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While rest of NBA goes West, Gordon Hayward heads East to try and dethrone LeBron, Cavs

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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.

Report: Suns declining Jimmer Fredette’s team option, Warriors say he’ll join them in summer league

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The Suns signed Jimmer Fredette late last season, including a team option for next season in case he played well.

In a surprise to nobody reasonable, he didn’t.

So, Phoenix will move on and Fredette will fall to a lower level.

95.7 The Game:

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Even with his option declined, Fredette is still under contract with the Suns until June 30. So, Larry Harris’ public revelation looks like tampering.

But the NBA’s tampering rules are vague and arbitrarily enforced. A key consideration: Whether the aggrieved team presses for action. I can’t imagine the Suns doing that.

Fredette, 30, might light up summer league – which is primarily for rookies and other young players. If he does while playing for Golden State’s team, the Stephen Curry comparisons will be inevitable.

They’ll also be misguided. Curry is a superstar. Fredette didn’t translate to the NBA, though there remains a fascination with him because he scored a lot at BYU a long time ago and still fills a great-white-hope narrative to some.

Report: Nets interested in signing Kevin Durant’s friend, DeAndre Jordan

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The Nets are hot on the heels of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

What could put Brooklyn over the top to land those star free agents?

Maybe DeAndre Jordan.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

If Jordan would help the Nets attract Durant and Irving, great. Sign Jordan.

But Jordan would also fit well at center if Brooklyn signs Durant and Irving.

The Nets need another center with Jarrett Allen, as Ed Davis hits free agency. They could ideally use someone bigger, like Jordan. Though Allen has positioned himself well as Brooklyn’s long-term center, Jordan could even start – if he comes motivated.

Jordan has drifted lately. He fell out of favor with the Clippers, never meshed with the Mavericks then finished last season with the losing Knicks rather than taking a buyout. Jordan has ability as a finisher and rim-protector, but he’s not as active as used to be, and energy is important for playing that style.

The Nets’ room exception, which projects to be worth nearly $5 million, might be the right amount for him.

Andre Iguodala’s exit line on CNBC: “Nobody’s going to the Knicks. Sorry.”

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Andre Iguodala is a smart businessman who is heavily invested in tech startups (as are several Golden State Warriors players). That — and the fact he’s a famous NBA player — made him a good guest on CNBC’s Power Lunch show Monday.

Iguodala also has a few good connections to the thinking of the Golden State Warriors’ free agents Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Here is his response when asked about free agency and the Warriors on the show.

Of course, he said he expects Durant and Thompson to come back to the Warriors, what did you expect him to say? However, it was the exit line that got noticed:

“Nobody’s going to the Knicks. Sorry.”

More and more it’s looking like that.

Sources have said Thompson is staying with the Warriors since the start, he was never in play. Durant and the Knicks have been linked all season, but suddenly rumors of him going to Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving (and maybe Durant’s good friend DeAndre Jordan) have gotten a lot louder around the league. Brooklyn may be the frontrunner, with the Clipper still on the fringes of the conversation. The Warriors may be on the outside looking in.

The Knicks want a meeting with Kawhi Leonard, but that is a two-team race between the Raptors and Clippers, with Toronto seeming to have the edge after winning a title.

The smart play by the Knicks, if this happens, is not to spend wildly on the next tier of free agents but rather to sit on their cap space, develop and add to their young core, and wait for another star. That seems to be the plan, but how long before James Dolan gets impatient and forces something stupid to happen. For the Knicks, that’s always a concern.

Atlanta trades Kent Bazemore to Portland for Evan Turner

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Portland is always on the search for some quality play and shot creation at the forward spots (something that is a long-running weak spot), and with this trade the Trail Blazers get a little better.

Atlanta is sending Kent Bazemore to Portland in exchange for Evan Turner in a straight up, two-player trade. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and has since been confirmed by the teams.

Both players are in the final year of their somewhat overpaid contracts, Bazemore will make $19.3 million while Turner will pull down $18.6 million. Atlanta does save about $640,000.

This trade makes a lot of sense for Portland. Bazemore is a quality wing rotation player who averaged 11.6 points per game, is athletic and can create shots. Last season Bazemore was on his way to a career year until a mid-season ankle injury, and while he did come back to the court he was never healthy and the same player. He’s not a knock-down three-point shooter but he has usually been at around 35 percent or a little higher five of the past six seasons (he was down to 32 percent last season because of the ankle injury). This is more than just Rodney Hood insurance, this is an upgrade.

Turner was the guy Portland counted on as another shot creator, but he could not do that consistently or under pressure. He averaged 6.8 points per game last season, shot 21.2 percent from three, and is not a great defender. He is a popular teammate and good in the locker room (something useful with a young Hawks squad), but this is not an upgrade for the Hawks.

Then why did Atlanta make this trade?

“We are happy to add Evan to our team, a veteran who we believe can help our club,” Hawks GM Travis Schlenk said in a statement. “The versatility he has shown throughout his career will be valuable for us this season.”

Beyond that, the franchise does save $640,000, which is helpful but not earth-shattering. Also, it’s a favor to Bazemore to get him on a team that went to the Western Conference Finals a season ago and is a threat going forward. However, the best reason may be the Hawks have three young players they like — Kevin Huerter, plus just-drafted DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish — at the same spot and this frees up minutes for them to play.

Whatever the reason, the deal is done.