This post is a favorable piece on Rajon Rondo. If the mere thought of anything positive being said about Rondo offends you, abort now. You’ve been adequately warned.
OK, so other than trying to prove to myself I am capable of saying nice things about a player I’ve loathed many years, I’ve recently been floating an idea in my fickle mind that is extremely contradictory to my season-long position on the matter: is there value in retaining Rajon Rondo next season rather than investing over $90 million on an a average starting point guard?
Weird, I know. By proposing such a theory, I probably just lost 90 percent of the people who clicked on the link, who are now cursing themselves for wasting 15 seconds of their day. For the few remaining folks that haven’t yet completed setting alight their laptop, just hear me out.
The easy answer is to automatically say no, and the sooner he’s gone the better. I understand that rationale and have shared this thought many times this season. As dismissive as it may be, it also has worth. But, in the interests of exploring all avenues, there may also be some modicum of merit in exploring the idea of keeping Rondo for the final year of his two-year, $28 million deal. Maybe.
Firstly, just so it’s very clear, my position isn’t Rondo must stay. There is no definitive answer on bringing back Rondo until more variables are confirmed, such as Wade opting out of his deal, what replacement options exist, etc. All I want to do here is explore the possibility of keeping Rondo in a likely to be regrettable thought exercise.
I’ll also admit that Rondo’s last month of play, which has been largely positive relative to the majority of his time with the Bulls, has had an impact in shaping this scenario. Rondo will undoubtedly regress from his current level of play. Shooting 49 percent from the field and over 50 percent from three in March won’t carry over to future months and years. It’s a hot stretch, but he’s also functioning in a logical lineup for the first time this season. That should count for something, no matter how small.
Current production aside, the real reason I started wasting time on this question is the upcoming point guard market is fool’s gold; the Bulls have no shot with the premier options, and are unlikely to find the required remedy with the lesser name options.
Stephen Curry, Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul headline the point guard market. Chasing max contracts from their current teams, all three will likely be offered five-year deals earning $200-plus million by their incumbents. Assuming all three recommit, the next tier of available point guards are all very good players, but have flaws.
George Hill and Jrue Holiday are the epitome of perfect fits next to Jimmy Butler. If the Bulls were able to snag away either guard from their current team, it would be a boon. How could one complain about adding a two-way point guard that can catch-and-shoot, work in the pick-and-roll and play quality defense? Both players would be welcome additions, but they’re not without flaws.
Hill, a nine-year pro having a career season with the Utah Jazz, is older than expected. Turning 31 in May, committing four-years, $90 million — the likely amount it takes to upheave Hill from Utah – doesn’t come without some doubt.
Adding an ageing guard with a history of injuries is a concern, even if Hill’s game should age fairly well. But given the Bulls haven’t had a great history of signing mid-tier free agents in their twilight years, a cautious approach may be the best one. The first two years of the deal would likely be worth it, but the back-end could be problematic, particularly as Jimmy Butler will need to be re-signed.
Similarly with Holiday, injuries have been problem. Though he may be on track to play 67 games this season, Holiday has only completed one full season in his eight-year career, his sophomore season in 2011. Since then, several seasons have been marred by injury, most notably in 2014 and 2015, only playing in 34 and 40 games, respectively.
He may have missed a lot of games, but unlike Hill, Holiday is four years younger – he will be 27 in June. A four-year deal for Holiday is a different proposition to comparative deal for Hill; it ensures the bulk of Holiday’s contract will be earned during his prime years. The same can’t be said for Hill. While there may be less risk in choosing Holiday over Hill, New Orleans will be desperate to retain their best guard after trading for DeMarcus Cousins. This dynamic ensures it will be an expensive task for the typically frugal Bulls to pry away the Pelicans guard.
Cheaper options do exist in the next tier of available guards. Jeff Teague and Patty Mills would be average starters on a mid-level team. Both would fit well next to Butler and are in the right age bracket. Teague will likely command a deal in the vicinity of four-years, $70 million, while Mills could be had for much less – around four-years, $40 million. These two players are the most feasible options in terms of contract value and ability to snare away from their current teams. They will also be in demand by several rival teams. Should the Bulls miss out on Teague or Mills, after these two, the market significantly dries up.
Shaun Livingston, Darren Collison, Brandon Jennings and Langston Galloway are players who can contribute, but are not worthy of being starters. Paying them a starting point guard wage, say $10-12 million a season for several years, would be a mistake. Deron Williams, Sergio Rodriguez and Derrick Rose would be the remaining notable candidates, none of which should be playing more than 25 minutes a night in anything more than a reserve role.
It’s not an inspiring list of names once the top caliber point guards remove themselves from the market by cashing in with their current squads. So what should the Bulls do if they miss out on luring a big name guard with their cap space?
Is giving Darren Collison a three-year, $27 million deal a better investment than sticking with Rondo for the remaining $14 million he is owed for 2017-18, then attacking the market once again in 2018?
Forecasting ahead, perhaps adding someone like Collison is the best decision. The 2018 free agent point guard market isn’t good and using a portion of Rondo’s salary on his replacement is worthy idea.
Of course, the Bulls could also try exploring the trade market by dangling Rondo’s partially-guaranteed deal along with the first-round pick to a team like Phoenix, who may be interested in parting ways with Eric Bledsoe if they fully commit to their youth movement. The Bulls could also keep their pick and draft their next point guard of the future – Cameron Payne and Jerian Grant aren’t the answer. Should Dennis Smith or Frank Ntilikina slide down towards teams picking late in the lottery, either option would be a nice get for the Bulls.
Clearly, the Bulls have options. While there are no definitive answers right now, there are so many possible outcomes to entertain. The correct decision will be dependent on the possibilities on offer and, more importantly, when they present themselves.
If Wade opts into his deal, keeping Rondo at this point makes no sense; he is playing his best basketball of the season without Wade, which isn’t a coincidence. However, should Wade leave and the Bulls fail to find a quality point guard to pair with Butler, keeping Rondo shouldn’t immediately be ruled out. It’s not ideal and certainly not the preferred scenario, but in a functional lineup with shooters spacing the floor for Butler and himself, the Bulls can make it work.