On Sunday, August 15th, ESPN’s Senior NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski dropped one of his signature bombs to announce a three-for-one trade between the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies centered around Eric Bledsoe.
The trade, which also featured Patrick Beverly, Daniel Oturu, and Rajon Rondo, is the sort of win-win mid-level move you’d expect to see this time of year, with the Clippers shedding some contracts – and luxury tax money – to secure a former two-time All-Defensive player who could be a valuable rotational player next to Kawhi Leonard in 2022, and the Grizzlies freeing up cap space in 2022 when they’ll potentially be players in free agency.
In the grand scheme of things, this trade likely won’t change the landscape of the NBA all too much, but it does present a unique challenge for Memphis as they attempt to retool their roster around Ja Morant and company: Who is the odd man out?
With 16 guaranteed contracts now on the books plus a desire to elevate Killian Tillie from his two-way contract to the 15 man roster according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, someone – presumably a guard – is going to have to go to make get the Grizzlies compliant heading into the regular season.
As improbable as it may sound, the Philadelphia 76ers may just be the team who swoops in and helps the Memphis Grizzlies with their issues by taking Rajon Rondo off of their hands.
Rajon Rondo checks almost all of the Philadelphia 76ers’ Trade Exception boxes.
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Yes, before you ask, I know who Rajon Rondo is.
I know he’s a below-average career 3 point shooter, a tough customer to get along with in the wrong situation, and he didn’t exactly light the world on fire in the playoffs under the national spotlight with the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this year.
If you were hoping that the Philadelphia 76ers would utilize the Al Horford Trade Exception on a knockdown 3 point shooter or on a stretch five capable of complementing Georges Nieng, Paul Reed, and Andre Drummond situationally, landing Rondo would feel like paying $19 for a cheesesteak from Whole Foods. But then again, much like said hypothetical cheesesteak, just because it isn’t an ideal use of space or money doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad or unsatisfying.
Think about it this way: Rondo is one of the most respected point guards in the NBA today. He’s an offensive genius, an incredibly talented passer, and a shoo-in to become a head coach when his playing days are done… assuming he doesn’t instead attempt a career in the front office. Rondo is also, for what it’s worth, good friends with Tyrese Maxey – who credited the four-time All-Star with getting him ready for the NBA – a frequent workout partner of Ben Simmons and Doc Rivers’ point guard when the Boston Celtics won their most recent championship in 2008.
While Rondo isn’t an ideal fit on the court with either of those players – though he did find some serious success playing next to LeBron James during the Finals in 2020 – his presence on the roster could serve as a wonderful response for both of those young point guards, who combined have appeared in 670 fewer games than the 21st overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft.
If you want to learn how to play point guard in the NBA, you could do a whole lot worse than sharing a bench with Rondo.
And then there comes the matter of Rondo’s contract, which is incredibly attractive for more reasons than one.
Owed $7.5 million with a $750,000 playoff bonus that has to be factored into any potential deal, Rondo’s total cap hit comes in at $8.25 million for the purpose of a trade. That number slides right in under the Sixers’ Al Horford Trade Exception, which is worth $8.19 million but can be worth up to $100,000 more, according to the CBA. That means the Sixers could pull off a trade for Rondo centered exclusively around draft picks without having to match salaries in the process.
Granted, adding Rondo into the fray would create a new issue, as the Sixers currently have 14 guaranteed contracts, a non-guaranteed contract, and Charles Bassey, who has yet to sign his contract, but that isn’t a particularly tricky conundrum to solve.
But wait, there’s more. Not only does Rondo already have a preexisting relationship with key members of the Sixers, experience playing under Rivers, and a contract that can be folded into Al Horford’s Trade Exception without surrendering matching money in return, but his $8.2 million contract could serve as a powerful trade chip around the deadline.
After allowing George Hill to walk instead of guaranteeing his contract heading into the 2020-21 NBA season, the Sixers don’t have a single bench player making more than $5 million this season. That means that any sort of roster-changing mid-season trade for a player even making $10 million a year would require moving on from multiple bench players just to make the deal work financially. Having Rondo’s contract on the books, even if he’s a part-time player, could help to facilitate a deal centered around draft picks and/or prospect compensation.
Throw that all together and tie it with a bow, and the idea of transforming the Grizzlies-Clippers deal into a three-teamer – well, technically, it’s a bit more complicated than that, as you can read here – and the idea of procuring Rondo actually makes a good bit of sense.
In a perfect world, the Philadelphia 76ers would use the Al Horford exception on a player like Cedi Osman or Justin Holiday. They’d find a 3-and-D frontcourt player capable of complementing Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – assuming he’s still on the roster – and ride into the 2021-22 season with a deeper bench than in years past. But considering such a deal hasn’t happened yet, that might just be because there isn’t one on the table to be had. Who is likely available, however, is Rajon Rondo, and while he’s far from a perfect on-court fit, he could help the Sixers in a number of ways both on and off the court.