This summer Danny Ainge will have a little less than $40 million to spend on the free agent market in an exaggerated NBA landscape where money will fall off of trees. It gives Ainge the most flexibility of anyone in the NBA. While the Lakers may have a little more capital to work with, they have immature players who are developing and are of very little interest to quality free agent(s). Ainge has been masterful in rebuilding a team that once upon a time won a title, but that was going nowhere a few years later. He sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets and then fleeced Mikhail Prokhorov, who at the time said, “the basketball gods are looking down on the Nets.” Foolishly, Prokhorov gave up multiple draft picks, one of which was the 2016 first round pick which Ainge could possibly translate into Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. But what Ainge really wants is a superstar.
The only one out there is Kevin Durant and Durant is leaving open all opportunities from the Warriors to the Celtics to the Spurs. It seems a very far-fetched calculus that Durant would turn down the Spurs and Warriors who have multiple All-Stars who have been champions, and instead, hitch his wagon to the Celtics gritty bunch of Brad Steven-ites. But, Ainge will recruit hard, as if he isn’t a longshot.
Beyond his Durant pitch, Ainge has flexibility to add talent. His team is in the playoffs for the second year in a row, and this year, a possible top-4 seed if the Celtics can pull it off, will be attractive to the win now crowd of gifted players. Ainge can sign someone to a max deal. Or, he can execute trades for his benefit.
Do the Celtics need Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram, if by chance the Nets pick vault the C’s to the top of the draft? Simmons, no. Ingram, yes. Ingram is a Durant in training with an incredible wing span, scintillating shooting from deep, good court vision and athleticism to finish at the rim. No one on the Celtics has the Ingram upside. On the other hand, Simmons has a long way to go to be a complete NBA player. He has no jump shot to speak of, but is a great finisher in transition, an awe-inspiring dunker and can finish with his right or left. He is apathetic on defense to the point that sometimes going through the motions would be a plus. His work ethic has been questioned.
A scenario for the C’s would be to trade Simmons if they could get something of quality in return. Even without Simmons, the Celtics have something other teams want. A player with a non-guaranteed contract: Amir Johnson.
To land Durant, the Warriors need to dump Andre Iguodala. Would the C’s be interested? They’d have to trade Amir Johnson to the Warriors for the Finals MVP. The Warriors would then waive Johnson. Or, they can enact the same scenario with the Clippers for J.J. Redick to enable the Clippers to upgrade with another star. Same with the Spurs. If Duncan retires and Danny Green is off the books, they can pitch Durant as well. But do the Celtics need Danny Green? He doesn’t fit their requirement of star.
Another possibility is trading for Jimmy Butler. It would probably mean giving up Avery Bradley but Butler is a two-way player who is a legitimate All-Star in the league for years to come. Who would have thought that in 3 years the Celtics would be better off as a franchise than the Bulls?
While Danny Ainge can think ahead and plan, the Celtics cannot. They are in a virtually tie for home court in the first round. The Celtics, Heat and Hornets have 30 losses. The Celtics schedule is a killer, a five game road trip to the west with the Warriors, Blazers, Clippers and Kobe’s last game against the C’s. The Celtics last three games are not a walk in the park either. At the Hawks, at home against the Hornets and Heat.
A lot of what happens in free agency starts with what the Celtics do now. Can they get a top-4 seed? Can they execute in the playoffs? It matters for the future. It matters.
photo via llananba