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Celtics suffer consequences of Kyrie Irving’s broken pledge

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NBC Sports’ 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 2019 offseason ended in October 2018.

Then, it began a short time later.

After a backward year in Boston, the dust has settled. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are gone. Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter are there.

The Celtics will be fine. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown return and should keep growing. The major holes are filled.

But the busy summer leaves Boston with a much lower ceiling.

It was never supposed to be like this.

Before last season, Kyrie Irving vowed to re-sign. This wasn’t just an impulsive moment at a pep rally. Irving made a whole commercial about the Celtics retiring his number.

Boston looked like an emerging power – the Warriors’ most-likely successor, maybe as soon as last season. The Celtics were talented, young and deep. Irving’s commitment seemed to answer one of the few questions facing the team.

Instead, Boston unraveled. Irving and other Celtics repeatedly found problems with each other. Everyone seemed miserable. A disappointing second-round loss was almost a relief. At least it was over.

In what was once supposed to be a simple offseason for Boston, Irving bolted for the Nets. Horford followed through the exit, to the 76ers. The Celtics replaced those two with Walker and Kanter via free agency.

Irving is better and younger than Walker. Particularly, Irving has proven his deep-playoff bona fides. Though Walker didn’t get those opportunities with the mediocre Hornets, the smaller guard probably can’t step up against tighter defenses the same way.

Kanter is good at what he does inside. But good teams can expose him defensively.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Boston matched its 49 wins from last season. The Celtics’ chemistry should improve significantly, and they’ll play hard in the regular season. But there’s a long way to getting back on the championship-contention path.

Boston will even face challenges with smaller short-term goals. The Celtics lost a couple solid role players in Marcus Morris (signed with Knicks) and Aron Baynes (traded to Suns). Boston also sent Terry Rozier to the Hornets in a double sign-and-trade for Walker. Though Rozier didn’t help the Celtics much last season, they still essentially got nil for a player with some value.*

*Boston had enough cap space to sign Walker outright. Charlotte needed a sign-and-trade to add Rozier.

The Celtics maintained and replenished frontcourt depth with Daniel Theis ($5 million guaranteed this season, $5 million unguaranteed the following season) and Vincent Poirier (two years, $5,125,000).

Boston did well to leave draft night with No. 14 pick Romeo Langford, No. 22 pick Grant Williams, No. 33 pick Carsen Edwards, No. 51 pick Tremont Waters, a future Bucks first-rounder (from Phoenix) and Baynes unloaded. The Celtics also signed undrafted Tacko Fall, whose 7-foot-6 frame at least draws intrigue.

Maybe one of those rookies blossoms. Maybe Gordon Hayward gets back in a groove as he gains distance from his injury. Maybe a future first-rounder from the Grizzlies lands high in a lottery.

There are ways for Boston to build a title contender.

But that seems far more distant than when the Celtics were envisioning an Irving-Anthony Davis pairing. It seems more distant than even when Boston was hoping to keep Horford.

Many teams would love to settle for Walker and Kanter, but the Celtics were in such great shape. They definitely had to settle. Where I’m from, that’s no Plan A.

Offseason grade: C-

Kawhi Leonard, Paul George (Clippers), Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving (Nets) form pop-up super teams

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Five years ago…

The Clippers were embroiled in Donald Sterling’s scandal. There was talk of players boycotting. The whole franchise seemed toxic.

The Nets were entering years of pain. They’d traded several future first-round picks for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who promptly declined and left the team in the basement. Brooklyn looked hopeless.

Suddenly, the Clippers and Nets are the NBA’s freshest powers after major offseason coups. Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers and convinced Paul George to request a trade to accompany him. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined Brooklyn through free agency.

This level of star grouping in a single summer is unprecedented.

A team has added two reigning All-NBA players in the same offseason just three times:

  • 2019 Clippers: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George
  • 2019 Nets: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving
  • 2014 Cavaliers: LeBron James and Kevin Love

In 2014, LeBron returned home to Cleveland and pitched Love on joining him. The Cavs traded for Love with assurances he’d re-sign the following year.

The stories look similar in L.A. and Brooklyn this year.

Leonard wanted to return to his native Southern California, and he got George – another California native – to come along. Durant might resent the notion he was recruited, but playing near New Jersey is a homecoming for Irving. It seems Durant prioritized playing somewhere with Irving.

The big difference between this year’s situation and the Cavaliers in 2014: No incumbent star attracted Leonard, George, Durant and Irving to their new teams. Cleveland had Irving as a draw for LeBron and eventually Love.

The Clippers were starless. The Nets had no All-Star until D'Angelo Russell was named an injury replacement, and they weren’t keepinh him if landing Durant and Irving. (Russell got sent to the Warriors in a double sign-and-trade.)

That’s another way these situations are unprecedented.

Just eight teams have added multiple reigning All-Stars in the same offseason since the NBA-ABA merger. The preceding six already had an incumbent star who helped build the appeal:

Year Team Stars added Incumbent star
2019 LAC Kawhi Leonard, Paul George
2019 BRK Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving
2017 OKC Paul George, Carmelo Anthony Russell Westbrook
2017 BOS Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward Isaiah Thomas*
2014 CLE LeBron James, Kevin Love Kyrie Irving
2012 LAL Dwight Howard, Steve Nash Kobe Bryant
2010 MIA LeBron James, Chris Bosh Dwyane Wade
2007 BOS Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen Paul Pierce**

*The Celtics traded Thomas for Irving, but Thomas was integral in recruiting Hayward in the first place.

**Pierce wasn’t an All-Star in 2007 due to an early injury, but he was an All-Star the five preceding and five following seasons and played like one while healthy later in 2006-07. Not counting him as a star in 2007 would be true only as a technicality.

Yet, Leonard and George chose to be the stars on the Clippers. Durant and Irving chose to be the stars on the Nets. They didn’t follow anyone already in place.

This is an unintended consequence of the shorter contracts owners pushed for. They give players more opportunities to change teams and value new situations like this. This is also a continuation of LeBron exercising his power, first by joining Wade and Bosh on the Heat then by closing up shop in Miami and forming a new super team in small-market Cleveland.

Maybe it can’t happen anywhere. It’s no coincidence the Clippers and Nets play in the two largest markets.

But the Lakers and Knicks are still the most prestigious franchises in Los Angeles and New York. The Clippers an Nets didn’t even win a playoff series or get one star first to lure others.

It’s a new era in the NBA – one where top talent is ready to come together and assert itself.

Wherever that may be.

Report: Interested teams have been warned not to leak Kawhi Leonard info

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LeBron James‘ and Kevin Durant‘s free agencies have taken over the NBA in recent years, with tons of reports about every meeting and consideration. In a quiet year, even Gordon Hayward‘s free agency drew massive attention with frequent updates.

Kawhi Leonard – arguably the NBA’s best player – is an unrestricted free agent.

Why have heard so little about him?

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN2:

Teams have simply been told this, “If information on your presentation gets out, you’re really imperiling your chance to sign Kawhi Leonard.” And so you understand why teams are keeping this so private. And his camp has not allowed that information to really get out.

I was told to not to expect a decision until at least later today, possibly tomorrow on July 4th.

Leonard is somewhere in the process of meeting with the Lakers, Clippers and Raptors. Everyone is waiting with bated breath for his decision.

And we just don’t know much. A rare piece of intel: The Lakers are reportedly optimistic.

Paradoxically, could that make them less likely to get Leonard?

Enes Kanter signing with Celtics for room exception

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Kyrie Irving pledged to re-sign with the Celtics then even made a commercial about getting his No. 11 retired by Boston.

Enes Kanter:

Ian Begley of SNY:

That looks like Kanter will get the room exception, which will be worth $9,772,350 ($4,767,000 next season, $5,005,350 the following season).

I really hope Kanter wears No. 11 for the Celtics. That’d fit his trolling persona so well.

Most importantly to Boston, he helps on the court. The Celtics badly needed a starting center after losing Al Horford to the 76ers and trading Aron Baynes to the Suns.

Kanter is a talented offensive player who’ll score inside while Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward lead the attack from the perimeter. The big question: Will Kanter hold up well enough defensively?

This is a signing worth making. But with Kanter’s defensive issues, consider this another reason (behind Kyrie Irving leaving) the Celtics won’t contend for a title next year despite remaining quite good.

Kawhi Leonard will reportedly wait to make his free agency decision

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Kawhi Leonard is going to ruin your 4th of July. Or make it, depending on who you root for. Book it right now.

The Toronto Raptors superstar has reportedly not met with any teams as free agency opened late on Sunday, and he is preparing to take his time to decide between the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, and Raptors.

It’s not like Leonard hasn’t had a chance to think about where he might play basketball for the past two years. What’s another 72-96 hours?

Still, there’s no impetus for Leonard to sign right now. He’s not required to do so, and the teams looking to add him to their roster will forego any other decisions until he picks a destination.

We’ve seen this happen before. Gordon Hayward waited until everyone in the collective NBA culturesphere was already six Whiteclaws deep on their uncle’s boat to announce via a Players’ Tribune article he was going to the Boston Celtics.

Leonard — because he is an enigma, wrapped in a mystery, shrouded by cornrows — will inevitably do the same. I can feel it in my bones.

Meanwhile, the prospects for who Leonard will play with has shrunk. The Clippers won’t have many options to add next to Leonard, with both Jimmy Butler and Al Horford finding new destinations in the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively.

Leonard’s only other chance to play with mega stars is by joining the Lakers, who have LeBron James and Anthony Davis. That doesn’t feel like the route he’s wanted to go, particularly given how much he seemed to enjoy being the top dog with the Raptors this year.

He would still get the cachet of living in Southern California by joining the Clippers, but have a similar structure as he has with the Raptors right now. L.A. has an excellent front office in place, and he should have real confidence in them building something around him for years to come.

Of course, Leonard could have dragged this whole thing out simply to return to Toronto, which Raptors fans would love. That’s a smart choice at this point given how they, you know, won the NBA Finals this year. But the Raptors will have a hard time staying together over Leonard’s next contract, and that team is getting older.

We still don’t know what Leonard will do even though Sunday was a flurry of activity with big name stars getting huge, max deals. We are once again sitting here on our thumbs, waiting for Leonard to make a decision so we can, finally, mercifully, stop talking about which team he plays for.

All I want to do on the Fourth of July is scarf a bratwurst and eat an amount of potato salad my cardiologist considers “alarming” but I’m going to assume Leonard makes his announcement in a few days when he can be the brightest firework of all.

Looks like we’re going to have to just hang tight until the Board Man decides where he gets paid.