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With Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, Celtics continue ascent – just not as steeply as hoped

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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.

The Celtics landed the No. 1 pick and signed the top free agent to change teams.

Given that, it feels like their offseason should have gone better.

Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are nice, and I won’t lose sight of that here. But…

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.

Not only was that salary difference essential for clearing max cap space now, Bradley will enter unrestricted free agency with Isaiah Thomas next summer. The raises necessary to re-sign both likely would’ve pushed the Celtics higher into the luxury tax than they’re willing to go. Thomas and Morris should be affordable.

Morris is a fine player, but it looks like he’s caught between better combo forwards (Hayward and Jae Crowder) and higher-upside/younger combo forwards (Jaylen Brown and Tatum). How much will Morris matter in Boston?

Bradley certainly did plenty, defending the better opposing guard so the undersized Thomas didn’t have to. Marcus Smart can handle some of that responsibility, but that cuts into the time he can play in relief of Thomas at point guard and the time he can defend forwards.

Getting Aron Baynes for the room exception was solid. He might even start for the Celtics, eating up minutes against big starting centers. I suspect Al Horford will play center in most pivotal minutes, though.

Signing Baynes was one of Boston’s several respectable moves – drafting Semi Ojeleye in the second round, signing 2016 first-rounders Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic and paying to take a flier on Shane Larkin.

But the real needle-movers were signing Hayward, a 27-year-old versatile star, and adding a highly touted talent in Tatum. Even in the less-flattering greater context, those are huge additions.

Offseason grade: A-

Report: Lakers reportedly never asked Anthony Davis about waiving trade kicker

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The Lakers reportedly didn’t address the trade date with the Pelicans before agreeing to deal for Anthony Davis. That oversight cost the Lakers leverage in negotiating parameters that’d open max cap space.

So, the Lakers are scrambling now.

Different proposals for revising the deal include Davis waiving his $4,063,953 trade bonus. At last check, he intended to receive the full the amount, though maybe he’s willing to leave money on the table to help his new team.

But the Lakers apparently haven’t even asked him yet.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

The Lakers could have asked Davis to waive the kicker as part of the deal. Per league sources, they never broached it.

To give the Lakers (far too much) benefit of the doubt, maybe they’re waiting to see which free agents they can attract before asking Davis about the trade bonus. The Lakers might think they have a better chance of getting Davis to waive the bonus if they can present a compelling plan of how the extra money would be used.

More likely, it seems Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka just isn’t covering all the bases he should.

There are still ways for the Lakers open max cap space and get Davis more, if not all, of his bonus. Essentially, the Lakers must send out more money in the trade so they can take in more money, including Davis’ trade bonus. They could guarantee more of Jemerrio Jones‘ salary and/or sign-and-trade Alex Caruso in a revised version of the deal.

But Jones and Caruso would have negative value in those scenarios. So, the Lakers would have to attach sweeteners to whichever team took them.

That might be a justifiable cost of forming a team with LeBron James, Davis and a third star. It’s also a cost that should have been more thoughtfully considered before agreeing to terms with New Orleans.

To get under luxury tax, Thunder reportedly would trade Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, No. 21 pick

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As you read this, without their roster completely filled up yet, the Oklahoma City Thunder are more than $6 million over next season’s luxury tax line of $132 million. That’s just the guaranteed money. By the time you factor in non-guarantees and the cost of the No. 21 pick, the team will be more than $19 million into the luxury tax.

That price may be a little steep for Thunder ownership, according to Jake Fischer of Sports Illustrated.

It would be impossible for the Thunder to avoid the luxury tax without doing serious damage to their chances to chase a ring next season — and in a Western Conference that doesn’t have a dominant Golden State team on top, the Thunder believe they have a shot. This is likely more about reducing the tax hit than avoiding it.

The Thunder will pay $38.5 million next season to Russell Westbrook and $33 million to Paul George, and obviously those two are untouchable.

Adams will make $25.8 million next season and $27.5 million the one after that, however, trading him would do serious damage to OKC’s fourth-ranked defense last season. Adams is an integral part of the Thunder identity on and off the court, and trading him is highly unlikely. Dennis Schroeder will make $15.5 million each of the next two seasons, and he provided a lot of value for the Thunder off the bench.

Andre Roberson seems a more likely candidate. He missed all of last season due to a ruptured left patellar tendon (although they did miss him(. He’s set to make $10.7 million and if a team can be convinced the defensive specialist is back and healthy there would be teams interested. The challenge for the Thunder is constructing a trade that does not bring back salary.

Nothing may happen around the draft, but keep an eye on Thunder this summer as they try to save a little cash without damaging their playoff dreams.

Report: Rockets tried to give away Chris Paul, but teams – including Knicks – said no

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey not only denied a report that Chris Paul demanded a trade, Morey said Paul would remain in Houston next season.

We might never know how tense the situation has gotten between Paul and James Harden. We might never know whether Paul requested a trade.

But we will know whether Paul begins next season in Houston.

Morey’s credibility is on the line with that. Will he really refuse to trade Paul? That’s not Morey’s style.

More likely, Morey made that declaration only after exhausting the market for Paul and the three years, $124,076,442 remaining on his contract.

Shams Charania of The Athletic, via CBS:

There’s not a team in the league right now that is like, “I’m going to go trade for Chris Paul.” Even some teams that they’ve called, I’m told, as just a dump, like, “We’ll give you Chris Paul for free,” those teams are like “We’re good.” So, the value just is not there right now.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

The Rockets recently explored trading Chris Paul into New York’s cap space, but the Knicks refused, according to league sources.

Good for the Knicks resisting. With Kyrie Irving apparently (maybe?) headed to the Nets and Kevin Durant‘s future up in the air, that’s the type of desperate move New York is known to make.

Paul, 34, is overpaid and declining. No team should absorb his contract into cap space.

But he’s still pretty good. Not nearly as good as he once was, but good enough to help the Rockets. Their championship window hasn’t necessarily snapped completely shut yet. There’s value in keeping Paul and trying to repair his and Harden’s relationship.

There also might be better opportunities later in the summer to trade Paul. Teams want to preserve their cap space now for free agents. But some teams will strike out and might view Paul as a good fallback option.

Of course, if Morey thought a deal later in the offseason were a possibility, he probably wouldn’t have so explicitly insisted Paul will remain in Houston.

Report: Minnesota “aggressive” in trying to trade up in draft, talked to Pelicans about fourth pick

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are slotted to pick 11th in the NBA Draft Thursday night. There they could land players along the lines of Brandon Clarke or Rui Hachimura, both of Gonzaga.

The Timberwolves have their sights set higher and they are looking to move up in the draft — maybe all the way to No. 4, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic fleshed out some details.

Among the options being considered, as first reported by ESPN, is moving all the way up to No. 4, presumably for a shot at Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland. He missed most of his lone season in college due to a knee injury, but prior to that was widely scouted as the top point guard in the draft class. Interest in such a move is indicative of Rosas’s mindset of star-chasing, an approach honed in Houston.

That sounds great in theory, but what is the deal to be made for the fourth pick? David Griffin of the Pelicans has made it clear the No. 4 pick is available, but they want a veteran — and one not too old — in return. The Timberwolves don’t have that guy on their roster. (Technically they do in Andrew Wiggins, but that’s not a contract — four years, $122.3 million remaining — that the Pelicans would take on.)

Minnesota’s head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas told The Athletic how hard this kind of trade can be.

“The reality is, and history will tell you, it’s hard to trade up into the top three of the draft, even top five in the lottery,” Rosas said. “It’s very difficult. We know, because we’re tried, and will continue to try. But that price, the premium that teams charge for that is at a high level in any draft in any year.”

Minnesota seems a long shot, but don’t be surprised if the Pelicans trade the No. 4 pick. New Orleans has worked hard to find someone to take that pick off their hands, so long as they get a fair price back.