Up until games four and five of the Magic series, Rajon Rondo had been absolutely dominating the 2010 Playoffs. He absolutely destroyed the 61-win Cavaliers with transition play, pick-and-roll action, pinpoint passes, and suffocating defense on Mo Williams; even though the Cavs had the MVP on their side, Rondo often looked like the best player on the floor. He hasn’t been quite as dominant against the Magic, but he’s still played like a superstar. Rondo was once considered the sidekick to Boston’s “Big Three” — more and more, it looks like the “Big Three” are the ones supporting Rondo.
SLAM Magazine’s Lang Whitaker has an absolutely fantastic interview with Rondo up, and he started it out by asking Rondo where he thinks he ranks amongst the league’s top point guards:
LW: So my question to you is, where do you think you rank?
RR: Me? I think I’m one. I feel like I’m the best at what I do. That’s just how I put it. That’s how I play. I love my match-ups against those three guys, every time I play against them. I’m biased, but I feel like I’m the best.
When healthy, nobody can match Chris Paul’s historic levels of production. Deron Williams is the point guard most likely to take a game over with his scoring. Steve Nash may be the most complete offensive player in basketball. But during these playoffs, with this Celtics team around him, it’s tough to find any player whose play has been on a higher level than Rondo’s, let alone any other point guard. If Rondo wants to be confident about his abilities, he’s certainly earned the right to be.
I highly recommend the rest of the interview, which covers Rondo’s boarding school experience at Oak Hill academy, why he stopped playing baseball, how he fits in with the Celtics, and how he didn’t start watching pro basketball until he got to college.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.