Commentary

Rondo merits extension, eventually

It's not a question of if, but when the Celtics lock up their cornerstone PG, right?

Updated: January 23, 2014, 8:23 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

The Boston Celtics and Rajon Rondo talked this season about a contract extension, but that's just both sides performing their due diligence.

Given the restrictive nature of the current collective bargaining agreement, it makes little sense for either side to consider an extension at the moment. Things should heat up this summer when Boston will have a better opportunity to lengthen Rondo's tenure here, all with the possibility of setting him up for an even bigger potential payday than what he could collect by riding out this current contract and immediately diving into the warm waters of unrestricted free agency.

[+] EnlargeRajon Rondo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsRajon Rondo may want to wait and see how the Celtics' rebuilding project goes before deciding whether to stay in Boston beyond next season.

Ainge, making his weekly appearance on Boston sports radio 98.5 the Sports Hub on Thursday, suggested that Rondo is open to the idea of an extension, but stressed it didn't really benefit him to do it this season.

"In the collective bargaining agreement, there are limits on what can and can't be done," said Ainge. "Really, it's not that Rondo doesn't want to accept an extension, as much as it's just not financially smart for him to accept it right now. We didn't think he would [sign], but we did try."

The limit that Ainge is referring to is the fact that veteran (non-rookie scale) extensions are limited to four years, including the seasons remaining on the current contract (and salary bumps are limited to 7.5 percent increases starting with that first season).

For both the Celtics and Rondo, adding two years to his already bargain deal doesn't do a whole lot for either side. It's a lot more attractive to both team and player to wait until this offseason.

(First, a tip of the cap to CBA guru Larry Coon for his assistance with crunching the numbers, as well as  fellow cap expert Andy Stein).

This summer, Boston has two potential extension options for Rondo. The team can tack on a three-year, $44.8 million extension to the final year of his current deal without a signing bonus, which would pay him the scheduled $12.9 million in 2014-15, $13.9 million in 2015-16; $14.9 million in 2016-17; and $16 million in 2017-18. Or, if Boston can stomach a signing bonus payment of $6.6 million, those annual salaries would drop to $11.7 million, $12.5 million and $13.4 million in the extended seasons.

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For Rondo, that could be an intriguing bit of short-term security, while also giving him a chance at another big-money deal after the 2017-18 campaign when he'd still be only 32 years old. A Bird Rights free agent with 10-plus years of experience, as Rondo would be at that point, can be paid up to 35 percent of the salary cap in a max-money deal, putting Rondo in position to command what would likely be as much as $22-plus million in Year 1 of that deal (though that certainly assumes he's able to maintain his health and level of play to that point).

What's more, after this season, Rondo is eligible for a no-trade clause, having accrued the necessary time (eight years in the league, four years with Boston). Keep in mind that it wouldn't necessarily preclude Boston from trading Rondo down the road, it would simply be a situation like Kevin Garnett's, where that no-trade clause would have to be waived to move the player.

Why would Rondo take less money? A low cap number would give Ainge more flexibility to add premium pieces around him, without having one single player clogging up the cap structure with max money.

Would Rondo take a short-term discount in return for the security of a fair extension with potential no-trade protection and the ability to add quality talent around him?

[+] EnlargeRondo
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesIf Rajon Rondo's recovery goes as expected, he'd likely have many suitors on the open market.

Rondo is coming off ACL surgery that kept him off the court for nearly a year and, while Ainge has stressed that Rondo is a player whom the team plans to build around, Boston does have the right to change its mind if -- for whatever reason -- the Celtics don't like the looks of a Rondo-led team over the final three months of this season (or beyond).

Rondo is an excellent value now, reflected in how his name constantly lands in trade buzz. An extension this summer keeps Rondo as a valuable asset with a desirable contract if Boston's rebuilding plan crumbles.

Allowing Rondo to get to unrestricted free agency is a bit more daunting. As a Bird Rights free agent after the 2014-15 season, Rondo could command as much as a five-year max-money deal from Boston, which would put him in line for a potential $100-plus million contract.

Using an estimate of $18.2 million for a first-year max figure (again, the actual number will depend on the cap that season), Rondo's salary charges would grow to $19.6 million in 2016-17, $20.9 million in 2017-18, $22.3 million in 2018-19, and $23.7 million in 2019-20, when he'd be 34 years old.

Now, Boston could certainly find a less gaudy number between his current pay rate and max money, but how high that number climbs would be dictated by how much the rest of the league is willing to pay on the open market.

As Ainge admitted Thursday, "I think that Rondo will demand quite a bit in the open market. The competition for Rondo in free agency will be very high."

Both sides will have motivation to make a deal, but on the other hand, by not making one, each side would maintain flexibility. This summer should tell us a bit about just how invested the two sides are in each other.

Rondo returned to action last Friday after missing nearly a year while rehabbing from a torn ACL. In three games, Rondo is averaging 5 points, 4.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds over 22 minutes per game. He has struggled with his shot (25.9 percent from the field overall) while shaking off rust and testing out his knee. Rondo is on a slowly expanding minute restriction and sat out Wednesday's visit to Washington as a precaution on the second night of a back-to-back.

Rondo is a four-time All-Star and led the NBA in assists per game in each of the past two seasons. Rondo is the only remaining holdover from the team's 2007-08 title campaign, but the Celtics seem to think he can be the centerpiece of the next iteration of a contending team.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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