Landing Gordon Hayward was always going to come with a sacrifice for the Boston Celtics and that consequence manifested in trading away Avery Bradley.
The 26-year-old guard was dealt along with a second-round pick to the Detroit Pistons for forward Marcus Morris yesterday.
In order to fit Hayward’s 2017-18 salary of $29,727,900 – as part of a four-year, $128 million maximum contract – under the salary cap, Boston were forced to shed money owed to either Bradley, Jae Crowder or Marcus Smart.
While Crowder appeared to be the odd man out following the addition of forwards Hayward and third overall draft pick Jayson Tatum, his team-friendly contract, which has three years at less than $21 million in total, makes him a valuable, cost-controlled asset.
The decision on who to trade for Celtics general manager Danny Ainge was likely coming down to Smart and Bradley, who are both set to hit free agency next summer along with fellow guard and face of the franchise Isaiah Thomas.
Keeping all three backcourt players at their expected prices was going to be nearly impossible, especially with Thomas likely to receive a massive payday.
Though Bradley has developed into one of the best two-way guards in the league, he’s also in-line for earn a big contract in a year’s time.
Smart, meanwhile, will be a restricted free agent, meaning Boston can match any offer sheet from other teams, potentially curbing his value. At 23, he’s also three years younger than Bradley and similarly imposing on defence, while being a better ball-handler and playmaker, though a much worse shooter.
By trading Bradley, Boston were also able to bring back more salary than they could have by moving Crowder or Smart, with Morris offering more depth in the frontcourt at minimal cost – two years and just over $10m left on his contract.
The twin brother of Washington forward Markieff Morris, Marcus fits the Celtics ethos as a versatile wing capable of defending multiple positions.
Conference imbalance has been a point of contention in the NBA for years and the schism has only widened this offseason to the point the East has never been more inviting.
The poles in both conferences remain entrenched as Golden State’s ‘superteam’ rules the West and LeBron James continues to have a tight grasp on the East. It’s the pecking order and shifting star power behind the top dogs, however, that has thrown the league’s balance further out of whack.
Already this offseason, which is just three weeks old, the West has added three 2017 East All-Stars with Chicago trading Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, Indiana dealing Paul George to Oklahoma City and former Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap signing with Denver.
Depending on Gordon Hayward’s imminent decision on whether to stay in Utah or migrate East to Boston or Miami, the West could potentially retain all their stars as well. That’s not even mentioning Carmelo Anthony’s interest in Houston, which would require him to either waive his no-trade clause or negotiate a buyout.
Of the top 15 players in win shares, only 3 now reside in the East.https://t.co/W4xv6VCMJS— ESPN (@espn) July 2, 2017
More moves are to come, but when the dust settles this summer, the West will be a gauntlet rich with talent and star power, resulting in even more of a slog for teams trying to climb the ladder just to ultimately get ousted by the Warriors.
That begs the question: isn’t the East the ideal conference to be? Logic suggests stars should be clamouring to head East to appease both personal and competitive desires, and yet that hasn’t been the case so far.
Granted, Butler and George didn’t have a say in where they went, but the latter already had plans to return home to the West Coast and join the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency next summer.
Millsap, meanwhile, chose to leave a team that was the fifth seed in the East, for one that didn’t even make the playoffs in the West.
Though that decision was influenced by foresight and teams’ interest in the 32-year-old, it was Millsap’s call nonetheless.
Chris Paul, similarly, could have had his pick of cities to make his new home, yet stayed in the West by facilitating a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Rockets.
After seeing how the weight scales have significantly tilted as of late, the prospect of joining the Celtics or the Heat should look even better to Hayward.
From a winning standpoint, the only true threat in the East is LeBron, and both Boston and Miami could be the second-best team in the conference with the swingman.
Utah, on the other hand, with or without Hayward, aren’t likely to vault Golden State, Houston and San Antonio. And who knows how much-improved squads like Minnesota and Denver will fare.
The odds of a deep playoff run and a Finals appearances are heavily skewed in favour of sides in the East, and the conference could be blown wide open if LeBron heads West next summer, as rumours have suggested is a possibility.
Plus, it’s exponentially easier to be named an All-Star in the shallow East and in turn, receive more personal recognition.
It’s a combination of factors that should be hard to turn down for stars and eventually, it will become too tempting to resist.
There must be something in the air in the Midwest that’s made general managers lose their minds.
Barely a week removed from witnessing the Chicago Bulls get fleeced for Jimmy Butler, the Indiana Pacers decided their Central division rivals shouldn’t have all the fun.
In a shocking move that took the entire NBA by surprise, Indiana pulled the trigger on a trade to ship out Paul George ahead of the start of free agency yesterday, ending their disintegrating relationship with the star swingman.
But it’s where the Pacers sent George and the meagre haul they received in return that’s baffling. After countless rumours linking the All-Star to the Los Angeles Lakers – his preferred destination in free agency next offseason – as well as Boston, Houston and Cleveland, the final destination was a mystery team: Oklahoma City.
Credit to Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who came out of nowhere to bag George for a package of Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and… wait for it… nothing else. That’s right, no draft picks were exchanged. Not even a measly second-rounder.
Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard wasn’t in the most enviable spot. The cornerstone of the franchise had made it known he was bolting next summer for the West Coast, thereby forcing Indiana to trade him despite having little to no leverage.
In a vacuum, netting a fairly young scoring guard and a big man prospect who was a lottery pick just a year ago isn’t a horrendous return for a player that already has one foot out the door. Circumstances (and reports), however, suggest Indiana shunned better offers and, if true, Pritchard may have cut off his nose to spite his face.
Boston, who undoubtedly had the best assets to pull off a deal, reportedly offered Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and three non-Brooklyn or non-Lakers/Sacramento picks. That’s not as appealing for the Pacers as a package centred on next year’s Nets or Lakers selection, but it’s still better than what Pritchard settled for.
That’s not even the point, though. Let’s just say this was the final offer put forth by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge. It’s well known that Boston want to first secure Gordon Hayward’s signature before trading for George – for both salary cap and philosophical reasons.
If you’re Pritchard, why wouldn’t you wait to see where Hayward signs and then, if it is with the Celtics, put the pressure on for a better haul, knowing George would complete their ‘superteam’ blueprint? In the meantime, Oklahoma City’s offer wasn’t going anywhere.
Celtics offer on draft night for Paul George, per league source, was 3 first-round picks (not the Nets pick next... https://t.co/ItE6PTulen— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) July 1, 2017
Instead, Pritchard either was too inept to weigh up his options or made a decision that wasn’t strictly based on getting the most possible for George.
Maybe he was put off by having to abide by Ainge’s timeline or his resistance to put his best assets on the table, or just wanted to exile George to Oklahoma, which is the antithesis of Los Angeles.
The bigger factor, however, may have been sending George out of the Eastern Conference so as not to strengthen a direct competitor.
All of these reasons are terrible and considering the Pacers may as well go into a full rebuild now, doing anything other than accepting the best possible offer is nothing short of a disaster.
It’s a weird way for this saga to end. Indiana didn’t have the foresight to trade George at February’s deadline, before managing to create somewhat of a bidding war among George suitors this summer.
After all that, they came full circle and made their life more difficult than it had to be.