As the Boston Celtics look for ways to upgrade their roster coming off a 53-win season, this offseason is a big one for general manager Danny Ainge.
Ainge has been aggressive in the past when he wants to be. He struck deals for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007, coming off a 58-loss season, and that helped the franchise win an NBA championship the following year.
After trading the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA draft to the Philadelphia 76ers, leading to the selection of Jayson Tatum third overall, Ainge is seemingly in a position to play the chips however he wants.
With many options on the table for the Celtics, here are the latest rumors around the team before free agency starts on July 1.
The Hayward-George Plan
Perhaps shooting for another Garnett-Allen summer, the Celtics are reportedly looking to make a play for Gordon Hayward and Paul George.
According to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Celtics have a two-step plan in an effort to add those two stars to help ease the burden on Isaiah Thomas.
“For salary-cap purposes, Boston wants a Hayward commitment before it can finalize a trade for George and secure the most dynamic free-agent coup in franchise history, league sources said,” Wojnarowski wrote.
The Hayward part of the plan doesn’t seem too far-fetched. He’s got a clear connection to the Celtics thanks to head coach Brad Stevens, who was his coach for two years in college at Butler.
Even Hayward’s wife caused fans in Boston to lose their mind with a since-deleted picture on Instagram, via Angie Treasure of 1280 The Zone:
If Hayward is going to leave the Utah Jazz, the Celtics would seem to be the team most likely to pry him away.
That opens the door for George, though here’s where the situation becomes more problematic from Boston’s side.
“While Indiana believes Boston can offer the best possible package, the Pacers may be unwilling to wait until the start of July free agency on Boston’s timetable and could turn toward making a deal elsewhere for George, league sources told The Vertical,” Wojnarowski noted in his report.
The trade market for an All-Star with one year remaining on his contract has already been established when Woj reported Wednesday the Los Angeles Clippers were sending Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets for Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and a top-three protected 2018 first-round pick.
Ainge isn’t the kind of general manager who is going to give up a long-term asset, which includes the Brooklyn Nets‘ first-round pick and a Lakers protected first-round pick next year, for a short-term gain.
Possibly adding Hayward as a free agent certainly makes the Celtics look more appealing to a player like George, who has had to carry the bulk of the load with the Indiana Pacers for years, but it’s not a guarantee an extension would happen.
For now, Celtics fans should put more of their eggs in the Hayward basket with an occasional look at George if he hasn’t been traded before the start of free agency.
Olynyk Man Out
Because the Celtics have reportedly set a high bar for themselves this offseason, there will have to be some cuts made to the current roster if they want to add a lot more salary.
Per Wojnarowski, it is becoming “increasingly likely” that Kelly Olynyk will be an unrestricted free agent this summer to clear cap space for the Celtics.
The Celtics can make Olynyk a qualifying offer of approximately $4.2 million this offseason, and he would be eligible for restricted free agency next summer, per Spotrac.
Stevens has had success using Olynyk off the bench. The 26-year-old has been a solid role player with 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in four seasons with the Celtics, who acquired his draft rights from the Dallas Mavericks after he was selected 13th overall in 2013.
The good news for Olynyk is Wojnarowski added the veteran center will have a “strong market” if the Celtics let him become an unrestricted free agent.
The bad news for the Celtics is the final day to make players a qualifying offer is June 30, meaning they could be stuck in limbo for 24 hours not knowing for sure if they will win the Hayward sweepstakes.
It’s certainly a risk for the Celtics to take, though this is the summer for Ainge and the front office to go all-in on making bold moves. They are still looking up at the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, despite winning more games in the regular season last year.
Standing pat isn’t an option for the Celtics if they want to make a real run at the NBA Finals. Olynyk has been a valuable role player in Boston, but it’s much easier to replace a role player than it is to find a potential star in free agency.
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