Gordon Hayward

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Celtics pay the price to transform themselves

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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.

Boston turned over 11 of 15 players from a team that earned the No. 1 seed and reached the conference finals. The Celtics made three trades each bigger than many teams’ biggest move this summer, and they signed Gordon Hayward.

An offseason so busy, I had to grade it twice.

Boston’s massive overhaul culminated in dealing for Kyrie Irving, a huge trade among the Eastern Conference’s two best teams. The Celtics got the young star, but at a significant cost.

The Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-round pick is an elite asset. Jae Crowder is a versatile 3-and-D wing on one of the NBA’s most team-friendly contracts. Isaiah Thomas is a star himself when healthy (obviously a major question). Ante Zizic is a nice developmental prospect. And Boston sent another second-rounder to complete the deal.

It can be hard to conceptualize the value of the Brooklyn pick, as it doesn’t show up when comparing last year’s Celtics roster to this year’s – definitely younger, maybe even better. But that pick was the centerpiece of their offer, and to me, it tilted the trade to unfavorable.

At least Irving will be ready to begin the season, unlike Thomas. That’ll keep the Celtics rolling, especially with Hayward.

Hayward was the lynchpin of a successful offseason. An in-his-prime star acquired with cap space created by renouncing marginal players and trading Avery Bradley for Marcus Morris.

That trade wasn’t great in a vacuum. I didn’t like trading the No. 1 pick for the No. 3 pick (Jayson Tatum) and a future first-rounder, either. My reservations about those deals largely stand from my initial grading:

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.

Bradley for Morris is understandable given the circumstances. Trading down for Tatum is a difference of opinion, and Danny Ainge is rightfully sticking by his.

The Celtics are in awesome shape. They have a young good team plus three extra first-rounders, including the vaunted Lakers/Kings/76ers pick and a sneaky valuable Grizzlies pick.

But it’s important to remember they entered the offseason in awesome shape, and I’m grading how their position has changed. Though I didn’t love their decision-making, luring Hayward with cap space that mostly existed anyway was a massive victory.

Offseason grade: B

With no other good options, Heat keep competitive core intact

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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.

Midnight nears for the Heat.

Tyler Johnson‘s salary will more triple (to $19,245,370) next summer. Miami owes the Suns two future first-round picks – one top-seven protected in 2018 and unprotected in 2019, the other unprotected in 2021.

Unable to roll over cap space and rebuild, the Heat at least locked in a respectable roster before turning into a pumpkin.

James Johnson (four years, $60 million), Dion Waiters (four years, $52 million) and Kelly Olynyk (four years, $51 million) were expensive. Even keeping Wayne Ellington ($6.27 million) required paying the Mavericks $5.1 million to take Josh McRoberts.

Those long-term deals all come with significant risk.

It just might not be wise to get a couple contract-year players into the best shape of their careers then reward them with multi-year deals. Waiters’ attitude concerns didn’t disappear overnight, and remaining motivated might not be enough for Johnson, who’s already on the wrong side of 30.

Will Olynyk Olynyk thrive at power forward? He creates the most matchup problems at center, but Miami has Hassan Whiteside and No. 14 pick Bam Adebayo there.

Adebayo provides nice upside, and Justise Winslow returning from injury will keep the Heat from becoming too stale. They also hope their 31-10 finish (after a 10-31 start) last year forebodes a stronger full season.

Miami doesn’t look like an Eastern Conference power – not now, not later. LeBron James‘ Cavaliers are still favored, with Boston trying to prove a thorn in their sides. The Wizards are the potential bridge team with the Celtics, 76ers and even Bucks on the come up.

The Heat’s window to crack through is narrow, their chances higher of falling out of the playoffs completely the next few years. But even if they peak as a mid-tier playoff team, that’s OK.

It was understated how perilous their position was entering the summer, the picks owed to Phoenix and Johnson’s raise posing major complications. Miami didn’t land a whale like Gordon Hayward, but considering the circumstances, this outcome isn’t half bad.

Offseason grade: C+

Jae Crowder told Celtics of concern about so much wing depth before trade

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Jae Crowder saw himself as part of a crowded wing spot in Boston. Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward were obviously going to start at the two and the three, but after them Crowder, Jayson Tatum, at times Marcus Smart, and even Semi Ojeleye could get some run on the wing. Were there enough minutes to go around?

At his introductory press conference in Cleveland Thursday, Crowder explained what happened when he told the Celtics about his concerns.

“I had a little concern because we had a lot of wing players stacked up. I was a little concerned, and I made it clear to the organization that I was concerned about it and I just wanted some more direction, you know? I think they gave it to me with the trade. They gave me what they wanted to do. They showed me what they wanted to do. I respected it.”

Boston is betting big on Tatum and Brown to develop and take up the 3&D role that Crowder filled well. That could take another year or two of development, but Danny Ainge has always had the Celtics playing the long game. The Celtics have so many picks and assets, they can still get players to fill roles (perimeter defense, as well as rim protection, are still question marks).

The Celtics could afford to move on from Crowder, despite his skills and great contract. But getting him is a big win for Cleveland.

Report: Celtics leaning toward starting Al Horford at center

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Al Horford is the Celtics’ best center, and he’s best at center.

But that was also true last season, when Boston primarily started Amir Johnson at center.

Many – myself included – expected Aron Baynes to start at center this season with Johnson joining the 76ers. The burlier Baynes could battle opposing starting centers, allowing Horford to avoid wear and tear. Horford could still finish close games at center, play far more minutes than the start and play the position more in the playoffs, as he did last season.

Alas, the Celtics apparently have a different plan.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

I do think they’re going to start Horford at center, which is interesting. I think, organizationally, that’s the way they’re leaning.

This is the Celtics’ ticket to starting with their best lineup on the floor. They can now start three, rather than two, of Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris between Horford and Kyrie Irving.

Why the change from last year’s approach?

Perhaps, Boston wants to give its new players – 11 of 15 – a better chance of jelling in their optimal lineup construction. Maybe the Celtics just want to acclimate Horford to center as much as possible before he plays the position nearly exclusively in the playoffs.

Or maybe they’re simply not overthinking it.

Though I am concerned about Horford handling that load all season, Boston is clearly best in the short term this way.

Doc Rivers: Celtics have undergone best rebuild ‘maybe ever’

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Doc Rivers left the Celtics in 2013 because he didn’t want to rebuild. Ray Allen had already left, and Boston traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets. Rivers joined the ready-built Clippers, who featured Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and offered front-office control.

Four years later, the Celtics advanced further than the Clippers ever did under Rivers. Rivers has been stripped of his presidency of the Clippers, who project to be worse than Boston for the foreseeable future.

Rivers, via Stephen Hewitt of the Boston Herald:

“My love for them hasn’t changed,” Rivers said of the Celtics. “For me, it was time for me to change. When you’re somewhere for nine years, you don’t think whether it’s the right or wrong decision, you think it’s the right decision for you at that time. But as far as wanting them to do well, that will never change. Unless they’re playing me.

“Other than that, love Danny (Ainge), love (owner Steve Pagliuca), that whole group, and I just want them to do well. I really do. I love what they’ve done. I think the turnaround in four years starting with hiring Brad and then going from … (Ainge) and (assistant general manager) Mike Zarren have done the best job I’ve seen in sports in a long, long time of rebuilding. Maybe ever.”

I wonder whether Rivers regrets leaving the Celtics, whose rebuild was masterful.

Danny Ainge traded Garnett and Pierce just before their production fell off a cliff, receiving a massive return and sabotaging Brooklyn into high first-round picks that conveyed to Boston (including Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum). The Celtics also nailed smaller moves, like trading a low first-rounder for Isaiah Thomas and getting Jae Crowder thrown into the Rajon Rondo trade. They’re poised to advance even further with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Of course, another decision Ainge aced was hiring Brad Stevens to replace Rivers. Stevens is one of the NBA’s best coaches, and though Rivers is also respected, the Celtics might not be as well of if they just kept Rivers.

Still, those Nets picks would have been a huge head start no matter who was coaching Boston.

Rivers’ decision to leave was logical, but in hindsight, it sure seems he came out behind in L.A.

At least Rivers gets to keep his dual-title salary while only coaching the Clippers.