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Celtics’ quiet summer good enough

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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 are in great shape.

They were always going to be in great shape.

Boston just reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals with Gordon Hayward missing practically the entire season and Kyrie Irving missing the entire postseason. Those stars return to a team that still has Jayson Tatum and Al Horford and Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier and… This roster is stacked. Though the Rockets and Raptors can stake legitimate claims, I’d rate the Celtics second in the NBA behind the Warriors.

If that weren’t enough, Boston also has 2-3 extra first-rounders coming – from the Kings or 76ers, Grizzlies and maybe Clippers. It’s an embarrassment of riches.

So, unlike last season, when they turned over 11 of 15 players from a conference finalist, the Celtics remained pretty quiet this year. And that’s totally fine. Boston didn’t to win the offseason. Winning the last several was enough.

The Celtics re-signed Marcus Smart (four years, $52 million) and Aron Baynes (two years, $10,646,880).

Will Smart hold positive trade value? His style of play is so unconventional, teams might not believe they can fit him in.

Did Boston really have to give Baynes a player option or even a second guaranteed season? He’ll turn 32 this year.

But those questions are minor compared to the biggest takeaway: Smart and Baynes will help the Celtics over their contracts. Boston coach Brad Stevens knows how to use those two, and keeping them was important.

It might take the Celtics into the luxury tax, which ownership has shown a willingness to pay – and good for them. Their spending should bring advantages. That said, I also wouldn’t be surprised if Boston sheds a small amount of salary this season to avoid the tax and delay the repeater clock.

The Celtics drafted Robert Williams, who slipped to No. 27 because he’s immature then saw first-hand just how immature he is. Most rookies have their acts together more than that, but Williams’ career won’t necessarily be irrevocably derailed by immaturity at age 20.

Other moves were even smaller – trading Abdel Nader to the Thunder and signing Jabari Bird and Brad Wanamaker to minimum deals.

Really, the most significant move of Boston’s offseason was arguably LeBron James leaving the Eastern Conference he had dominated for the last eight years. No team was more impeded by LeBron during that run than the Celtics.

But even if LeBron re-signed with the Cavaliers, I still probably would have picked Boston to win the East this year. Without two stars, the young Celtics nearly beat an old Cleveland team last year. The road just gets a little easier with LeBron gone.

I’m extremely bullish on Boston. It just has little to do with this summer.

Offseason grade: C+

Report: Suns signing Jamal Crawford

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The Suns are desperate for a point guard.

How desperate?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I wouldn’t assume Phoenix plans to play Crawford at point guard. Perhaps, he’ll be an off guard. But the possibility is scary – whether the fear comes from playing Crawford out of position or the possibility he’d actually be the Suns’ top point guard.

It’s questionable whether the 38-year-old can help in either backcourt spot. He doesn’t attack the rim like he used to, and his defense has become even more porous.

Though he declined a $4,544,400 player option with the Timberwolves, there’s a reason he remained a free agent so long. He’ll likely settle for the minimum with Phoenix, one of the NBA’s bottom teams.

The Suns now have 14 players with guaranteed salaries on standard contracts, three with small or no guarantees (Richaun Holmes, Isaiah Canaan and Shaquille Harrison) plus Crawford. The regular-season standard-contract roster limit is 15. So, it’ll be interesting to see whom Phoenix drops in the next day. The Suns reportedly applied for a disabled-player exception for Darrell Arthur.

The Suns might try to spin this as adding veteran leadership. But they already have Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Tyson Chandler. How many veteran leaders do they need?

They need a starting-caliber point guard. Crawford isn’t it. At best, they realize that and have other plans for him.

Charles Barkley says he hasn’t worn underwear in a decade

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Charles Barkley can’t control everything, like whether the Magic hire him as general manager.

But he can control his underpants, as he explained on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Knicks stress patience, indulge impatient tendencies by stretching Joakim Noah

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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.

Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry talked a big game about patiently rebuilding – practically a foreign concept in New York.

And most of the summer, they backed up their words.

They drafted Kevin Knox No. 9 and Mitchell Robinson No. 36. They didn’t sign a single free agent to a multi-year deal. They made no win-now trade (or any trade at all).

Yet, even in the Knicks’ most patient offseason in years, they closed it with an incredibly impatient move.

New York stretched Joakim Noah, locking in a cap hit of $18,530,000 this season and $6,431,667 each of the following three years. The move opens an additional $12,863,333 in cap space next summer.

But what if the Knicks don’t need that extra room? What if they don’t attract free agents worth spending that amount then? Eating Noah’s entire $19,295,000 2019-20 salary that season, rather than splitting it over three years, is off the table.

What if they need even more room? What if they can draw great free agents who command more money than New York can offer? Attaching sweeteners to trade Noah’s salary and remove it entirely is also now impossible.

The Knicks could have waited until next summer to stretch, straight waive or trade Noah. They would have had far more information then, as the stretch deadline is Aug. 31.

This move puts so much needless pressure on New York to use its cap space next summer. Though the Knicks’ reported top target, Kyrie Irving, already said he’d re-sign with the Celtics, Kevin Durant-New York rumors are swirling, and Jimmy Butler put the Knicks on his list. The Knicks project to have about $33 million in cap space next summer, including a cap hold for only Kristaps Porzingis. They could add a franchise-changing star.

But this doesn’t jibe with a patient rebuild.

Biding time until next summer, New York took fliers on Mario Hezonja (one year, $6.5 million) and Noah Vonleh (one year, minimum). But despite seemingly tepid markets for those two in free agency, the Knicks didn’t capitalize on their leverage by attaching any additional unguaranteed seasons to their contracts. That will make it extremely difficult to get value from them. If Hezonja or Vonleh break out, they’ll be in line for bigger deals next summer.

Of course, it’s more likely New York’s first-, not second-, draft players dictate the team’s future. For the first time in eight seasons, the Knicks will have three players simultaneously on rookie-scale contracts – Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and Knox. That most-modest benchmark is a major accomplishment in New York, where quick fixes have ruled the day.

After waiving Noah, it’s hard to see the Knicks as truly committed to a new, more prudent approach.

 

Offseason grade: C-

Jimmy Butler expects, welcomes boos from Timberwolves fans

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Jimmy Butler is set to start the season playing for the Timberwolves, who open Wednesday in San Antonio then host the Cavaliers on Friday.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic:

Butler has thrived in adversity and chaos. That’s the story of his life. There’s no reason this saga would be any different. In fact, Butler already showed his resolve during a heated practice.

Minnesota fans are well within their rights to boo Butler. He’s not a bad guy, but in the context of sports, he has made himself a villain there by requesting a trade from the Timberwolves.

The best thing Butler can do is embrace the inevitable backlash, which it sounds as if he’s prepared for.

The bigger question: How will Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor respond? He’s reportedly still looking to trade Butler, but an embarrassing fan response at a home game could shake him into pressing harder to get a deal done.