Is Paul worth a one-year rental?

December, 5, 2011
12/05/11
10:25
PM ET
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireWould you trade for Chris Paul without a long-term extension?
The likelihood that the New Orleans Hornets trade Chris Paul seemingly increased Monday, which will do nothing to quiet the speculation in these parts about whether the Celtics would be interested in obtaining New Orleans' star point guard. The question now becomes, would Boston be willing to acquire him even without the benefit of a long-term extension in place?

From ESPN.com's Chris Broussard and Marc Stein:
There is also a small handful of teams that has informed the Hornets they are prepared to trade for Paul with no assurance that they can keep him beyond this season. That list, sources say, includes the Rockets, Boston Celtics and defending champion Dallas Mavericks.

Each of those teams would be gambling that Paul would be won over by his new surroundings and either elect to play out the final season of his current contract (valued at $17.8 million in 2012-13) or opt out of his contract on July 1, 2012, and sign a new deal. Paul's 2011-12 salary is listed at $16.4 million.

Boston would appear to have the most to offer in such a scenario if the Celtics are willing to include point guard Rajon Rondo, but sources say that the Hornets are convinced that they can receive more from any of the so-called gambling teams than from the Knicks, who are widely regarded as Paul's No. 1 preferred destination.

Initially, the suggestion that Paul wouldn't ink a long-term deal with Boston was seen as a potential deal-breaker. Now it seems Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge might be willing to roll the dice a bit in order to obtain one of the league's elite players.

Ainge came out last week and said the Celtics have "no intentions" of trading their own star point guard, Rondo, but he never said he wouldn't pull the trigger on the right deal. In fact, he stressed that it's his job to gauge the value of his assets and make the best moves for the long-term interest of his team. What's more, Ainge's lust for Paul is well-documented, including a near draft-night deal in 2005 that would have shipped out Paul Pierce in exchange for the opportunity to select Paul.

Why in the world would Boston consider a one-year deal -- particularly in a shortened season -- when Rondo is under contract for the next four years? One answer is that the Celtics might think they can win over Paul once he's here, with Boston's winning tradition and maybe the league's premier coach -- a former point guard himself -- able to convince Paul this is where he should be for the long haul.

But even if all attempts to re-sign him failed, the Celtics still would have a pair of safety nets. Boston could always swing a sign-and-trade next offseason or simply take advantage of shedding even more money off their books and becoming big players in free agency. The Celtics are already lined up to trim nearly $38 million in salaries between Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Jermaine O'Neal (and the team could free even more cash if it amnestied Pierce and the two years, $31 million owed after this season).

But here's one other thing to ponder: Maybe the Celtics simply are unsure if Rondo's the player they want to build around after this season. Maybe there's legitimate concern about whether he's the sort of player that can draw other big-name stars to Boston and form the next core of this team in the post-Big Three era. Ainge said last week that he loves Rondo, but general managers have to look past emotions when examining the long-term interest of their club. The Celtics might truly believe in Rondo and his talents, but if they don't see him as the cornerstone of next season's roster overhaul, maybe there's motivation to try their luck with one of the league's biggest stars.

And maybe the most important thing to remember in all of this is who's at the controls for the Celtics. Ainge has absolutely no fear when it comes to shuffling his personnel with the goal of winning it all (last year certainly proved that). Even though it might shake up the chemistry, Ainge might believe that adding Paul would maximize the chances of winning this season in the potential last go-round for Boston's Big Three.

Ainge has rolled the dice before and bringing in Paul without a long-term extension in place would be another gamble he's likely willing to take.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
16.9 1.7 0.7 34.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.1
AssistsR. Rondo 9.8
StealsR. Rondo 1.3
BlocksB. Bass 0.9