Al Horford

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Report: Celtics had trade arranged that would’ve allowed them to add Kemba Walker, keep Al Horford

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Al Horford decided to leave the Celtics regardless of what Kyrie Irving did in free agency last summer. If Irving stayed, Horford deemed Boston’s chemistry too problematic. If Irving left (which he did for the Nets), Horford saw the Celtics taking a step back. So, Horford signed with the 76ers.

But Boston rebounded surprisingly well from losing Irving, landing Kemba Walker – another star point guard but one whose personality should fit better. Horford still left for Philadelphia, but he said it would have been “totally different” if he knew the Celtics were getting Walker.

Here’s the catch: The cap space Horford vacated was essential in Boston acquiring Walker. The Celtics couldn’t have simply gotten both.

But there were ways. Boston reportedly discussed a triple sign-and-trade with the Nets and Hornets involving Walker, Irving and Terry Rozier. That would’ve allowed the Celtics to acquire Walker while retaining Horford’s Bird Rights.

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

Sources indicated that such talks took place, and while nothing ever got to the point where a final agreement could take place, Brooklyn had a price, and it could have been met.

The big question: What was that price? The Nets certainly weren’t eager to help a division rival. They could’ve signed Irving outright (and did). Aiding Boston would’ve likely required a big sweetener of draft picks.

The Celtics would’ve been better with Horford. His defense will be sorely missed. But he’s also a 33-year-old on an expensive contract. Even if he agreed to return, the cost wouldn’t have have necessarily been worth it.

Acquiring a player via sign-and-trade also hard-capped Boston. There was room to fit Horford under that hard cap, but it would’ve been a tight squeeze. Who knows what other players that arrangement would’ve cost the Celtics?

Perhaps most importantly, Horford still left even after knowing Walker was headed to Boston. Maybe it would’ve been different if Horford knew sooner. It’s unclear what unofficial commitments Horford made privately. But Walker was a done deal to the Celtics before Horford signed with the 76ers. Horford still could’ve re-signed if Boston met Brooklyn’s demands for a triple sign-and-trade.

He didn’t, leaving this as not much more than a fantasy among some Celtics fans.

Al Horford: Last year’s Celtics group ‘just wasn’t going to be able to coexist’ if retained

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Al Horford wants to win a championship.

One way or another, he determined that wouldn’t happen in Boston.

Kyrie Irving was the lynchpin, both central to the Celtics’ terrible chemistry last season but also a highly talented player whose departure lowered their ceiling.

After Irving left for the Nets, Horford signed with the 76ers.

Horford, via Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

“And then I’m looking at my career and myself and the years that I have left. There were certain things that we wanted to accomplish as a team and things that we needed to make that happen. We got all those pieces last year, but it didn’t happen for us, and moving forward I didn’t know if it was going to be a two-year wait or whatever it was going to be. It was that and the financial reasons. When we started with the team trying to come up with things and we couldn’t agree on certain numbers, that’s when I decided, you know what, I’m going to have to open my free agency. I believe not only that I am worth a certain amount of money, but also I want to be in a position that I have a really good opportunity to win now. You know, my window is now. That’s how I feel.”

“I just think that if Kyrie would have stayed, I don’t know if it would have worked. There would have had to be some major changes as far as players, because it was just clear that the group that we had just wasn’t going to be able to coexist.”

I appreciate Horford acknowledging the money factored. So many players deny that. It almost always matters, but it has become uncouth to say. The 76ers guaranteed him $97 million with an additional $5 million if he makes the NBA Finals in the next three years and another $7 million if he wins a championship in that span.

Boston can still have a bright future with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. But those forwards are young. As Horford said, it could take a couple years for the Celtics to fully ramp up. At 33, Horford doesn’t have that kind of time.

Remember, Boston couldn’t have re-signed Horford and acquired Kemba Walker without other major moves. The cap space vacated by Horford was essential to landing Walker. If Horford had re-signed, he would’ve returned to a team far different than the current Celtics.

As for a scenario where Irving stayed, I disagree with Horford that it couldn’t have worked. It probably wouldn’t have worked. But couldn’t have? That’s too strong.  The people involved could have overcome their differences.

Of course, that would have been even more difficult with so many of those players viewing chemistry problems as inevitable. After last year’s trying season, it seems most – if not all – Celtics had given up on trying to get along.

So, the star free agents left, and everyone appears happier for the change in environments.

Report: Pistons, Andre Drummond ‘talking at a business level’ about extension

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In what will be a down free agent market next summer, Andre Drummond could be one of the biggest names available.

Drummond has a $28.8 player option for next season but has all but said he plans to decline it and test the free agent market, where he expects a max contract. Pistons owner Tom Gores has said that keeping Drummond is one of his top priorities.

So what about an extension?

While it’s unlikely, the sides are talking, reports Vince Ellis at the Detroit Free Press.

Gores confirmed the two sides are “talking at a business level,” and two sources told the Free Press that the Pistons have told Drummond’s representatives the franchise would like to retain his services. This comes after multiple sources told the Free Press last month Drummond requested a contract extension at some point during the offseason.

Numbers have been exchanged, but it’s clear what he expects: He would like to sign the second maximum contract of his career.

It’s not going to happen, and it’s all about the money.

An extension would involve Drummond opting into next season at $28.8 million, then the Pistons can add as many as three years onto that, with the first year of the extension starting at $34.5 million. If Drummond opts out he could sign a five-year max extension with the Pistons for $190 million ($38 million a year average) or a four-year deal with another team for $140 million ($35 million a year average). Drummond told Ellis he believes he is a max player, and sounded like a player who wants to sign a max deal.

The question for the Pistons: Do they want to offer Drummond the max? Do they want to be locked into Drummond for years after Blake Griffin‘s contract ends?

Drummond is an All-Star level player who averaged 17.3 points per game last season at 53.3 percent shooting, plus is (arguably) the best rebounder in the NBA, averaging 15.6 per game (he was second in the NBA last season in overall percentage of available rebounds grabbed at 25.4 percent). He averaged a ridiculous 5.4 offensive rebounds a night. Plus, Drummond is a solid paint protector on defense.

However, Drummond does not space the floor and is a throwback — an effective one, but a throwback — as the NBA evolves to space and pace. Teams are hesitant to pay big money for centers right now, a position teams more and more believe they can fill nearly as well for far less money.

Is there a max market for Drummond next summer? This past summer Al Horford signed for four years, $109 million in Philly (Horford is older at 33). Nikola Vucevic re-signed in Orlando for four-years, $100 million, after a career season. Brook Lopez got four-years, $52 million to stay in Milwaukee. If those guys aren’t getting the max, and DeMarcus Cousins is settling a one-year deal for $3.5 million (granted, coming off multiple injuries), would Drummond? That might be a reason for him to consider an extension.

One way or another, Drummond is going to be playing a big role in next summer’s free agent market.

Ranking all 30 NBA teams by pressure entering this season

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Pressure can be external. Pressure can be internal. Pressure can land on players, coaches, general managers and even owners.

Here’s how every team ranks by pressure faced next season:

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Anthony Davis will be a free agent next summer. LeBron James will be a year older. This is the time for the Lakers to capitalize on their championship promise. Consider the internal combustibility of the coaching staff and a massive fan base with high expectations, and pressure comes from every direction.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are good enough to win a title this season, and that always carries pressure. Adding to it: Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a super-max extension next offseason. If Milwaukee doesn’t impress him enough to stay, this contender could fall apart quickly. With a successful season, the Bucks can depend on Antetokounmpo for another half decade. The stakes are incredibly high.

3. Houston Rockets

The Rockets are openly acknowledging their situation: Their championship window is open but will close soon. Houston pushed further in for the present by trading lightly protected distant future first-rounders for Russell Westbrook. The Rockets better quickly optimize the remaining primes of James Harden and Westbrook – two stars who don’t simply mesh. Oh, and Mike D’Antoni’s lame-duck status could add stress on the whole team.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers remade their starting lineup after winning 51 games and pushing the eventual-champion Raptors to seven games in the second round. Philadelphia is not content with merely good accomplishments. The 76ers are going for great. And with young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, why not? Still, plenty of potential pitfalls loom – luxury tax, Embiid’s health, Al Horford‘s aging and Brett Brown’s job security. A strong season could go a long way toward fending off storms.

5. L.A. Clippers

The Clippers opened a two-year window by signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George. But pressure always comes with championship expectations, and no teams has better title odds than the Clippers.

6. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors open a new arena this year, and they’ve bragged about how much revenue it will produce. But will those dollars still come if Golden State falls too far from its dynastic status and fun style? With Kevin Durant gone, Klay Thompson injured and D'Angelo Russell causing fit concerns, expectations have dropped for next season. Still, the Warriors must maintain a certain level of entertainment (of which winning is the most important component) to appease their deep-pocketed fans.

7. Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers are only on the fringe of the championship discussion, but they’re still in it. After getting swept the previous two first rounds, Portland redeemed itself with a run to the Western Conference finals last season. Damian Lillard (four years, super max) and C.J. McCollum (three years, $100 million) were rewarded with large contract extensions. It’s important to maintain the good feelings.

8. Miami Heat

In the five years since LeBron James left, the Heat have made the playoffs only twice and won a series only once. So, they paid substantial costs to get Jimmy Butler. The only way to maintain a winning culture is to win, and Butler can help with that. But for how long? He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has heavy mileage. Still, if he helps enough, Miami could make a splash in 2021 free agency.

9. Orlando Magic

A middling Eastern Conference playoff team doesn’t generate national buzz. But the Magic were so proud of their last season – their best in seven years – they spent big to keep their core intact. That pays off only if the winning continues.

10. Utah Jazz

By trading for Mike Conley and signing Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz showed they’re serious about winning now. Those veterans could have a limited shelf life. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert offer a longer window, but again, there’s more pressure on good teams.

11. Boston Celtics

The Celtics’ championship hopes likely left with Kyrie Irving. But next season is a great opportunity to pin their problems on him. If young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown suddenly get right back on track, that’d reflect poorly on Irving (perhaps somewhat unfairly). With Kemba Walker, Boston could be quite good – just probably with a lower ceiling.

12. Phoenix Suns

Few outsiders expect much from the Suns, but that’s rarely the case inside Phoenix. Owner Robert Sarver is notoriously impatient. The Suns messed around in the draft, but credible point guard Ricky Rubio fills a massive hole, and other veterans are also incoming. Expect Phoenix to improve. Enough to satisfy everyone there? Who knows?

13. Washington Wizards

The Wizards kept Bradley Beal despite a ton of outside trade interest. He sounds happy in Washington for now, but his 2021 unrestricted free agency is rapidly approaching. The Wizards appear headed toward a lousy season. Will they do enough to keep Beal happy? This year could define the next era of Washington basketball.

14. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are the best team this low on the list. But they’re so young, and their core is locked in. It’s always important for good teams to win, but next season is far from make-or-break for Denver.

15. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets’ window opens next year, when Kevin Durant returns from his Achilles injury. In the meantime, Brooklyn would like to celebrate its coup in free agency with improvement next season. That especially shines the spotlight on Kyrie Irving, who gets another crack at leading a young supporting cast. If he fails again, that could expose the Nets to real cultural concerns before they even get rolling.

16. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers got younger and probably slightly worse this summer. That’s an acceptable tradeoff, one that comes with reduced expectations for next season. However, if Indiana falls further than expected, that could create real problems for the people responsible for the disapointment.

17. Detroit Pistons

Ho hum. They’ll likely be mediocre – maybe good enough to make the playoffs, maybe not. Same as always. A looming potential shakeup adds some pressure.

18. Sacramento Kings

The Kings’ breakthrough season prompted them to fill holes with savvy veterans. The hope is everyone coalesces into a winner. But even if Sacramento regresses, most of those new contracts look reasonable. More importantly, the young core still provides long-term hope.

19. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas has its top tandem in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. But both are young, and Porzingis is just coming off injury. There will be patience. The deep Mavericks could play well enough for pressure to build throughout the season.

20. New York Knicks

After striking out in free agency this summer, the Knicks left themselves the ability to open major cap space in 2020 or 2021. For now, the roster is full of spare parts unlikely to win much. The large New York fan base won’t quietly accept yet another losing season. Knicks owner James Dolan, who has frequently shifted between plans, is the big wildcard in the franchise’s overall patience level.

21. Charlotte Hornets

They stink. Their future looks dim. Everyone knows this. Still, losing stresses everyone involved.

22. New Orleans Pelicans

After Anthony Davis’ trade request, the Pelicans got a new lease on life with No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. New lead executive David Griffin adds credibility, and he has already added significant talent around Williamson. If this year goes well, great. If not, that’d be disappointing, but New Orleans still has time to establish a winning identity.

23. Chicago Bulls

Maybe the Bulls are good now. Maybe they’ll be better later. Maybe neither. But there enough avenues for Chicago to show progress that this season doesn’t present much stress. The Bulls could make the playoffs, have their young players show progress and/or tank to add another blue-chipper. It’s unlikely they miss on all three.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers

Near rock bottom, the Cavaliers just want to boost the value of a few key players. Cleveland’s top two young prospects – Collin Sexton and Darius Garland – are both point guards, and that could create complications. Kevin Love is on an expensive contract, and more injuries/aging could sink him as a trade chip. As far as winning, that’s barely a consideration.

25. San Antonio Spurs

The Tim Duncan era was so long and the handover to Kawhi Leonard so seamless, the Spurs still feel like they’re in the honeymoon of their five championships in 16 years (1999-2014). It’d be nice to break the consecutive-playoff-season record. But it’s just hard to get too worked up about this late-stage Gregg Popovich season that holds only modest expectations.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves

New team president Gersson Rosas inherited an inflexible, losing – but talented – team and did little with it. That means little expectation of a quick breakthrough, but a path toward overachieving exists. Well-liked Ryan Saunders getting his interim tag removed is just another reason to view this as a reset year.

27. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are in the thick of rebuilding. It’s too soon to expect much from Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

28. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have such a deep young base – Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter, Cameron Reddish plus a couple extra future first-round picks. Atlanta can patiently let this group grow together without even moderate expectations yet.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City willingly entered rebuilding by trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook for a whole bunch of other teams’ picks. Though tanking themselves could help their long-term outlook, the Thunder can do whatever they want and let those picks roll in from the Clippers (including potentially lucrative ones originally belonging to the Heat) and Rockets. Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams even give Oklahoma City a chance to overachieve.

30. Toronto Raptors

Toronto can happily enjoy its championship – no matter what happens this season. Kawhi Leonard’s exit ended any expectations of a repeat. The Raptors should still be solid, but even if they’re not, that banner will hang forever.

NBA sends memo to teams informing of crackdown on tampering, increased fines

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There were a lot frustrated, ticked-off owners and front office staff at July’s for a Board of Governor’s meeting — and tampering was what had blood boiling. Kyrie Irving (Nets), Kemba Walker (Celtics) and Derrick Rose (Pistons) were top free agent names who appeared to have their next teams — and maybe contracts — lined up before free agency officially began. The Celtics complained the 76ers may have tampered with Al Horford, and there were questions about what steps eventually brought Paul George and Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers.

“It’s pointless, at the end of the day, to have rules that we can’t enforce,” is how NBA Commissioner Adam Silver put it after that meeting.

Now the league is warning teams of a crackdown on tampering — steeply increased fines and tougher enforcement — in a memo to teams that Shams Charania of The Athletic saw.

 

The owners will have to vote on this at their September 20 meeting, Charania reports. Undoubtedly it will pass.

The memo says the crackdown is in response to the “widespread perception that many of the league’s rules are being broken on a frequent basis” about tampering and salary cap issues, according to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.

It all sounds tough on paper.

The question isn’t the new rules but how they are enforced. To this point, the league has had a hands-off approach to player-to-player conversations and recruiting, how tightly do they want to enforce it now? More importantly, how do they implement it? Take players phones to monitor texts? (Most player conversations are not about “work” or recruiting, it’s about the things you text your friends about.) What about when players go to dinners/clubs together and talk? Spencer Dinwiddie said he started to pitch the idea of Irving coming to the Nets in a business class the two took together, how exactly does the league learn about this and stop it?

Most front offices and agents do a very good job of plausible deniability — there are not traceable emails or texts making tampering challenging to prove. Things are not done formally, it’s through back channels and casual conversations. The league is talking tough, but enforcement is going to be another issue.