2017 NBA Off-Season: Celtics Free Agency Outlook
Man, I love the NBA. You have to admit, it's impressive how the league has become a year long sport that is beginning to rival the NFL in terms of American popularity even if the revenues still present a wide margin. If you're one of those people that complained about a predetermined playoff outcome, you're definitely getting your money's worth with the offseason thus far and free agency doesn't even start until midnight. We've already had 3 blockbuster trades (the #1 pick, Jimmy Butler, and CP3), a superstar saying he wants out, the Cavs letting their GM walk, and Phil Jackson being shown the door in New York. Not to mention what's going on in the NBA media world with the GOAT Adrian "Woj" Wojnarowski taking his talents (and a hefty paycheck) over to ESPN. It's about to get even more lit at midnight when Free Agency opens.
For my Celtics, this summer proves to be a crucial one. With our best player (and 2 of our core players) approaching free agency next summer coupled with the fact that Boston fans are growing increasingly impatient, the time is now for Danny Ainge to ignite the fireworks he's promised us for years. Typically, a 53-win team that just finished 1st in the Eastern Conference wouldn't be looking to make drastic changes in the offseason, but as Rockets GM Daryl Morey so eloquently stated, "it's an arms race". I said it as soon as we were eliminated from playoff contention last month: our team is going to look drastically different in the 2017-2018 season. Now, that's no guarantee at all; there's definitely the possibility that Ainge strikes out on all of his targets this offseason and just runs the same team back. Keeping all of our assets, most notably the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick, for the loaded 2018 Free Agency class wouldn't be the worst plan of action. But the opportunity that presents itself in front of Ainge and co. is a unique one, and if he can get it done he needs to push his chips to the middle of the table.
Let's state the obvious: it's no secret what our plan is at the start of free agency. Local Boston reporters started to drop hints about it a few weeks ago, and then Woj himself confirmed those reports with a story of his own this past week. Plan A is to get Utah swingman and former Brad Stevens recruit Gordon Hayward to commit to a max contract and then try to swing a trade for Paul George after that. This would require a lot of maneuvering and tough decisions on the Celtics' part, but everyone knows that if you want something good you're going to have to give up something good. If this pipe dream comes to fruition, it will likely mean the finals days in green for rotation players like Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Kelly Olynyk. But shit, if you were to tell me all we had to do to get PG and Gordon Hayward was to give up those three, then sign me the fuck up. I'm not sure if we would beat them, but you're crazy if you don't think a team with IT, Horford, PG, Hayward, and our young nucleus off the bench wouldn't at least push the Cavs to the brink.
When it comes to Hayward, it's not going to be easy to pry him from Utah. He's a loyal guy, loves Quin Snyder, and the Jazz are an up and coming team that he is now the face of. I'm not sleeping on Miami either; Pat Riley is the John Calipari of NBA recruiting and he can always plop a bag of rings on the table in front of Hayward like he did to LeBron. But if you're looking at things from a purely basketball standpoint, nothing makes more sense than the Celtics. Even if Hayward's college coach wasn't on the bench for Boston, it would still make the most sense. Best team out of the three, easiest path to the finals, and most assets to improve moving forward. The biggest thing the C's lack is an elite scorer on the wing to pair with IT, and guess what Gordon Hayward would be? Throw on top of that the fact that he'll have a chance to (potentially) play with PG and that's a tough situation to walk away from.
Speaking of PG, we have the most to offer for him in a trade and both Boston and Indiana know that. In fact, I'm about 97% sure that if it weren't for cap reasons he would have already became a member of the Celtics on draft night. If we traded for PG before free agency began, we wouldn't have the cap room to go out and sign Gordon Hayward. Hence the report from Woj on draft night that Boston and Indiana were in advanced talks on a deal until they stalled. The two questions that linger are "how much of our treasure chest is Danny willing to give up for a potential one year rental?" and "will Hayward's presence convince PG to commit to the team long term"? George has a shit load of other suitors, especially the super thirsty Houston Rockets, but no other team is able to match our offer without getting a third team involved. Gordon Hayward will be the biggest domino to fall in FA and his decision is likely to come sooner than later.
There are contingency plans if Plan A doesn't work. Blake Griffin could be an option if Gordon Hayward doesn't commit, and I've even heard Rudy Gay's name thrown out there. But if we don't sign Hayward/Griffin then I highly doubt that Ainge gives up anything of major value to the Pacers for PG. That's what makes where Hayward signs so important because it could have a trickle-down effect on a few teams. The time could be now for the Celtics, and Danny needs to strike while the iron is hot. I'll be driving up the Martha's Vineyard at midnight tonight but if Woj has a live radio show or something, I'll be tuned into that. Mainly because I don't have Sprint and can't listen to the greatest rapper ever's album quite yet, but that's another story. A week from now, the landscape of the league could look drastically different.