The Boston Celtics and guard Rajon Rondo are scheduled to resume negotiations on a contract extension Monday morning amid the first real signals that a deal could be struck before Monday's 11:59 p.m. deadline, according to sources close to the process.
Two sources expressed optimism Sunday to ESPN.com that the sides are sufficiently in range to get something done before the deadline, after a week of mostly pessimistic signals from the key figures involved.
One source with knowledge of the talks, however, cautioned that the prospect of an extension remained an "if" as of Sunday night, keeping open the possibility that a deal won't be struck in time, which would send Rondo onto the open market on July 1 as a restricted free agent.
The annual deadline for such extensions is Oct. 31 every season but was moved to Monday by the NBA because Halloween fell on a Saturday. League rules stipulate that the deadline moves to the next possible business day if it coincides with a Saturday, Sunday or national holiday.
Before the Celtics played host to New Orleans on Sunday night in a testy showdown with Hornets guard Chris Paul, Rondo reiterated his monthlong stance that he isn't thinking about the deadline and hadn't even spoken to his agent Bill Duffy recently.
"I ain't called him at all," Rondo told reporters. "He calls me. I don't call him. If he has anything, he'll call me. I'm focused on the season. It's not like I'm worried about the contract. I had a tough first week. I can't really be selfish and focus on myself when I've got Mo Williams, Raymond Felton, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose. It wouldn't be fair to my team if I was thinking about that right now."
"It's not the end of the world and it's not my last year," Rondo continued. "I wouldn't get too stressed out about it. I'll have a job next year. I'll be playing somewhere."
Rondo's camp appeared prepared to scrap the idea of further talks and consider the matter of an extension closed as recently as last Monday. Yet a meeting Tuesday before Boston's first game in Cleveland between Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Duffy resuscitated talks, with Boston making unspecified improvements to its previous offer.
Ainge, though, told the Boston Herald on Friday that he hadn't even discussed the extended deadline with Duffy after Tuesday's sitdown and said of the extra time: "I don't know if it helps or it doesn't help."
Neither Ainge nor Duffy could be immediately reached Sunday.
Rondo, meanwhile, has made it clear that he is more than prepared to play on without an extension and join the vaunted 2010 free-agent class as a restricted free agent next July 1, when he would almost surely attract a lucrative long-term offer from an external suitor. The Celtics would have seven days to match an offer in that scenario unless they strike their own deal with Rondo first.
"I have no idea whether we'll get something done [by the deadline]," Rondo told ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard on Oct. 20. "It's not something I'm worried about. It's just not a big deal right now. Of course I'd like to get it done, but if it doesn't happen, I'm not going to lose any sleep over it.
"My agent's got a certain number in mind and if they don't reach that, we'll just wait. I feel like if we win another title, obviously that helps my chances [of getting more money]."
The Celtics have also expressed public confidence that the absence of an extension won't affect Rondo's play this season. In a interview Friday with Boston's WEEI radio, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said: "Obviously I think both sides are working to get [an extension] done. I think if it happens, it's great. If it doesn't, I don't think it affects either side. Like [I've] said before, I believe he'll be a Celtic for life whether he gets this deal done [before the deadline or not]."
Rondo would be the biggest name from the 2006 draft class not to land an extension if no deal can be struck by Monday, but he'd hardly be alone. In yet another illustration of the global economic downturn's effect on the NBA, only four 2006 first-rounders have received extensions so far: No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani (Toronto), No. 2 LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland), No. 6 Brandon Roy (Portland), No. 13 Thabo Sefolosha (Oklahoma City) and No. 20 Renaldo Balkman (Denver).
Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay and Chicago Bulls forward Tyrus Thomas join Rondo on the list of prominent alumni from the '06 draft who for weeks have been resigned to the fact that they were unlikely to receive an extension, although Gay and the Grizzlies -- unlike Thomas and the Bulls -- are still talking.
"The talks never died," Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace said Saturday. "We have been talking since early in the summer."
WEEI reported earlier this week that the Celtics offered Rondo a five-year, $45 million extension. But Rondo, according to the station, is seeking a five-year deal worth between $55 million and $60 million.
Rondo is earning $2.3 million this season in the last year of his rookie contract. He averaged 11.9 points, 8.2 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game last season but pushed those averages to an impressive near triple-double in the playoffs with star forward Kevin Garnett sidelined.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. Information from ESPNBoston.com was used in this report.