Avery Bradley

AP

NBA trade market proves stranger than fiction yet again as Thomas, Irving swap teams

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The two best teams in the Eastern Conference have swapped point guards. With Isaiah Thomas now member of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kyrie Irving the starting point guard for the Boston Celtics, the fight for supremacy in the East now much more interesting and more complicated, not only for next season but in the years to come.

Here’s how the trade looks on paper: The Cavaliers received Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s 2018 first round draft pick. The Celtics received Irving.

At first glance, it appears that the Cavaliers came out on top. Yes, there is a question about whether Thomas’ hip will have healed in time next season, but the ability to grab not only Crowder but future first round pick compensation is huge.

If Thomas returns to his Top 5 MVP voting form, you have a deadly combination with the roster already in place for the Cavaliers. Set aside LeBron James for a minute — the ability of the team to mix Thomas with J.R. Smith, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson puts them in a prime position to continue do what they have done for years: dominate.

Meanwhile, adding Crowder to the wing not only gives the Cavaliers a bump in experience when it comes to their depth, but perhaps flexibility this season as well. Rumors have swirled around the team making a move and readjusting their front court, specifically around Love, and Crowder could be the key to that in the future.

From a long-term perspective, that depth gives Cleveland both wing experience and star power to cushion the blow if Lebron does decide to leave in the summer of 2018. The first round pick comes in heavy here, as it would help the Cavaliers rebuild if James is no longer in Ohio.

Did the Celtics give up too much? Perhaps. But not all has tipped in the scales for Cleveland.

Boston was already going to be less reliant on Thomas next season when it came to the offense. Signing Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward was always going to make sure of that. Irving represents a superstar talent that many in the NBA regard as Thomas’ equal, if not his superior. There is no doubt a bit of heightism attached to that, but we will leave that as it is. Neither are particularly reliable on defense, so I have a hard time taking size into account.

There has been some rumors of trepidation on the part of the Celtics organization to pay Thomas’ next big contract due next summer. That seems like it could have played a role here, especially as Irving is signed through 2019, with a player option in the year after that.

Reports have been that Cleveland was previously insistent on getting rookie Jayson Tatum in this deal as well, which the Celtics smartly managed to avoid. With both Avery Bradley and Crowder no longer in Boston, Tatum will now be the backup plan along side Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown.

That is perhaps the biggest sticking point here. Yes, Bradley was also due a big contract next year, so shipping him off to Detroit did make some sense, even if the return was underwhelming. However, that trade was made at a time in which it was clear that Boston was going to keep Crowder. The Celtics didn’t get back a defender in this trade, so they will be relying on their young players to try to bolster that wing defense in his absence. That will proved to be tricky.

Still, this means the Celtics are both younger than they were a year ago while still having some of their star players signed to long-term deals. That could give them the edge over the Cavaliers in the coming seasons, even if LeBron decides to stay in Cleveland. At some point, Danny Ainge needed to bet on his developing players, and he’s all in now.

In a short lens it appears the Cavaliers have been able to move from place of no leverage with Irving’s public trade request to a position of strength. Grabbing wing depth and in All-NBA caliber player is great news, especially if you are taking him from one of your main conference rivals.

But Boston will certainly be a good team for years to come, especially now as they don’t have to consider the ramifications of giving Thomas a big new contract. Adding Hayward to the mix was crucial, but the development of their young players — Smart, Brown, and Tatum — will be a key storyline next season, especially when we reach the playoffs.

The Celtics aren’t complete losers here. They did gain a great player in Irving, and they do have some flexibility. Both Horford and Irving can opt out of their contracts at the end of 2019. If the core is not working as planned, the Celtics will be free to go in a different direction with something like $51.6 million coming off their cap. They still have the Lakers pick for 2018, so giving up the Nets pick to Cleveland doesn’t damage the team in context quite as much.

Above all else, it seems odd that a trade of this magnitude happened between the two best teams in East. This NBA offseason has been a weird one, and if this exact trade was proposed on your Twitter timeline you might have scoffed it off as unrealistic. Yet here we are, with Irving as a Boston Celtic and Thomas potentially set to get a big payday either from the Cavaliers or from another team in a year’s time.

With Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, Celtics continue ascent – just not as steeply as hoped

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Celtics landed the No. 1 pick and signed the top free agent to change teams.

Given that, it feels like their offseason should have gone better.

Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are nice, and I won’t lose sight of that here. But…

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Not only was that salary difference essential for clearing max cap space now, Bradley will enter unrestricted free agency with Isaiah Thomas next summer. The raises necessary to re-sign both likely would’ve pushed the Celtics higher into the luxury tax than they’re willing to go. Thomas and Morris should be affordable.

Morris is a fine player, but it looks like he’s caught between better combo forwards (Hayward and Jae Crowder) and higher-upside/younger combo forwards (Jaylen Brown and Tatum). How much will Morris matter in Boston?

Bradley certainly did plenty, defending the better opposing guard so the undersized Thomas didn’t have to. Marcus Smart can handle some of that responsibility, but that cuts into the time he can play in relief of Thomas at point guard and the time he can defend forwards.

Getting Aron Baynes for the room exception was solid. He might even start for the Celtics, eating up minutes against big starting centers. I suspect Al Horford will play center in most pivotal minutes, though.

Signing Baynes was one of Boston’s several respectable moves – drafting Semi Ojeleye in the second round, signing 2016 first-rounders Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic and paying to take a flier on Shane Larkin.

But the real needle-movers were signing Hayward, a 27-year-old versatile star, and adding a highly touted talent in Tatum. Even in the less-flattering greater context, those are huge additions.

Offseason grade: A-

Stan Van Gundy: Luxury tax won’t keep Pistons from re-signing Avery Bradley

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Before last season, Pistons owner Tom Gores said he was willing to pay the luxury tax to re-sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Of course, Detroit had a disappointing year, falling out of the playoffs. And when push came to shove, the Pistons traded for the cheaper Avery Bradley and let Caldwell-Pope walk. They’ll avoid the luxury tax this season.

What about next summer, when Bradley will be an unrestricted free agent? Detroit projects to have just $13 million to pay him while staying below the tax, and he’ll likely command a much higher salary.

Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy, via Pistons.com:

“We’ve got other strategies,” Van Gundy said. “The finances will not inhibit our ability to re-sign Avery at whatever it takes. If we’re in a situation where we want Avery back and Avery wants to be here, we’ll be able to bring him back.”

“In the right situation for the right people, Tom’s more than willing to pay the tax,” Van Gundy said. “I think about half the league’s going to be paying the tax this year. Tom’s not opposed to that.”

Many owners say they’re willing to pay the luxury tax. Fewer actually do it.

Maybe the Pistons would pay the tax to keep Bradley. Maybe they’d dump other players so they can re-sign him and dodge the tax. Maybe they’ll lose him.

But it’s hard to look at Detroit’s payroll and Bradley’s status and assume this is a simple issue that will solve itself.

Report: Celtics signing Shane Larkin to guaranteed contract, still plan to sign Guerschon Yabusele

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The Celtics lost their third-string point guard (Demetrius Jackson) and plenty of big men (Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Zeller and Jordan Mickey)  in their quest for Gordon Hayward.

That paid off in a big way, but it’s time for Boston to restock its depth.

Enter Shane Larkin and, as previously expected, Guerschon Yabusele and Daniel Theis.

Jay King of MassLive:

The Boston Celtics have agreed to sign Shane Larkin for point guard depth, league sources confirmed to MassLive.com.

The one-year contract, which pulled Larkin away from bigger money in Europe, will be fully guaranteed for the coming season, a source indicated.

Despite adding another guaranteed contract in Larkin, the Celtics still plan to sign 2016 draft pick Guerschon Yabusele

Theis:

Theis signed a two-year deal with the first-year salary fully guaranteed, according to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. Yabusele will be on a rookie-scale contract for a No. 16 pick.

They, with Larkin, give Boston 16 players on standard contracts – one more than the regular-season limit. All those deals apparently include guaranteed 2016-17 salaries, but the Celtics can always eat (or trade) a contract. It costs only money. This just increases the likelihood Boston fields the best possible roster after the preseason.

Larkin showed promise early in his career, opted out of a $1.5 million Nets contract then fell out of the NBA. He adds another viable point guard behind Isaiah Thomas, joining Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Smart and Rozier can spend time off the ball, but the 5-foot-11 Larkin probably can’t. Fortunately for Larkin’s chances of making the regular-season roster, the Celtics likely need Smart and Rozier to spend time at shooting guard after trading Avery Bradley.

Co-owner: Celtics will pay luxury tax to win a title

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The Celtics traded Avery Bradley to clear cap space to sign Gordon Hayward now, but they also positioned themselves to save a lot of money in future seasons.

Bradley and Isaiah Thomas – who wants a Brinks truck backed up – will be unrestricted free agents next summer. With Hayward and Al Horford already on new-TV-deal max contracts, keeping that core together would have been quite costly. Instead, Boston preemptively swapped Bradley for Marcus Morris, who’s locked into a relatively cheap deal for two more seasons.

Are the Celtics willing to pay the luxury tax?

Co-owner Steve Pagliuca, via Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:

“I don’t know if it’s inevitable, but if we feel it’s going to help us win a championship, then we will,” he said. “We have a history of doing what we need to do to win.

“But you have to be careful — if you sign people to bad contracts, it’s going to preclude you from signing other players. But I’m very happy with how it’s gone.”

Nearly all owners say they’d pay the luxury tax for a winner. Fewer actually do it.

But Boston ownership has a proven track record, paying the tax every season from 2007-08 to 2012-13. In those six years, the Celtics won a title, reached two Finals and made the playoffs every year.

That was before the repeater tax came into effect, so maybe this ownership group – led by Wyc Grousbeck – won’t again approve exceeding the tax line for so many straight seasons. But with asset-rich Boston entering a lengthy period of contending, we’ll see. And we’ll see how high its payroll will get in any single year.

The Celtics have proven their willingness to pay the luxury tax. The open question is just how much of it.

But Thomas should hear a “beep, beep, beep” approaching.