1.) What does the signing of Gordon Hayward do for the Boston Celtics and how does the roster fit around him?
Bryan Toporek: If nothing else, team president Danny Ainge gets to beat back the vultures circling around his head. Ainge came under constant criticism over the past week as underwhelming trade returns for Jimmy Butler and Paul George begged the question of why he hadn’t dipped into his considerable war chest of assets. By signing Hayward outright, however, Ainge managed to add another All-Star-caliber player without having to shed one of his future first-round picks or recent high-lottery selections. Ainge still has work to do—according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the Celtics will need to trade one of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley or Jae Crowder to create the requisite cap space to sign Hayward—but he should go light a cigar and call upon @OldTakesExposed to recirculate the opinions of impatient Boston fans from this past week.
As to Hayward’s fit in the Celtics lineup, I mean… how can you not love it? The Celtics badly needed a second player capable of creating offense both for himself and others, as Crowder, Bradley, Smart and Al Horford are best suited as complementary scoring options. Hayward can give Isaiah Thomas more of a reprieve, as he’s a strong enough ball-handler and passer to shoulder the offensive load at times. Between Hayward and Thomas, the Celtics are now poised to have an All-Star orchestrating their attack for all 48 minutes, reducing the threat of a scoring drought with bench-heavy units. Adding Hayward alone may not be enough for Boston to topple the Cleveland Cavaliers or Golden State Warriors, but it’s a big step in the right direction.
Torkil Bang: Hayward brings a lot to the table. He is an efficient scorer, even at a high volume, which the Celtics need when opponents succeed in shutting down Isaiah Thomas. With Hayward on the floor, you can’t “solve” the Celtics offense like that. And when the offense breaks down, it’s great to have a 1-2 punch.
The obvious choice is for him to replace Jae Crowder in the starting lineup. It might be tempting to keep Crowder and use Hayward as the small ball four, but he’s not the elite rebounder the Celtics need (see Trade, Keep or Drop: The Celtics edition). And the Celtics would still have to compensate by not playing the aggressive defense that is supposed to be one of their biggest strengths.
Hayward is in many ways the perfect player for Boston, but also not the superstar player that moves them all the way up to the Cleveland tier. That next step depends on the big man they pair with Al Horford. And I don’t mean Kelly Olynyk.
Jesse Blanchard: As NBA Twitter was quick to point out, Hayward—a player just on the outside of elite status looking in—isn’t enough in a vacuum to move a team past the LeBron James roadblock in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics were blown out by 44 points in the conference finals, after all, and Hayward scored just 21.9 points per game last season.
But basketball doesn’t work that way. This isn’t like baseball where you take a player’s individual statistics, factor in the difference with the player he’s replacing and use that as the projection moving forward. Adding a significant player can create something greater or less than the sum of its parts.
Hayward might not be on par with Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant or LeBron James, but when you have Isaiah Thomas on the other side and Al Horford’s passing, screening and spacing working as the connective tissue between both creators, it creates ripples that can become waves, drowning defenses.
Horford can run a pick and pop with Thomas on side of the floor and flow directly into a dribble handoff with Hayward. And the smoother an offense moves from one action into the next, the less time a defense has to reset and recover.
Hayward’s ability to work as the primary playmaker or shift into a threatening spot-up shooter and secondary creator—all while being a solid defender capable of covering multiple positions—has the potential to unlock new actions, lineups and skill sets within this Celtics’ roster.
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2.) In consecutive off-seasons, Danny Ainge signed Al Horford and Gordon Hayward alongside Isaiah Thomas—three players at different points in their prime. He has also, up to this point, resisted the opportunity to cash in on a bevy of assets (young players and picks). Should this signing change the calculus on that approach? If so, what kind of deal would you target?
Bryan Toporek: Depending on how much stock you put into the reports that have leaked out in recent days, Ainge may not have been resisting that temptation at all. According to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, the Celtics offered the Brooklyn Nets’ 2017 first-round pick (which wound up being No. 1 overall) along with three first-rounders to the Indiana Pacers for Paul George at the trade deadline. On draft night, they reportedly offered three first-round picks (although not the Nets’ 2018 first-rounder or the Los Angeles Lakers/Sacramento Kings pick they acquired from Philadelphia in the Markelle Fultz trade), Jae Crowder and one other starter, per Goodman. That could all be hogwash, but ESPN’s Zach Lowe suggested there was some truth to it and it wasn’t just Ainge attempting to spin his way out of an asset-hoarding faux pas.
On June 27, Adrian Wojnarowski (then of The Vertical) reported the Celtics were attempting to sequence the signing of Hayward and the trade for George for “salary-cap purposes.” Since Boston already has to give up one of Smart, Bradley or Crowder to sign Hayward outright, it would have made sense to dangle one (or more) of them as trade bait to Indiana. Upon signing Hayward, the Celtics may have felt more pressure to acquire George, too, suggesting Indiana blew its leverage load a few days too early. Without knowing Hayward would sign with them, the Celtics may have been understandably reluctant to give up valuable assets for what could amount to a one-year rental in George.
That said, if the Thunder get off to a slow start and fall out of the playoff race, Ainge should call Sam Presti up and kickstart George trade talks anew, as the fear of him heading to the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent in 2018 could depress Presti’s asking price. The same goes for DeMarcus Cousins and the New Orleans Pelicans, as Boogie could likewise walk as a free agent in 2018. With Thomas, Smart and Bradley all due for new contracts next summer, now’s the time for Ainge to strike and add a fourth All-Star to the mix. Nothing should be off-limits in trade talks—not even that 2018 Nets pick—if it means landing a player of George or Cousins’ caliber.
Torkil Bang: It’s tempting to say the Celtics are now in a position to go all in for a big man to play alongside Horford. The problem is that even if they put together a superstar package with two lottery picks, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Jaylen Brown (or even Terry Rozier), there aren’t any top 10 players who look available. And Ainge should probably wait a while before he starts calling Dennis Lindsey about a trade for Rudy Gobert.
If the Celtics go for anything less than a (potential) top 10 player they start to look an awful lot like the Atlanta Hawks in their 60-win season (2014-2015): Four All-Stars in a weak East, but not enough power to beat Cleveland.
I have to disagree with Bryan on the rental part. Half-season rentals rarely work out and the Celtics’ offense and defense aren’t plug-and-play systems. Ainge should obviously make the call if George or Cousins becomes available, but neither of them is so great a fit with the Celtics that they’re must-haves. George because he would have to play the four most of the time, which isn’t his strength. And Cousins, because coach Stevens, according to Zach Lowe in a podcast last year, doesn’t want to coach him. The latter part might not be the whole truth, but when you look at how miserable the New Orleans Pelicans were with Cousins and Anthony Davis, you still have to wonder whether the Celtics could make it work.
I think Marc Gasol is the best all-in candidate, even though I can’t see a trade that would make both sides happy.
For now, I would trade for a big man on a lower tier, like Tyson Chandler, Jonas Valanciunas or Greg Monroe where it’s easier to match salaries. Or I’d take a risk on Andrew Bogut or Larry Sanders if I can get either for the Mid-Level Exception.
And let’s not forget that some of today’s assets might already be very useful rotation players for the Celtics at a low price.
Jesse Blanchard: The best thing about the Hayward signing is he’s so multifaceted his skill set overlaps other, lesser players. This keeps the Celtics options open for all kinds of talent consolidation in the future on their terms.
If you can trade multiple players with different skills into one whose game overlaps with them, it’s worth attaching an asset to do it.
There is a limited window of time to evaluate this team and Thomas’ place on it at the salary he’ll likely demand, but other teams—DeMarcus Cousins and the New Orleans Pelicans, for example—face the same situations with leverage. If a talent on par with Cousins, Blake Griffin or Anthony Davis becomes available, it makes sense to push the chips to the center of the table. If not, the current core is enough for now with a promise of a bright future.
3.) The Utah Jazz are now a cautionary tale of promise unfulfilled. What lessons are there to learn from this and where do they go from here?
Bryan Toporek: As ESPN’s Tim MacMahon noted, the Jazz made their biggest mistake with Hayward years ago when they couldn’t agree upon an extension with him coming off his rookie-scale deal. Instead, they allowed him to test restricted free agency, so he signed a four-year offer sheet with the Charlotte Hornets that contained a fourth-year player option. At the time, ESPN’s Marc Stein reported Hayward was looking to sign a four-year extension worth $13 million annually, whereas the Jazz wouldn’t go above $12 million. That $1 million annual difference wound up being the difference between Hayward leaving this summer and having him locked in through the 2017-18 season.
The Jazz now face an equally difficult decision with Rodney Hood, who is eligible for an extension between now and the Oct. 31 deadline. With Hayward gone, Hood could break out and emerge as Utah’s primary wing scorer this year, but his injury-ravaged junior campaign may complicate extension negotiations. With cap space drying up and roughly half the league’s teams staring down the luxury tax next year, Hood may not find a big-money offer sheet awaiting him if he does become a restricted free agent. Then again, if the Jazz attempt to lowball him on an extension and he does emerge as a 20-point-per-game scorer this year, his two-way play could earn him a max offer sheet much like Otto Porter just received from the Brooklyn Nets. After losing Hayward, Utah may be incentivized to lock up its young talent as quickly as possible, having learned the ramifications of allowing them to test restricted free agency the hard way.
Beyond that, the Jazz should openly shop Derrick Favors, who only has one year remaining on his contract. A team like the Atlanta Hawks, whose frontcourt is in tatters after trading Dwight Howard and seeing Paul Millsap leave as a free agent, could attempt to buy low on the oft-injured Favors, who doesn’t turn 26 until July 15. Favors is a poor fit next to Rudy Gobert, Utah’s new face of the franchise, so flipping him for anything is preferable to losing him for nothing as a free agent next summer.
Torkil Bang: The Jazz did a great job in building last season’s roster and it’s a damn shame that we’ll never see them compete with that group healthy.
“The promise unfilled” part seems to be the story of the Jazz since Larry H. Miller died in 2009 leaving Jazz ownership to his family. This timeline shows a pattern that should be cautionary:
- In 2010 star Carlos Boozer leaves in free agency in a sign-and-trade to Chicago. At 28, he was still in his early-to-mid prime. Rising star Wes Matthews also leaves in free agency after signing an offer sheet from the Portland Trail Blazers.
- In 2011, star Deron Williams comes at odds with coaching legend Jerry Sloan. Sloan retires and Williams is traded to the Nets shortly after. Assistant coach Tyrone Corbin gets promoted to head coach and that becomes permanent in the summer of 2011. Starter Andrei Kirilenko and sixth man C.J. Miles leave in free agency that summer.
- In 2013, the Jazz let Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson walk in free agency. For Jefferson, it makes sense; but Millsap was still early in his prime and choosing Kanter/Favors over him was a mistake.
- In 2014, the Jazz chose to give Hayward a player option for the 2017-2018 season rather than pay him $1 million more per season during a four-year contract. Corbin is replaced by current coach Quin Snyder.
- In 2017, starting point guard George Hill, still in his prime, denies an extension and enters free agency, which leads Utah to trade for Ricky Rubio. Hayward, who missed out on the chance to become a Designated Player under the new CBA, chooses to leave Utah for Boston in free agency.
That’s just too many players leaving in their primes, and the Jazz apparently gave up on half of them without much of a fight. This wasn’t the case with Hayward, however, and if he didn’t have unfinished business with his college coach, Brad Stevens, he would probably be back.
The Utah organization can’t in any way be called dysfunctional, but there seems to be some disconnect through the years. And if I were in their front office, I would probably look into that.
For now, Rudy Gobert is a formidable defensive centerpiece and will probably enjoy playing pick and roll with Ricky Rubio, even though they have a past as members of opposing national teams with a rivalry that surpasses anything you see in the NBA.
And while they lost Hayward and Hill, there’s no need to tear down the rest of the team. Utah might actually be a trade partner with the Celtics, if Boston needs to trade Jae Crowder. With Gobert, Ingles, Crowder, Rubio and Hood, this could be the new grit and grind team of the West.
Jesse Blanchard: The Jazz did so much right only to have their efforts felled by things outside of their control; mostly in the way of injuries stalling development as a team.
That happens. But their decision to send Hayward out into restricted free agency over $1 million and his decision this summer should be noted by most front offices. Now, smart organizations should flex their leverage when possible—it’s only prudent. But when teams are considering how committed they should be to a player, they must also what alternatives they have.
There was a chance Hayward might not have developed into what he is, but the cap space the organization fretted over likely wouldn’t have been enough to attract a better option to Utah given its own history of luring marquee free agents. Giving Hayward that extra money wouldn’t have cost the Jazz draft picks or much in the way of trade flexibility, so haggling over it seems silly in hindsight.
Another team facing a similar decision is the Philadelphia 76ers, who must extend Joel Embiid soon. His injuries might give the 76ers some leverage to withhold their five-year max, but they should also consider what alternatives they have and whether keeping those options open are worth risking a year of team control. After all, injuries happen at inopportune times and the more a team can control, the better.
Utah has some flexibility and options open. They won’t bottom out without Hayward, but they have shorter window of time to figure out who, if anyone, might develop into a foundational cornerstone alongside Rudy Gobert.
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