WALTHAM — If there was one positive from the dual Rajon Rondo-Danny Ainge address Monday at Celtics media day, it was Ainge freely acknowledging Rondo's market value when free agency begins next July.
If there was any question about whether Rondo is a maximum salary player, Ainge answered it convincingly; he realizes re-signing the four-time All-Star point guard will require an estimated $107 million over five years.
Eric Bledsoe's five-year, $70 million extension from the Suns changed the market for point guards, especially since Bledsoe has battled injuries and has yet to make an All-Star appearance. While injuries have plagued Rondo recently, he has an opportunity to prove worthy of a max salary with an impressive final year of his current contract.
Rondo had a black sling protecting his broken left hand, which he sustained in a slip and fall Thursday in his Boston-area home, while he addressed the media. While the injury is expected to cost him training camp and the first two weeks of the regular season, Rondo should have ample time to prove he's totally recovered from his January 2013 right anterior cruciate ligament tear.
Ainge and Rondo wanted to spend as little time discussing the broken hand as possible. They were eager to talk about 1) the Celtics' desire to bring him back next year and beyond, and 2) Rondo's wish to come back. Both realize it will be difficult to continue their marriage; that would result in the largest financial commitment ever made to a Celtic.
Rondo again said he wants to remain in Boston. While he has been a polarizing figure among fans for several years, he has become somewhat comfortable, evidenced by his spending most of the summer here instead of his native Kentucky.
“The fans, the people here, make me want to stay,” said Rondo. “The organization has been great. I can’t say enough about Danny and [majority owner] Wyc [Grousbeck]. When I walk down the street, the fans embrace me from Day 1. Even when we won a championship, people don’t just appreciate us winning. It’s more of a thank you. It’s a love for the game. These people here know the game and they care for it. They know when you’re not playing as hard as you can. The love I get is kind of overwhelming in Boston. Why wouldn’t I want to stay here?”
The answer would be strictly because of the money, especially if the Celtics continue toward respectability and a playoff run. There’s no question Rondo has seen the salaries given to less-proven players such as Bledsoe, Chandler Parsons, Eric Gordon, and John Wall — all of whom will be paid more this season than Rondo — and feels envious.
Rondo will be the league's 36th-highest paid player in 2014-15, and that is most certainly going to jump toward the top 10 next year.
"Obviously with this injury I'm just anxious to get back out there on the court and show what I can do and win games, play with my teammates, go out there, have fun, and do what I love doing best — that's playing basketball," he said. "Everything else will come. What other guys do is what other guys do. During negotiation time, it will come up, but right now, I can't jump to July 1 already. I've got to live in the moment and take care of what I need to take care of as far starting this training camp off right and being on the sideline and encouraging the young guys and help lead them."
Ainge realizes a long-term commitment to Rondo could affect the team's salary cap for years. Rondo has played in the NBA since he was 20 and would be 34 at the conclusion of a maximum deal. Yet, having signed a below-market five-year deal in 2009, Rondo is seeking to make up for that.
"I think a four-time All-Star by the time he's 27 years old would qualify for max based on what we've seen in the marketplace," Ainge said. "If I were Rajon and I were Rajon's agent [Bill Duffy], I would definitely say that. But since I'm negotiating against him, I'll withhold."
In other words, the Celtics have roughly nine months to determine whether Rondo will receive that money here or elsewhere. And it's rather refreshing that Ainge admitted what the parameters of such an agreement would be. He hasn't always been so open about players of the past, such as Kendrick Perkins or Tony Allen.
It doesn't matter whether Ainge believes Rondo is worth a max deal because that's what it's going to take. Elite players, once they reach the midway point of their careers, are generally overpaid (except LeBron James).
The league's five highest-paid players are Kobe Bryant, Amar'e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwight Howard, and only the latter two are in their prime. James is sixth.
Ainge doesn't have to make a decision now, but he will have to make a decision. Keeping Rondo a Celtic for life will cost Ainge, but it's encouraging for those who want Rondo to stay that both sides agree on the terms. That's at least a start.