Gordon Hayward is now officially allowed to join the Boston Celtics.
Before the All-Star forward could put pen to paper on his four-year, $128 million contract, the Celtics first needed to clear more cap space. Enter the Detroit Pistons.
Boston has agreed to ship Avery Bradley and a 2019 second-round pick to Detroit for combo wing Marcus Morris, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski. This move saves the Celtics around $3.8 million, leaving them with more than enough to bring in Hayward at his full max. It also changes the complexion of their rotation, while painting an awkward big-picture direction for the Pistons.
And with all these ripple effects in play, you know what that means: It’s grade-the-trade SZN!
Boston Celtics: B+
It almost doesn’t matter what the Celtics received as compensation for Bradley. Their grade gets buoyed by virtue of not sending Jae Crowder to the Utah Jazz.
The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Tony Jones and Aaron Falk reported the Celtics and Jazz were engaging in Hayward sign-and-trade talks that would land Crowder in Utah. Sources told the Boston Herald‘s Mark Murphy a deal was “close” roughly one day later, but ESPN.com’s Adrian Wojnarowski heard shortly thereafter that negotiations entered dormancy.
This in itself is a win for the Celtics. They have no business flipping the NBA‘s best contract—Crowder will earn just $21.9 million over the next three years, with no outs—for what amounts to a player, in Hayward, they’re acquiring anyway.
Dealing Bradley or Marcus Smart was always the more logical play. Both are due significant raises next summer, and the Celtics won’t foot the bill for both while also shelling out whatever it takes to re-sign Isaiah Thomas.
And if they were determined to move Crowder, better offers existed elsewhere. Bradley’s expiring pact secured Morris. The NBA’s best bargain would net something or someone of additional value. Common sense is fun.
The Celtics wisely settled on Bradley. Losing a 2016 All-NBA defender who strokes three-pointers off the catch and sports some touch off the dribble stings, but he figures to be much more expensive than Smart—who, at 6’4″, is two inches taller and (inexplicably) able to match up with certain power forwards.
Replacing Bradley with Morris buys the Celtics time on roster reinvestment. He takes home $5 million this season and $5.4 million in 2018-19 before hitting free agency, at which time Boston will know more about the extension-eligible Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
Morris doesn’t match Bradley’s outside touch, but he has shot 35.8 percent from deep since his second season. His 33.1 percent clip from last year has more to do with Detroit’s strained spacing than anything. He still buried 37.6 percent of his spot-up threes and will get more wide-open gimmes in Boston. His efficiency should spike, even if only to league-average levels.
Things get a little iffy when looking at the Celtics’ depth chart in the aftermath of everything. They now have a host of should-be forwards in Brown, Crowder, Hayward, Morris and Tatum.
All of them will likely soak up time at shooting guard when neither Smart nor Rozier is on the floor. Crowder, Hayward or Morris may even need to start at the 2. Another move could be on the way too, as The Vertical’s Chris Mannix pointed out:
Collecting so many forwards doesn’t make this a bad move. Crowder, Hayward and Morris won’t switch onto point guards as seamlessly, but the Celtics are steering into positionless basketball, opting for a collection of quality wings whose skill sets translate across multiple spots. That’s just fine.
This is how the Celtics can ultimately rival the Golden State Warriors without replicating the star power of the Cleveland Cavaliers. It won’t be with this exact roster. They need to consolidate (or use picks) to acquire another star wing or wait for a breakout from Brown or Tatum. But disregarding traditional designations is the model best suited to dethrone today’s superpowers, and the Celtics, more than anyone, are at the forefront of that chase.
They reeled in Hayward without sacrificing Bradley for nothing, and they’ll be better for it.
Detroit Pistons: C-
The Pistons initially received the consummate cop-out—a big fat B-. But that was when bringing back restricted free agent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope remained a possibility.
Everything changes now that he’s a goner.
Detroit renounced the rights to Caldwell-Pope, allowing him to sign with any team he pleases as an unrestricted free agent, according to Wojnarowski. Bradley’s arrival must now be graded with this departure in mind, and the returns aren’t good.
Remove the Caldwell-Pope arch from the equation, and the Pistons are golden. Bradley is the exact type of player they need—someone who doesn’t need the ball all the time, drills threes and won’t compromise your defense.
None of Detroit’s everyday rotation players last season came close to matching Bradley’s 39 percent success rate from beyond the arc. His efficiency dipped a bit off the catch (37.6 percent), but he gives the Pistons a reason to seek out long balls at all. They placed 26th in three-point-attempt rate and, until now, didn’t have a sniper worthy of upping their volume.
Bradley makes life easier on everyone. Doubling Andre Drummond will no longer be as inconsequential for opposing defenses—provided the skyscraper makes the right pass. Tobias Harris and Reggie Jackson shouldn’t face as many traffic jams on their drives to the basket.
And yet, the Pistons messed up here. Badly. They turned Caldwell-Pope and Morris into Bradley’s expiring contract. That’s not OK. It’s a win for their cap sheet—and nothing else.
It’s also curious given that head coach and president Stan Van Gundy was adamant about re-signing Caldwell-Pope at season’s end.
“We think KCP is a very, very good young player who has been an important part of our core,” he said, per the Detroit News‘ Rod Beard. “He’s 24 years old and still on the upside. He’s a guy we really like and we look forward to his continued development.”
Pending max or near-max offer sheets may have scared the Pistons out of keeping Caldwell-Pope. But that fear is on them. They knew what was coming and hard-capped themselves by signing Langston Galloway to the non-taxpayer’s mid-level exception—in essence committing to keep their payroll below the $125.3 million luxury-tax apron.
Is Caldwell-Pope a max player at this very moment? Not at all. But is Galloway an addition worthy of triggering the hard cap? Again, no. Is this the cost of handing max money to the unfinished project that is Drummond? Maybe.
Caldwell-Pope’s numbers were unspectacular for 2016-17. He averaged 13.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting under 40 percent from the field. But he put down 35 percent of his three-pointers and continued to finish around the rim at a 60-plus percent clip. Van Gundy relied on him more than any non-point guard to orchestrate pick-and-rolls, and he delivered, landing in the 70th percentile of points per possession.
The Pistons have an array of other ball-handling options. Jackson is a fine pick-and-roll initiator when healthy, Harris is good for a few every night and Stanley Johnson remains an intriguing secondary playmaker.
But Caldwell-Pope ranked as the team’s second-most valuable offensive player last year, according to NBA Math, while packing a mostly reliable defensive punch in a role that saw him regularly take on All-NBA scorers. Harris is the only other player who came relatively close to being a wash or net plus on both ends.
Cutting the 24-year-old now represents a series of risks. The Pistons are betting big on Harris and bigger on Johnson. And they’re banking on Bradley staying put at a cheaper rate than whatever Caldwell-Pope is in line for now.
That’s the quite the pivot. Maybe it’s the right one. But this is the kind of about-face that gets people fired should it fail to pan out. And if Van Gundy is going to wager his job, or even just the carte blanche with which he operates, it should be for a move, or a direction, that makes the Pistons appreciably better.
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