NBA trade deadline: What Rajon Rondo is worth to the Celtics and others

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Celtics trade Rondo? That depends on how quickly Danny Ainge plans to rebuild his team and how desperate other teams are to get the point guard.

From my perch 3,013 miles away, there's one overriding reason I think the Boston Celtics will seriously consider and potentially end up trading Rajon Rondo in the next three days: He's worth more to other teams than he is to the C's.

That may seem odd given his history in Boston, his comfort level with Danny Ainge and his budding relationship with Brad Stevens. Ainge certainly knows what Rondo can bring. Everyone in his front office has seen it first-hand. But I think that familiarity may be what convinces Ainge that he can't pass up one of the godfather offers being mentioned.

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The thing about Rondo is that he's the type of point guard who doesn't just give his teammates better looks. He also needs better teammates in order to operate at peak levels. Boston does not have that, and there's little indication Ainge can get the roster around Rondo in shape after one more offseason.

This is going to be a process. Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger show promise offensively, but that's not a competitive front line even in the East. Avery Bradley is nice, but he's also due to get an extension and might cost something Ainge isn't willing to pay. Jeff Green is Jeff Green, just islands of solid play dotting a flooded plain of meh. And that's basically it.

Meanwhile, the Celtics' 2014-15 payroll isn't low. Boston is within a shout of the salary cap, unlike a few other squads looking to pivot. Where Ainge's flexibility lays is not necessarily in salary space, which can lubricate trades and make all-important sign-and-trades in either direction more viable. Ainge's flexibility is in all those damned draft picks he has collected. Those and expiring salaries can be swapped for stars, in theory, just like in 2007 when Ainge nabbed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

Rondo on a 19-35 team whose leading scorer is Green is a waste, and Ainge knows that. Rondo on a rebuilt Celtics team with a star or two brought in for picks and dead salary is a different story. The question is whether Ainge thinks he can pull off that switch quickly, and how much patience he thinks Rondo has left. Remember, Rondo is one of the smartest and most brusque players in the league. Observers might take that to mean that he's an a--hole, but that's uncharitable. He does not like wasting effort or a team, and he knows how NBA rosters work. I'm totally convinced that Rondo and Stevens are a good match and that they will get along. I'm not sure Rondo and a dilapidated roster will co-exist long before things get prickly.

But for another team, one with offensive talent and a defensive need at the point? Rondo can make a world of difference. His career plus-minus and on-off numbers speak to this. With the weird exception of last season, Boston has always been better with Rondo on the court, sometimes much better, and this is a squad that has featured Hall of Fame scorers. Put Rondo on a team with great scorers in their prime -- DeMar DeRozan or DeMarcus Cousins -- and you're likely to see similar results. Only two contemporaries are his equals in passing skill and court vision (Jason Kidd, Steve Nash), and of those only one (Kidd) was a comparable defender.

Is Rondo worth two first-round picks to the right team? That depends on where the team is headed and how desperate management is to take it there. The Sacramento Kings, for example, badly want to be competitive next season and a playoff team in 2015-16 before they break in a new arena the following fall.

Ben McLemore figures to be really good ... someday. He's not there yet, and he might not be reliable as a scorer until 2016 or 2017. It may be pound-foolish to trade such a young asset and a protected first-rounder for an older player, but that's in a friction-less utopia. Moves have to be judged in the context of their environment, and the Kings need to get better quickly. A Rondo-Gay-Cousins lineup is, barring injury, much better than the status quo over the next two seasons.

That's just one team. There are maybe a dozen others doing the Rondo calculus. (And yes, there's a report that a Kings deal fell apart because Rondo wouldn't re-sign with Sacramento. He's under contract for 2015-16, though, without a player option. A bold team could convince itself it would be able to keep him with a good, rising season next year.)

To get a deal for Rondo, everything needs to work out for both sides. Ainge needs to convince himself that he can't flip the team around quickly enough to make Rondo happy. The folks trading for Rondo need to be convinced he puts them over the top and would help them reach their goals better than the assets heading out. It's a great ballet that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. We'll see by Thursday afternoon whether the music ends for Rondo in Boston.

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