Gordon Hayward

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.

Cavaliers embarrass Celtics 130-86, take dominant 2-0 lead in series

Associated Press
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Are we sure the Cavaliers are not the Monstars?

Boston switched up their starting lineup, putting Gerald Green in the mix. The Celtics gang rebounding a focus and switched up their defensive coverages. They played with more energy.

It didn’t matter. Boston started the game shooting 0-of-7 from the floor, trailed by 14 after one quarter as the Cavaliers went on a 28-6 run spanning the first and second, and by halftime Boston had scored just 31 points and trailed by 41 (an NBA record for largest halftime deficit in a playoff game).

“It was honestly just embarassing,” Avery Bradley said after the game. “They came out not only playing harder, they knocked down shots, and I think that made it that much worse.”

Actually, things still got worse: Boston’s Isaiah Thomas strained his right hip late in the first half and missed all of the second half. His status going forward is unknown, but the injury is considered “significant” according to Chris Mannix of The Vertical (he also works for Comcast Sports Net which broadcasts Celtics games). Thomas was 0-of-6 shooting for two points in this game and was again completely smothered by the Cavaliers defense.

The Cavaliers won 130-86 to take a commanding 2-0 series lead as the series now heads to Cleveland for Game 3 on Sunday.

LeBron James had 30 points, his 18th career and eighth straight 30-point playoff game (the latter of those tying Michael Jordan for the most all time). And he didn’t even play the fourth quarter. Kyrie Irving added 23, Kevin Love had 21 points and 12 rebounds.

“We’re very focused,” Irving said in a televised interview after the game, and maybe understating things a bit. “We have a lot of confidence in what we have as a team and when we come out and play like this, anything’s possible.”

This loss had to devastate Boston’s confidence. It’s hard not to imagine this ending in a sweep. Right now the Cavaliers are 10-0 so far this postseason.

In Game 2, we could talk about how Boston had no answer for the LeBron at center lineups, or how Cleveland’s passing was crisp while Boston was slow to recover, or a host of other things, but the real issue for Boston is they just cannot find a way to score on a suddenly-focused Cavaliers defense. They had no flow to their sets, everything they tried they got taken out of by the Cavaliers. The Celtics had an offensive rating of 75 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, and the second quarter was worse. Things like this kept happening.

There has been a lot of talk this week about the Celtics future, especially with them now holding the No. 1 pick in the draft. As ugly as the losses have been for Boston in this series, they validate GM Danny Ainge’s decision to not to trade that pick and other players at the deadline for Paul George or Jimmy Butler — they would have not changed the outcome of this series. Made it closer, maybe gotten Boston a win, but that’s it for what would have been a high price. Boston has been patient and now you can see why, and you can see the path forward: Draft Markelle Fultz, make a hard run at Gordon Hayward in free agency, but if he decides to stay in Utah then make a run at someone else in 2018. Make sure the fits are right, find some guys who can be stronger inside and on the glass, and continue to improve. Boston made a step forward this season to get the No. 1 seed and reach the conference finals, just continue to build off that. Don’t panic and rush things.

For Cleveland, just stay healthy. The biggest test is yet to come.

James Harden, LeBron James headline All-NBA Teams

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James Harden was a unanimous First Team choice.

LeBron James and Russell Westbrook came within one vote of the same (one voter each had them on the second team).

While we aren’t going to know who won MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, or other NBA awards until their new ceremony June 26 (after the Finals and Draft), the All-NBA teams had to be different. Because it impacts bonuses and future contracts — most notably if players qualify for Designated Player max deals this summer — teams needed to know early, before the Draft. So on Thursday the NBA released the prestigious All-NBA team, a snapshot of the best in the game.

Here are the three All-NBA teams:

Other players receiving votes, with point totals (First Team votes in parentheses): Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota, 50 (2); Chris Paul, LA Clippers, 49; Marc Gasol, Memphis, 48 (2); DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans, 42 (2); Paul George, Indiana, 40; Gordon Hayward, Utah, 27; Hassan Whiteside, Miami, 18; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland, 14; Klay Thompson, Golden State, 14; Nikola Jokic, Denver, 12 (1); Damian Lillard, Portland, 12; Paul Millsap, Atlanta, 3; LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio, 1; Blake Griffin, LA Clippers, 1; Al Horford, Boston, 1.

These were voted on by 100 members of the media, their votes will be made public June 26 with the rest of the award voting. (Full disclosure, I was one of those voters.)

The big takeaways: Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, and Stephen Curry (already an MVP) are eligible for Designated Player max contracts. In the case of Leonard it would be five years at around $217 million, and while he would sign next summer it wouldn’t kick in until the summer of 2019. Wall can sign his extension this summer (he has more experience) but his deal will not kick in for a couple.

However, Paul George and Gordon Hayward did not make an All-NBA team, which could impact their summers because now the Pacers and Jazz cannot offer their stars those Designated Player max contracts. (That contract is only for players who make the team the past year or two of the last three, or are a former MVP.)

In the case of George (who made all-NBA regularly before his leg injury, now has not made it two of the last three), that means the Pacers may consider trading their star this summer. George is a free agent in 2018 and there is a lot of buzz he is going to leave (either to a contender or the Lakers), and Indiana’s new man in charge Kevin Pritchard may feel he needs to get something for George rather than just let him walk. However, the trade market for George will not be robust because teams feel he wants to be a free agent in 2018, so he could be a one-year rental.

For Hayward, it means the Jazz can only offer a little more than other teams — about $2 million a year more on average over the deal, but also a guaranteed fifth year, so it works out to $46 million more guaranteed (but Hayward would get paid somewhere that fifth season, just not as much). That may be enough to keep him, he likes Utah, but it’s known Boston — with Hayward’s college coach Brad Stevens — and other teams are going to come hard at him.

Some will question putting Anthony Davis at center, but he spent 64 percent of his time on the court this past season at the five (as tracked by Basketball-Reference.com). That likely will not be the case next season with DeMarcus Cousins in the picture.

Gordon Hayward misses All-NBA, making opting out inevitable

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All-NBA voters just pushed Gordon Hayward into free agency.

There was a narrow path to Hayward exercising his $16,736,710 player option with the Jazz for next season, but that’s out the window with Hayward missing this season’s All-NBA teams. Not eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension this offseason, Hayward is a virtual certainty to opt out and hit unrestricted free agency, where he could command a max deal projected to start at more than $30 million.

Because Hayward has played just seven seasons, he would have had to opt in to be eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension. But Hayward making an All-NBA team was another requirement of the super max deal – projected to pay $224 million over the next six years, including the option year – so there’s no good reason to opt in.

Here’s how much Hayward could have earned with a designated-veteran-player extension (green) or can earn by re-signing (yellow) or signing elsewhere (blue):

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Hayward, coming off a career year, will have an abundance of good options available.

The Jazz, who beat the Clippers in the first round, have an impressive young core centered around Rudy Gobert. Keeping Hayward and George Hill could make Utah a real threat to win multiple playoff series annually for years to come.

The Celtics – coached by Hayward’s former Butler coach, Brad Stevens – are already in the conference finals and just landed the No. 1 pick. As much as the Jazz’s breakout 51-win season gives them a selling point to Hayward, Boston’s future looks even brighter.

Beyond the two teams to which he’s most commonly linked, plenty of other suitors will throw their hats in the ring if Hayward indicates a willingness to look around. Remember, he never picked Utah. The Jazz drafted him then matched an offer sheet he signed with Charlotte during his first free agency.

Hayward could sign a 1+1 deal with Utah, which would allow him to sign a designated-veteran-player contract next year if he makes an All-NBA team next season. That’d be a substantial bet on himself, but the upside his high – an extra $13 million next season plus the same designated-veteran-player rate he could’ve qualified for if he made All-NBA and opted in this year.

Will the 27-year-old make All-NBA next season? He finished eighth among forwards this year – behind LeBron James (first team), Kawhi Leonard (first team), Giannis Antetokounmpo (second team), Kevin Durant (second team), Draymond Green (third team), Jimmy Butler (third team) and Paul George.

Here’s betting Hayward locks into a long-term deal this summer, but where? The Jazz, without the ability to keep Hayward from free agency altogether with a designated-veteran-player extension, will have to sweat it out.

NBA to announce All-NBA teams Thursday

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The NBA will televise an award show June 26, but All-NBA teams are coming sooner – as in Thursday.

NBA release:

The All-NBA Teams and NBA Awards finalists will be revealed this week, the NBA announced today. On Thursday, May 18, the league will announce the All-NBA First, Second and Third Teams. Ahead of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals on TNT, the finalists for the NBA Awards will be unveiled during a special 90-minute edition of the NBA Tip-Off … pre-game show on Friday, May 19 at 7 p.m. ET.

The two major questions:

Will Paul George make an All-NBA team? If he does, the Pacers could sign him to an even bigger contract extension this summer – or at least get a fateful tell on his plans if he rejects that extension. If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team and accept a designated-veteran-player extension, trade rumors will heat up in a hurry.

Will Gordon Hayward make an All-NBA team? If he does, he could opt into the final year of his Jazz contract and sign a designated-veteran-player extension himself. Opting out would be a borderline call. If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team, opting out becomes a virtual certainty.

There are smaller questions – Is Rudy Gobert or Anthony Davis first-team center? Who will be finalists for the other major awards? – but George’s future in Indiana and Hayward’s in Utah might rest in the balance of the voting revealed Thursday.