Celtics G.M. Danny Ainge was interviewed on the Dennis & Callahan Show this morning and offered some detail on the team’s plans for and concerns about Rajon Rondo, Thursday night’s draft, and the possibility of acquiring a superstar such as LeBron James or Dwyane Wade following next season. Among the highlights:
–Ainge suggested that Rondo’s shortcomings as a shooter hurt the Celtics in the series against the Magic, and that he is not yet worthy of the max contract that he seeks.
–Rondo was fined for “unacceptable” failures to show up on time.
–The Celtics are not looking to trade Rondo.
–Ainge does not expect the Celtics to make a splash in this year’s draft.
–The Celtics have positioned themselves to be able to make a run at superstars in next year’s free-agent class, though the most likely route for such a move would be through a sign-and-trade.
Here is a transcript of most of the conversation:
Why does Rondo’s name appear in trade rumors every 10 minutes?
The media around the league kind of looks at things that make sense. They try to make up things because they think that Rondo’s contract is coming up, Ray Allen is an expiring contract, so they put things together and try to come up with trade rumors.
Do Rondo and Perkins help you win now, with the Big Three, and down the road?
I think they do. I think that makes a lot of sense. I think a lot of guys look at young players, as the weak link. Kendrick this year was not a weak link. He did a great job against Dwight Howard.
The way that they were defending us, it was hard for the three superstars…
Rondo, as we saw in the Orlando series, they left him wide open. His presence hurt us in winning right now. His man left him and doubled Ray or Paul.
It made it difficult for us.
They’re young players. They help us win sometimes and they make it harder for us to win sometimes because of their youth and inexperience. They’re good players. They’re not great players. We’re hoping they develop into great players.
Is Rondo worthy of being a max contract guy?
Not right now, I don’t think that Rondo’s a max contract player. I think it’s a good goal for Rondo to have from a monetary standpoint, to be that kind of player that warrants a max-contract player. I certainly don’t see Rondo as a max contract player today.
What is his contract status?
You know what his situation is. He can be extended after July 31 up until October 31. We have until October 31 to decide whether to extend him. If that doesn’t happen by October 31, then after next season, he would become a restricted free agent where we can match any offer that he gets.
Would this be taking a chance that he could leave in two years and you’d get nothing for him?
It depends. I guess it depends on where we are as a team. We love Rondo. Rondo is a player we want to have on our team and he’s a guy we want to move forward with. We would never want him to just go away (without compensation). Next summer is probably a summer where we’ll have to come to some financial decisions on Rondo, if we don’t come to a conclusion this summer.
Some think you should do anything to put yourself in financial position to bring Dwyane Wade or LeBron James to Boston. Is that on your radar screen?
It’s something we’ve discussed, and it’s something we’ve actually set ourselves up for, to have an opportunity to think along those lines. This year, it’s a tough call because we’re trying to win now. If we try to improve our team this summer, it could prevent us from having an opportunity to be in the stakes for a big superstar in 2010 unless it’s through a sign-and-trade. A sign-and-trade might be a more viable way to get him than through cap space.
You’re at a disadvantage with cap space because you can’t pay them within $30 million of what their team that they’re currently with can pay them, and you can’t pay them the length of the contract for the same amount of years. So it’s better and more likely to get a superstar free agent, in most cases, through sign-and-trades.
That’s probably our best opportunity. You also have to be an attractive team, and a team that has some value. You can’t just have the money. You have to have other players that will allow that player to win. With KG and Paul and the contracts that reamin going forward, that may be the attraction. We may not have enough money, but if you have some assets to trade for that superstar, that may be your best opportunity.
How do you assess the chances of acquiring LeBron or Wade?
There’s no way, other than try to figure out what would be in a player’s mind – a 25-year-old superstar – of what he’s trying to accomplish. I really believe that players do want to win. I believe their contracts will be important, and they will all demand max contracts. That’s a given. But I also think that they want to win. Who they play with, all those are factors.
Can you ever imagine Cleveland doing a sign-and-trade with LeBron?
At some point, you have to make that call – let him go away, or get something in return…I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe you say that in no circumstance will we ever sign-and-trade him just for the fact that we never want to be the ones to traded him. That’s a possibility.
When would guys in that class – LeBron, Wade, Bosh – when would those guys be moved if they make clear they won’t extend with current clubs?
It would be after next year. Those would happen after next year. I’m sure they would explore every opportunity to keep them…A lot of those guys may sign this summer…I still believe the most likely scenario with all these superstars that they stay with their teams.
On the idea that Rondo was sitting in his car and late to practice:
There was just a couple of situations where Rajon was late. I don’t know if he was sitting in his car, but he showed up late and the rest of the team was there, and he was late. There are team rules in place and he said he was in traffic. That was unacceptable.
How does maturity impact whether Rondo is a max contract player?
He’s got to grow up in some cases. I think he is, too. Rondo has started to mature and control his emotions. He’s responding in a more positive way as he gets older in the league. We certainly would not trade him because of those things. We really need him as our point guard to be a leader than someone who thinks more of himself at times.
On whether Doc Rivers is involved in offseason decision-making:
I talk to Doc constantly on these things and if we both agree, it’s a great situation. Doc and I will talk about coaching a lot. I know hoe coaches are and the stress that they go through being in the fire. And it’s my job to let things go and heal up to the point where he and I agree.
Is Rivers frustrated with Rondo?
He has not been, no. He’s gotten frustrated here and there. Doc understands that talent wins. He [Rondo] is a very talented player. But, he’s got some holes in his game that he’s working on. If Doc might be frustrated I’ll throw out these hypothetical trades, like ‘Would you rather have this guy?’ If Doc says, ‘No, no, no,’ then I gauge it by that. Sometimes it’s just frustration, but we won’t trade a player unless he’s really disruptive, and Rondo is not a disruptive force on our team. He’s a dynamic player and we love the kid. We’re not looking to trade Rondo because he was late for a playoff game or because he’s got some growing up to do. Some of our 30-year-old players have growing up to do as well. I think that there’s a lot of speculation that Rondo’s expecting a contract. He was late for playoff games and he didn’t play well in the Orlando series. I think a lot of people are making something out of nothing that’s really there.
Is Rondo one of the top handful of point guards in the game?
I think he’s in the conversation. I’d say he’s in the top ten for sure. We haven’t really sat down and analyzed. There are so many facets to the game. Rondo’s a terrific player but everybody talks about his shooting. I’ve talked about this ever since we got him, what I need from Rondo is to compete play in, play out more often. The shooting is a factor. He will become a much greater player if he can make more shots and become more confident. I need that competitiveness in him. I know he’s a competitor at an unbelievable level at times. He’s in cruise control on too many possessions for my liking. He’s getting better at that and improving all the time.
On draft-night plans for the Celtics:
It looks like it’s going to be a very boring night for us.
Some project as many as eight point guards as lottery picks. Of those, how many will be good NBA point guards?
I think that the kid (Tyreke) Evans from Memphis has a chance to be a special player. I think he can be good next year. I don’t know if he can be good in November, but I think that kid, with opportunity, is going to be good.
I think Stephon Curry is a great shooter. Bobby Knight called it. He can really play. I think he has a chance to step in and be a good player in the NBA next year.
Russell Westbrook had a great rookie year last year. He never really played point guard in college. Curry, Flynn – Johnny Flynn, physically, has the ability to be a great player.
Those are the ones, I think, that have a chance to have a great impact next year.
What about Ricky Rubio?
I don’t see Rubio being that dynamic player now. I think he’s got a lot of potential. He’s a very flashy player. He has a great mind for the game, and he’s a terrific passer. I don’t see him, just physically, and because he doesn’t shoot the ball very well, I don’t see him having an impact as a rookie. I think he’s more of a project – a build-around franchise point guard – so I would put him down there below those other guys.
Is point guard the toughest position in the NBA to learn?
I think it depends on how you’re utilized. It’s nowhere near a quarterback…I don’t think it’s that complicated. It’s basketball.
Point guards are not, in my opinion, I think that’s much, much too talked about. Some guys are natural at it, some guys aren’t.
Can you win without a good point guard?
I know we won two championships without a point guard. I know the Lakers…Derek Fisher’s no point guard in the traditional sense.
The Bulls when they won their championships didn’t have a point guard. You need good basketball players.
Have you thought about offering Kevin McHale a job?
Kevin and I are very close. We keep in contact all the time. I think Kevin’s probably going to end up on TV. We don’t have jobs to offer him. I like my staff and all that. But for the last 10 or 15 years, Kevin and I have talked about working together at some point. Right now is not the time. But I’m a big fan of Kevin’s as a person. High character guy. I value his basketball insight.
I don’t think Kevin left Minnesota in a bad position at all…The bottom line is that the last two years they had Kevin they were in the lottery, and they had a high payroll. So I think they were in a position where they needed to do something. At least they didn’t do a Pau Gasol trade where they got nothing in return. Did you guys see that Richard Jefferson trade yesterday? Holy cow. San Antonio, they send all the bad contracts away and they get an All-Star caliber player. The Lakers are sweating. That’s a great acquisition for San Antonio.
Will draft parties in Boston be incredibly lame?
The draft party is going to be fun if you’re an NBA fan. If you’re a Celtics fan alone, there’s not going to be a lot of excitement.