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Rebuilding Without Rajon Rondo: Celtics' Timing Issues Put All-Star On Market

The Celtics are reportedly trying to trade Rajon Rondo, the team's only All-Star who isn't spitting distance from retirement. Expanding 2012 salary cap space could be the impetus.


The rumors that the Boston Celtics are looking to trade Rajon Rondo received a jolt of energy on Thursday as ESPN's Chris Broussard reported that the C's are aggressively shopping the All-Star. Broussard says that the Celtics had talked to the Golden State Warriors about a Stephen Curry-Rondo swap, but that the Warriors had backed off. Rondo rumors have existed since the point guard became relevant enough to be involved in rumors. But they have never been hotter than now.

Given that Rondo has been a disappointing Celtics' team's best player this season, doesn't that say something pretty powerful?

Danny Ainge, the longtime personnel boss in Boston, is looking at the remnants of a two-time Finals club, an NBA champion ... and he's trying to deal the youngest, cheapest piece for younger, cheaper pieces. As Paul Flannery of has written at length over the past few months, the decision to rebuild the Celtics had already been made -- Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are timed to become free agents in July, giving Boston a grip of cap space. If the team can deal Paul Pierce, that cap space potentially grows even more.

That makes the decision on Rondo a little bit crazy. Rondo just turned 26 years old and is a proven commodity, a point guard among the most incisive and willing passers of the era, a deft rebounder and a dangerous defender. Curry, for example, can shoot and pass, but is a pretty clear minus on defense despite solid ballhawk abilities and has one of the most terrifying ankles in the sport.

Curry's also a lot cheaper than Rondo ... for now. Rondo is two years older, and makes just over $10 million, or 17 percent of the salary cap this season. He's signed through 2014-15 on a graduated deal that peaks at $13 million, which should be 16 or 17 percent of the cap. Curry is eligible to sign an extension this July that would go into effect in 2013-14. He would appear to be on track for a max extension -- 20 percent of the cap. In two years, in all likelihood, Curry will make more than Rondo ... and may never reach his level of production.

And Golden State walked away from that deal, according to the report.

Such is Rondo's world, where a bad attitude, difficult personality and Hall of Fame supporting cast dent his resumé. Three All-Star teams, three All-Defense bids, No. 11 all-time in assist rate, No. 15 all-time in assists per game, top-5 steal rate for five years running ... and he's being aggressively shopped, which in the cloak-and-dagger NBA is akin to the clearance rack? Just how bad is that attitude?

Based on folks who cover him closely, he's more weird than anything, wired differently than most players. I mean, that's apparent just based on his play. Unlike the other top point guards in the league, Rondo goes out of his way not to score. Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Tony Parker and Derrick Rose -- they are just as happy shooting the rock as they are dishing it off. Not Rondo. He's the only guy in the league willing to pass the ball on an open lay-up at the rim. He makes Ricky Rubio look like Stephon Marbury.

Off the court, he gets easily annoyed by the media, he appears to turn moody in the locker room and, like I said, he's legitimately weird. But these are not rare traits. These are not traits that will make an effective player ineffective. No matter how many curt answers he gives the beat writers, Rondo will still be the league's No. 1 triple-double threat and one of its top assist men. That doesn't look like it will change.

But there's a legit reason for the Celtics to unload Rondo right now beyond the personality issues, and that's the timing of the market.

A player like Curry -- there are others who fit the same bill, like Tyreke Evans -- will be a small cap hit in 2012 salary cap rolls. While eventually Curry or Evans would be more expensive than Rondo based on projections that they'd receive max extensions, they will make half of what Rondo does next season. As the Celtics seek to open up as much cap space as possible in July, that's no small matter. If Ainge and Doc Rivers really believe in one of these young guards, letting go of Rondo with some immediate cap benefit in Year 1 of the rebuild could be just enough of a push to dip into faith.

There's another unspoken angle, of course: Doc's son Austin Rivers could be eligible for the June draft, and, should Boston fall out of the playoff race after unloading Rondo and perhaps Pierce, would be projected to land in the Celtics' region in the first round (low lottery). What if Austin Rivers is the guard Doc and Ainge desire to pair with Avery Bradley, allowing the front office to find a big man or wing to grab in a Rondo trade? That opens things up even further, with potentially bigger cap benefits.

Whatever the case, the Celtics have something cooking. If Ainge didn't have massive plans for an overhaul even beyond our imaginations, we wouldn't be hearing about Rondo-based offers like this.


The Hook is SB Nation's regular basketball column from Tom Ziller. See the archives.