If you’re a basketball fan, you have to love that Houston decided to go right at Golden State, Game of Thrones style. They add Chris Paul and are trying to load up for an assault to take the throne, not backing down from a team that could go down as legendary. San Antonio is still right there and wants a healthy shot at the Warriors. Minnesota added Jimmy Butler and more to step into “we got next” mode — and also be much better now. The Nuggets just improved dramatically with the addition of Paul Millsap, too. The Western Conference is stacked.
While the rest of the NBA zigged West, Gordon Hayward zagged East.
Hayward is going to be a Boston Celtic — and Boston just became a very legitimate threat to make the Finals next season. And for a lot of seasons after that.
While much of the NBA decided to go at Golden State, Hayward joined up to go at LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
It wasn’t an easy call for Hayward, leaving the only NBA city he’s ever called home, and a city and fan base he genuinely loved.
However, the lure of a good path to the Finals, his former coach, and the history of Boston proved too much.
It also is the bold, smart, long-term basketball play. Hayward set himself up well for the future (and it’s not just the max money contract he will get) — winning in a major market sets up the endorsements, shoe and otherwise, that can really drive income.
Celtics fans were dreaming of grand slam scenarios that were never likely, but the target all along was to get an All-Star level NBA wing entering his prime and put him on a team that already won 53 games last season. A team that already had an All-Star level center (Al Horford) and an All-NBA point guard (Isaiah Thomas) — and they add an elite player to that without giving up many assets (not ones that really impact the win column much).
Danny Ainge pulled that off, and he deserves kudos. Boston is set up beautifully for the future.
Boston is poised now to seriously challenge Cleveland in the East in 2018 — their motion offense gave the Cavs defense problems last playoffs (even with Thomas injured), and Hayward fits in perfectly with that. Hayward averaged 21.9 points per game last season, shot 39.8 percent from three, grabbed 5.4 rebounds, plus is a quality playmaker for himself and others. He can play the three or some small-ball four (he played the four about 30 percent of the time last season). Boston just got a lot better, filling in a position of need.
Cleveland also seems poised to crumble, maybe not next season but certainly beyond 2018 — maybe LeBron leaves, but even if he stays this team is older, slower and capped out. They don’t even have a GM right now setting up an overall vision. Also, LeBron can’t keep playing like this forever, right? (Who knows, conventional wisdom and timelines do not apply to him.) Boston’s roster already has win now guys plus two likely top top-10 picks the next two years to keep adding quality players (Brooklyn’s unprotected pick in 2018; and the Lakers 2018 first rounder if it falls 2-5, otherwise the better of the Sixers or Kings pick in 2019). Jaylen Brown is just getting started, as is Jayson Tatum. The Celtics can keep guys will need to ultimately move guys such as Avery Bradly and/or Marcus Smart, but they can do so for other players that fit. The picks could be traded. Boston has options — and that’s not an accident. That was always the plan. Boston was never only aiming for 2018, they were more focused on 2019, 2020 and the years beyond that. Ainge was working to build something sustainable.
This is a punch to the gut of Utah — sometimes in life you do everything right and it still doesn’t work out. The organization has drafted well, has arguably the best player development program in the NBA and built up guys such as Rudy Gobert, they have a smart and well-liked coach, the fans have embraced the players, and the team was on the rise. They even added Ricky Rubio and re-signed Joe Ingles to show how serious they were. Utah also could offer more money than any other team and an extra guaranteed year. (The only mistake, in retrospect, was not offering more money and years on Hayward’s last deal, which would not have been up yet, but that wasn’t the main issue here.) All that and the emotional lure of the only NBA city he has ever played in was not enough.
Utah still has a good team, but one without a shot-creating alpha, and it will be difficult to lure one to Utah. They need to step back, think about the next step, and go from there.
For Boston, this is the not the end goal, but they just got a lot closer to it — and closer to banner No. 18.
For Hayward, going East when the rest of the NBA went West was smart, bold, and set him up for the future.
Now just comes the task of living up to the hype.