Terry Rozier

Elsa/Getty Images

Celtics attempting gambit not accomplished in decades

7 Comments

The Celtics were the youngest team to win a playoff series last season.

They apparently weren’t young enough for their own taste.

Boston’s trade for Kyrie Irving was the most dramatic step in a youth movement by a team that won 53 games and reached the conference finals a year go.

The Celtics lost four of their top six in playoff minutes (Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas and Kelly Olynyk) and replaced them with – top four newcomers by value – Irving, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Guerschon Yabusele. Average age of the outgoing players right now? 27.2. Average age of the incoming players? 23.5.

Most teams with seasons like Celtics keep the core together, meaning everyone gets a year older. That doesn’t apply in Boston, which shed 11 of 15 players.

Marcus Morris (27) and Aron Baynes (30) are in line for rotation roles. Al Horford is 31. They’ll hedge against the team’s average age freefalling. But returners Marcus Smart (23), Terry Rozier (23) and Jaylen Brown (20) should receive larger roles previously held by much older veterans.

The Celtics had an average age – using players’ ages Feb. 1 and weighted by playing time, the same method used in this post’s first sentence – of 25.9 in the 2017 postseason. Just three teams had an average age below 26 during a postseason in which they won a playoff series then got even younger while still winning a playoff series the following year:

  • 1956 Syracuse Nationals
  • 1959 Minneapolis Lakers
  • 1960 Los Angeles Lakers

The Celtics will try to become the fourth. They’re not only expected to advance again, but return to the conference finals – and once again face the Cavaliers.

LeBron James looms over all this, his seven-year stranglehold over the East causing many to believe last year’s Celtics had hit their ceiling. If Boston somehow got past him, the all-time-great Warriors loom in the Finals.

It’s logical for the Celtics to delay their window.

Boston has between four and six first-round picks the next two years, and the two uncertain ones will eventually convey. The Celtics possess the tools to keep getting even younger.

But, as punctuated by trading the Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-rounder for Irving, this isn’t a complete teardown.

The Celtics are attempting the rare feat of rebuilding on the fly. They’re even doing it with an added degree of difficulty – starting the process already young.

Report: Cavaliers evaluating Kyrie Irving trade after Isaiah Thomas physical

9 Comments

The Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick – pending physicals.

Boston acknowledged that Thomas’ hip injury played a role in the deal. It also might factor into the trade getting voided.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It doesn’t take Miss Cleo to read these tea leaves. Cleveland is clearly concerned.

The Cavs don’t need Thomas ready to start the season. With him on an expiring contract, they don’t even necessarily need him to have great longevity – though he would certainly like to be healthy enough to cash in next summer, and they would ideally like to re-sign him (and LeBron James). But most of all, the Cavaliers need Thomas healthy this May and June for a playoff run that could realistically culminate with another championship.

If it appears too unlikely Thomas is up to that, the Cavs have no choice but to flunk his physical and negate the trade.

The big question: How unlikely is too unlikely?

Cleveland got so much in the deal – Crowder (a versatile wing built to match up with the Warriors), Zizic (a fine young prospect) and that sweet, sweet Brooklyn pick that alone might near Irving’s value. The Cavaliers obviously don’t need Thomas perfectly healthy to come out ahead, which is self-evident in them making the trade while Thomas is still rehabbing his hip.

The teams could always try to re-work the trade, though it wouldn’t be easy. They tried for weeks before finding this configuration.

Thomas, an All-NBA second-teamer who averaged 29 points per game last season, was supposedly key in appeasing Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s desire to acquire a star for Irving. Maybe Boston can swap in other players – including point guards Marcus Smart and/or Terry Rozier – but that might not placate Cleveland. It’d also be superfluous for the Celtics to keep Thomas while adding Irving, at least if Thomas can play.

And just which players would Boston include in a revised deal? Marcus Morris can’t be aggregated in a trade until Sept. 7. Aron Baynes, Shane Larkin and Daniel Theis can’t be traded at all until Dec. 15. Options are narrow.

If the deal gets undone, there would be a lot of hurt feelings on both sides.

Irving, of course, requested a trade from Cleveland. How would he handle returning after believing he had moved on? How would his teammates welcome him back after coming to terms with his exit?

Likewise, Thomas might not be keen on returning to the Celtics. I wouldn’t blame him for looking around the locker room and front office and wondering whom he can trust. Even if Thomas returned to Boston and played well, there’d be no chance of pitching him with loyalty in free agency next summer.

The simplest answer might be the Cavaliers getting another pick from the Celtics, which wouldn’t affect the trade’s cap math, in exchange for taking greater risk on Thomas’ hip. That’d avoid a lot of drama.

If even amenable to that – they’re already giving up so much – the Celtics would probably want to conduct another physical of their own on Thomas. Otherwise, what would stop the Cavs from signaling concern just to extort an extra pick from Boston?

There are good reasons for both teams to take their time in evaluating this. It just must be excruciating for everyone involved.

Isaiah Thomas ‘very confident’ he’ll get max contract

5 Comments

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is so open about his pursuit of a max contract, he has successfully branded his desire for a raise around the image of a Brinks truck.

Stephen Hewett of the Boston Herald:

Thomas was asked how confident he is that he’ll get the max money he’s seeking.

“Very confident,” he said Saturday during his annual basketball clinic at BU, where he hosted more than 400 campers. “I deserve it. I put the work in, and you can put me down against any guard in the NBA. … My numbers are up there with the best players in the world, and my team is winning. So, I mean, you have to reward that.

“At the end of the day I’m not too worried about it. I only talk about it when people bring it up, so everybody’s always like, ‘He’s always talking.’ I’m not talking about it unless somebody brings it up. I’m just going to keep working though. My time is gonna come. I have a lot of faith in God, and I just have to keep working to get better.”

I’m not nearly as confident.

Thomas provided max-level production last season. If healthy, he could do so again this season.

But that doesn’t mean he can be counted on to keep it up over the following few years.

He’ll be 29 when he hits free agency, and undersized point guards – like the 5-foot-9 Thomas – tend to fall off quickly around that age. His next team should pay for what Thomas will do during his next contract, not reward him for what he did prior.

The NBA’s financial landscape is tightening. As the salary cap levels off, teams won’t have the money to throw around like they did in 2016. Just a few teams project to have max cap space and the need for a point guard – Magic, Bulls and Pacers. That list will surely change between now and next summer, but the starting point is a narrow field.

Boston is also in line to pay the luxury tax if Thomas receives the max, which projects to be worth $177 million over five years if he re-signs (or $132 million over four years if he signs elsewhere). So, the Celtics are especially incentivized to keep costs down.

They’re also incentivized to keep a good team rolling. After trading out of the No. 1 pick and the opportunity to draft Markelle Fultz, Boston is left with Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier behind Thomas. Either of those backups would represent a big downgrade. The Celtics also aren’t in line to have cap space to sign an outside replacement, even if they lost Thomas.

So, Thomas has some leverage. Enough to extract the full max? Maybe. It’d help if he plays at an elite level again, increases his number of suitors. But even that won’t guarantee a max offer.

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

Al Bello/Getty Images
2 Comments

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.

Report: Celtics trading Avery Bradley to Pistons for Marcus Morris

24 Comments

The Celtics’ twisting-and-turning pursuit of max space for Gordon Hayward is over.

Trade talks that included Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart will end with Avery Bradley going to the Pistons.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

The Celtics downgrade in the short-term in the trade, but clearing the way for Hayward more than makes up for it.

Bradley is an elite perimeter defender with more than enough offensive skills. He’ll provide an immediate upgrade at shooting guard in Detroit – even over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who remains a restricted free agent.

The Pistons hard-capped themselves by signing combo guard Langston Galloway, drafted shooting guard Luke Kennard and now traded for Bradley (who also reduces Detroit’s room under the hard cap). It sure seems Caldwell-Pope’s days in Detroit are numbered.

Bradley’s $8,808,989 salary this season is far less than Caldwell-Pope could get, and that matters for the Pistons, who are up against the luxury tax. But Bradley is on an expiring contract and due for a massive raise next season.

There’s a ton of risk in jettisoning Caldwell-Pope, who’s just 24, for a 26-year-old Bradley who can leave in a year. Either the Pistons lose Bradley to unrestricted free agency or give him a huge contract that becomes problematic with all their other salary commitments.

But that’s next year’s problem. For now, Detroit is better and less likely to pay the luxury tax this season.

The Celtics are also better with Morris and Hayward, who factored into this deal.

Morris is another combo forward on a team with Hayward, Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. But Morris is most equipped to play power forward, a position of need in Boston.

The Celtics are weaker on the perimeter, though Marcus Smart can handle some of Bradley’s defensive responsibilities. Maybe Terry Rozier is ready for a bigger role.

Boston avoids dealing with Bradley’s free agency. Al Horford and Hayward are already maxed out on multi-year deals, and Isaiah Thomas — maybe even up to the max himself — and Smart are headed for big raises next season. Bird Rights would have allowed the Celtics to keep everyone, but actually paying everyone might have been cost prohibitive to ownership.

Morris, due $10,375,000 over the next two years, is a bargain. Even if he’s not as good as Bradley, Morris allows Boston to sign Hayward and have an easier time affording Thomas next summer.