cards in his current negotiations with Rondo over a contract extension. Ainge will offer well below the asking price, knowing the Celtics have the luxury of matching any offer another team makes if Rondo does opt for free agency.
And given the economy and the way in which Ainge so publicly (and deviously) criticized his point guard, what team will break the bank trying to sign Rondo? When all is said and done, expect Rondo to be inked for four years at a very reasonable price. The deal will give the Celtics their franchise point guard, and Ainge a very valuable chip when the Green begin rebuilding after the Big Three have gone.
Now let’s hop back in the DeLorean, fire up the Flux Capacitor, and head to Vegas, circa 2000. There’s a certain football team I’d like to wager my life savings on.