The way Danny Ainge runs his team has much to do with this. He’s underwhelmed when expected to make major splashes over the years, such as the signing of Al Horford a year ago or bowing out of the No. 1 pick this year.
Yet the habitual lowballing of expectations doesn’t temper the hype, not when Ainge still has countless assets to dangle in various avenues, with one move perhaps ready to put an Isaiah Thomas-led team that made the Eastern Conference Finals last year over the top.
As usual, the Celtics come up alongside the biggest names on the rumor mill. This year it means plenty of chatter about Gordon Hayward, Paul George and more, so let’s take a look.
Hayward Meeting to Come
Let’s start with Hayward because, well, why not?
Observers will point out, of course, the Celtics might have a distinct advantage over the Heat because of head coach Brad Stevens. Sprinkle in a major need and the chance to play alongside an MVP candidate like Thomas and the order of the meetings doesn’t seem too important.
No hyperbole here—Hayward is everything the Celtics need. He’s a shot creator who averaged 21.9 points on 47.1 percent shooting last year, both career highs in seasons he’s started north of 20 games.
Perhaps most importantly, Hayward was the heart of a 51-win Utah Jazz team in the deep Western Conference. It’s impressive for a 27-year-old forward just hitting his prime, and he’d work wonders next to a facilitator like Thomas.
For the Celtics, this is about crossing the fingers. It’s hard to imagine Hayward doesn’t at least give the team a meet. But keep in mind Miami has Pat Riley, orchestrator of The Decision, not to mention a desirable locale of its own and a budding star like Hassan Whiteside.
Celtics Thinking Conservative (Again)
Hayward is far from the only angle pursed by Ainge and the front office right about now.
Trades also remain a viable option for the team considering the amount of assets accumulated over the years, which naturally leads to conversation about George.
George is predictably on his way out of Indiana over the next few months or so because the front office there will want to get something in return for his surefire departure once he hits free agency in 2018.
The Celtics have a chance to land PG13 via trade now, provided they are willing to meet the asking price. But according to the Boston Herald‘s Steve Bulpett, Ainge has a line he won’t cross: “According to multiple sources, the Celts are willing to deal players and draft picks to the Pacers, while retaining the right to the most critical pieces of their future draft arsenal.”
This might sound like Ainge being Ainge, but most would agree he’s right to take a cautious approach here—the Celtics won’t have a guarantee from George he’ll stick around for the long term, and his links to his hometown Los Angeles Lakers have been endless.
Boston, obviously, isn’t a franchise keen on rentals. And Indiana’s apparent big asking price isn’t helping matters, according to Bulpett‘s colleague, Mark Murphy:
In theory, Indiana might need to lower the asking price the longer this drags on—most teams don’t want to overpay for a possible rental, and those willing to, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers, don’t have the assets necessary to make a deal without bringing in a third team.
Ainge playing the waiting game here might work out, which would be quite the feat when taking the next point into account.
Hunting for a Super Team
Technically speaking, the Celtics have enough ammunition to create a superteam of their own with Thomas in place and so many assets to offer, including via trade and by simply having the cap space to splurge.
The idea the Celtics actually pull the trigger doesn’t seem great given Ainge‘s cautious manner, though.
Until now, at least according to an eye-opening report by The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski: “The Boston Celtics are pursuing an aggressive summer plan of sequencing the signing of free agent Gordon Hayward and relinquishing the assets needed to complete a trade for Paul George, league sources told The Vertical.”
This is trickier than it sounds, even if it does sound like something right out of the NBA 2K series.
For this to work, Boston would need to reel in Hayward first before then proceeding to make a trade for George. It isn’t so simple, though, if the Pacers end up getting a great offer via trade and don’t want to wait on the Celtics.
There is this caveat in the same report, though: “If Boston can’t acquire Hayward, Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin could be a substitute in this free-agency plan to sign a star and then trade for George, league sources told The Vertical.”
In other words, Boston isn’t content to simply nail down one major piece. Griffin is by no means a terrible consolation prize, either, as he’s 28 with at least a few elite years left. Whether the Celtics turn around after adding Griffin and deal for George anyway is hard to say, though it’s something certainly worth keeping in mind.
This comes back to dominoes falling well enough for Ainge to pull multiple triggers and steal the headlines. Hayward has to want to leave an upstart team and ignore others. The Pacers have to perhaps ease off the George asking price and the star forward himself has to assure the Celtics a trip west that almost seems like destiny at this point isn’t going to happen.
Could the above happen? Absolutely. The fact the Celtics are even thinking about it makes them the team to watch in the coming weeks.
All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.
Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com