Kurt Helin

Danny Ainge finally gets his breakthrough star, Celtics start to change balance of power in East


This is what Danny Ainge — not to mention legions of Boston Celtics fans — have been waiting for.

Years of gathering assets, developing players, and coming along slowly had gotten the team to the ceiling of 48 wins, but the Celtics were not going to move past that number in any serious way without adding elite talent. They were a team of role players led by a dynamic point guard in Isaiah Thomas and a fantastic coach in Brad Stevens, but talent wins out in the NBA, and the Celtics had maxed theirs out.

Now they have Al Horford.

And that changes everything.

It does not make them an instant threat to beat the Cavaliers next season; they are still a tier below the champions. For now. They may be the second best team in the East, about on par with Toronto, but that’s not the level of a title contender.

What this does — besides seriously upgrade Boston’s talent — is open the door to the next wave of free agents. No more “they can’t land a star” talk. Stars that might have been hesitant to take a hard look at the Celtics before will now give them more serious consideration. Remember, the 2017 free agent class is much deeper than this year’s class (and 2018 could be good as well). Also, players (and their agents) may be more willing to push for a trade with Boston than they had been before.

The Horford signing probably does not change the Kevin Durant dreams — although this news broke during their meeting with him, which certainly gave it a boost. Still, everyone but Oklahoma City is a longshot, and the Warriors may well land him if he does bolt OKC. However, if Durant does sign a 1+1 contract with the Thunder and reconsiders staying in a year, Boston’s meeting and landing Horford will have laid a foundation to open up talks again.

Horford changes the dynamics in the East — Boston has gone from a nice team of role players and picks (thanks again, Brooklyn) to a good team with the assets to make the moves needed to get great. They become a team that could be a contender in a couple of years with the right moves. They look like a team about to be a real threat in the East.

Danny Ainge got his man. And with that it will be easier to get the next one. And the one after that.

An 18th banner in the Boston Garden suddenly seems like less a fan pipe dream and more like a road the Celtics could travel down. It’s a long and difficult road, but suddenly the map is there.

All thanks to Al Horford’s decision. It has started to change the landscape in the East.

Report: Austin Rivers agrees to three-year deal to return to Clippers

Associated Press

The Los Angeles Clippers asked Kevin Durant to let them know where they stood on Saturday — if they had the chance to land him they had to start stripping down the roster to nothing. If not, they needed to start re-signing their own free agents (they already lost Jeff Green, who they gave up a first-round pick to get at the trade deadline).

Here is the sign the Clippers are out of the Durant sweepstakes, they are bringing back Austin Rivers.

It’s a three-year, $35 million deal according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports. That seems a bit high for a backup point guard, but not wildly out of line.

There’s been plenty of “he’s only still in the NBA because of his dad” talk about Austin (son of Clipper coach and GM Doc Rivers), but that has become overstated. He’s certainly got flaws in his game, but his defense did improve last season and his shot selection, while not great, was better. Overall he’s a below replacement-level player, but he averaged 8.9 points and 1.5 assists per game last season and in the Clippers crucial Game 6 in the playoffs he played well on that big stage. He’s not as bad as his reputation.

And he’s a Clipper for three more years.

Report: Harrison Barnes to sign four-year max offer sheet with Dallas; Golden State can match


Add this to the list of things waiting on Kevin Durant‘s decision.

Golden State’s starting wing and restricted free agent Harrison Barnes has agreed to sign a max offer sheet of $94.4 million with the Dallas Mavericks, reports Marc Stein of ESPN. The key here is Golden State has the right to match, and whether they do or not will hinge on whether they land Durant or not.

Barnes can’t sign the offer sheet until July 7, and then the Warriors have three days to match. Durant leaves for a shoe-company tour of the Far East on July 9, he will have signed by then, so the Warriors will know their move.

It’s not a bad play by the Mavericks — Barnes is a good defender, is long and athletic, can run the floor, and he can hit threes (38.3 percent in the regular season). Don’t let his Finals shooting slump fool you, this is a player good enough that Mike Krzyzewski wanted him on Team USA this summer (that’s a Duke coach taking a North Carolina player, he’s that good). How Barnes will do with more offensive responsibility (no Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson opening up the floor for him) is up for debate, but Barnes can play.

Most likely Durant stays, and not long after that the Warriors match the offer. But it’s a good gamble by the Mavericks after they missed out on their other targets.

Report: Lakers reach agreement with Luol Deng on four-year, $72 million deal

Getty Images

Apparently, the Lakers wanted a veteran presence up front to go with their young core players such as Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram — and they are not afraid to pay a lot to get them.

First, the Lakers gave old-school center Timofey Mozgov $64 million. Now this, via Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has wanted Deng for years (remember he was part of the talks back in the “Kobe Bryant to the Bulls” trade conversation many years ago), now he got his man. There is a good fit here, Deng played the four for Miami last season (after Chris Bosh was sidelined) and thrived, but is a traditional three so Luke Walton can plug him in as needed. He was solid at both ends of the court (although his skills are in decline at age 31), plus he’s loved by teammates and a rock solid guy in the locker room.

This is a solid signing, he’s the kind of professional the Lakers need in their young locker room. The Lakers had to pay a premium to get him, but that’s where the Lakers are right now — they are not a destination (as evidenced by their attempts to land elite stars). The Lakers need to build a solid foundation that can win some games. Deng helps that. Los Angels may well regret the final year of this deal when Deng is 35, but that is the price the team needed to pay to land him.

If the Lakers had made this signing right after free agency started and not the Mozgov deal it would have been much better optics for the franchise.

Top 10 players still available after Day 1 of NBA free agency

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That. Was. Insane.

An estimated $1.7 billion in NBA contracts were handed out. Mike Conley is now the owner of the richest contract in NBA history. Joakim Noah is a Knick for $72 million. Dwight Howard has gone home to Atlanta for $70 million. From minutes after the clock struck midnight on July 1 deals were flying with a few reasonable deals (Jeremy Lin to Brooklyn for $36 million) and a few head scratchers (Evan Turner got $70 million?).

Who is left? Here are the Top 10 free agents still on the board, with an update on where things stand with them.

1) LeBron James. We’re required to lead with the best player on the planet because he is technically still available as a free agent. We all know he’s signing a short-term deal to stay in Cleveland (although the numbers are a little complex), but he remains a free agent so we’ve got to put him here.

2) Kevin Durant. Durant met with Oklahoma City Thursday night (he could do that before free agency officially started because he was a member of the team still), then sat down with the Warriors and Clippers on Friday. (There were reports Durant was “blown away” by the Clippers’ presentation, which is great but because they cannot offer him a max contract it’s hard to see that deal getting done.) Up on Saturday are the San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics, while on Sunday Pat Riley and the Miami Heat get their shot. The feeling around the league is still Oklahoma City likely wins out in the end.

3) Al Horford. By signing Dwight Howard and re-signing Kent Bazemore to $70 million deals, the Hawks essentially ended Horford’s run in Atlanta (they are not going to pay the luxury tax for him, and while in theory they could make trades to clear out cap space for him that seems unlikely). Horford met with the Boston Celtics, Washington Wizards, and Houston Rockets (plus a “mystery team” according to Ramona Shelburne). He may well hold off his decision a few days to see where the Warriors and Spurs fall after Durant makes his decision.

4) Pau Gasol. He had a very quiet first day of free agency, which is how he likes it. Portland is reportedly interested right now. But like Horford, it could be wise for Gasol to let the Durant situation play out because both the Warriors and Spurs reportedly would come calling.

5) Harrison Barnes (restricted). There have been rumors that the Sixers, among other teams, are poised to make a big offer to Golden State’s starting wing player. But in a familiar theme (read the notes on Horford and Gasol) what happens to him is tied to Durant and others — if the Warriors get KD they will not match an offer for Barnes. If they don’t, that door starts to open. Barnes would sign his offer sheet from whatever team on July 7 (the day the signing moratorium ends), and the Warriors have three days to match.

6) Dwyane Wade. The report is Miami’s first offer to Wade was for $10 million a year — if that is true, he has a right to be insulted. The Heat are going to pay Wade Jared Dudley money? Wade reportedly has been offered more like $20 million a season from The Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks. He reportedly put out feelers to the Spurs (who likely would not offer that much) and Knicks (who can’t). In the end, he probably uses this as leverage to get a better deal with the Heat, but apparently the door is at least cracked open.

7) Dirk Nowitzki. Friday was a rough day for Mark Cuban and the Mavericks. They met with Mike Conley, Hassan Whiteside, and Nicolas Batum, all of whom used Dallas as leverage to get bigger deals and re-signed with their current teams. Also, Chandler Parsons bolted (for a max contract in Memphis). Nowitzki will take his time reaching a deal and do whatever helps Cuban and the team the most; he doesn’t want to leave and go somewhere else (unless Cuban decides to blow the whole thing up).

8) Ryan Anderson. The prototypical stretch four saw a lot of interest: The Raptors, Nets, Lakers, Kings, and Wizards have all expressed some level of interest. Other teams could step up as well (teams that strike out on Durant included). About the only thing that became clear on Friday is that Anderson is not going back to New Orleans, they seemed to move on reaching deals with guys such as Solomon Hill.

9) Bismack Biyombo. With Hassan Whiteside and Joakim Noah off the board, the pace of action around Biyombo should pick up. He may be the best center left on the board — and the fact Timofey Mozgov just got $64 million has to make Biyombo (and his agent) optimistic about the offers that should start to roll in.

10) J.R. Smith. The shirtless wonder is expected to re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers (who lost Mozgov and likely Matthew Dellavedova in free agency so far, although the Cavs can match the Delly offer). Things seemed quiet on the Smith front on Friday, no teams were public about trying to poach him, which is likely a good sign for his eventual return to Cleveland.