Danny Ainge Says, “I’m Not Trying To Trade Rondo,” But “Nobody Is Untradeable”

The future of Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is in flux. He claims he never asked to be traded out of Boston, but plugged-in Boston scribe Jackie MacMullen believes otherwise. When Bill Doyle of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette asked Celtics GM Danny Ainge about it on Sunday, Ainge talked in circles, claiming he didn’t want to trade Rondo, but “the possibility of a trade is not out of the question.”

During a recent interview with SB Nation, the Sporting News’ Sean Deveney mentioned the Thunder as a possible Rondo landing spot, but the reference did not come from any sources and was pure speculation, even if a Westbrook-Rondo backcourt might be one of the more intriguing pairings in recent history.

The Celtics are young and in the middle of a multi-year rebuild. Rondo, a perennial All-Star with a championship ring and a smattering of all-world playoff performances under his belt, would seem to be at odds with Boston’s current trajectory.

Except, coming off ACL surgery that forced him to sit out the second half of the 2012-13 season and all but 30 games during 2013-14 season, means Rondo’s trade value is the lowest it’s been since he was considered the young, weak spot on Boston’s championship-winning 2008 team.

That doesn’t mean Ainge won’t listen to another team’s pitch, though, because that’s the business he’s in as an NBA GM. Here’s Bill Doyle with the latest from Ainge on the Rondo situation:

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: aside from the top 10 or 20 players in the league, no one individual is totally free from the exigencies of the market. As evidenced by the Kevin Love brouhaha this summer, even those top 10-20 players can be moved if it’s in the team’s best interests and a star tells them he’s not likely to re-sign.

Ainge, like every other GM, is never going to come out and say he’s trying to trade a player because that would weaken any leverage he might have if he really was shopping someone. If a trade didn’t materialize, then he’d have someone on his team who didn’t feel wanted, and with a player like Rondo — who values trust and the bond of the team — it could blow up in his face.

Even interested teams are waiting to see if Rondo is fully recovered from the ACL tear that limited him to 68 combined games over the last two years. Rondo is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and if the Celtics haven’t worked out an extension by the October 31 deadline, he’ll have to be dealt by the February trade deadline or the C’s risk losing him for nothing in free agency next summer.

That’s a long shot, since Ainge has patiently sifted through offers that haven’t seen the light of day. Like Deveney’s OKC hypothesis, most of the Rondo rumors we’re likely to hear about leading up to that February deadline will be spurious. The sort of opaque language Ainge used when talking with Doyle is part of that: why would Ainge show his hand if he doesn’t have to?

This much we do know: Rondo is Ainge’s biggest trade asset for draft picks or young players as Ainge attempts to complete the overhaul of the team that competed for a championship from 2007-08 season through 2012-13.

With the three-headed nucleus of those championship-contending teams — Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen — long gone, Rondo is the final piece Ainge would have to move, but don’t expect the cagey GM to just jump on any deal unloading the All-Star for 35 cents on the dollar. First, he’s going to see how Rondo holds up in regular season play. If Rondo dazzles like the Rondo of old, and Ainge gets the right deal for his rebuild, we’ll see Rondo in another uniform.

If not, perhaps they’ll roll the dice on Rondo’s free agency next summer, or try and work a sign-and-trade since they’ll have his Bird Rights. One thing is clear, though, don’t expect this story to die out when the season starts. Depending on his play, Ainge could pull the trigger well before the February deadline.

Will Rondo get traded before the 2014-15 season ends?

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