Fireworks or Pop Rocks; The Celtics Offseason Part 2
Part 2: Boston Reels in a Big Fish
Mere hours before the Independence Day sun set on the East Coast and the world renowned Boston Pops fireworks show commenced, a massive explosion could be felt across New England. Word came in that all-star free agent Gordon Hayward would be donning green next season, garnering both exhilaration and a collective sigh of relief powerful enough to fill the sails of the USS Constitution.
One could hear the chants from the North End to Waltham, Gahdahn Haywahd is coming! After getting shut out of seemingly endless top-tier signings and perceived trade opportunities in the past, the Celtics have finally landed a very big fish.
We need only reflect back to last summer to recall the Kevin Durant sweepstakes. The C's sent a large contingent to the Hamptons to try and woo one of the world's greatest basketball talents. Many, including myself, started to actually believe in the surreal possibility. That was until the sobering news that we didn't have the winning ticket slapped everyone square in the jaw.
We did manage to sign the highly underrated Al Horford from Atlanta in what seemed akin to winning the washer/dryer combo on "The Price is Right".
Let's not forget that the past decade of mostly exciting basketball, in which Boston saw the 17th banner in team history raised to the rafters, was precipitated by the calculated moves of executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge and his inner circle. Ainge, along with managing partner Wyc Grousbeck, made a series of shrewd moves to add Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett ten years ago this month. Before that deal went down, green teamers across the board also wondered where the recently down-trodden franchise was headed.
The basketball ghosts of Garnett and Pierce still fuel the Celtics future in many ways after being traded for a bounty of Brooklyn lottery picks four years ago.
Last season, fans groaned as the C's didn't make a trade deadline deal to bring in another star. In fact, the Celtics didn't make any moves to bolster their glaring need for scoring and rim protection prior to a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Names were thrown around on Boston sports talk radio like Demarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin, Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler, and Andre Drummond , stirring up heated debate among the most loyal followers. Those with the cloudiest of heads even demanded that C's brass go all in on Anthony Davis. This without any indication the all-world freak show talent and owner of the planet's most famous eyebrow was even remotely available.
The NBA Draft in late June then brought a light to Boston never before seen in the modern era. A first overall pick! We then heard confusion and vitriol aimed at Ainge as he traded that selection, and a surefire chance at seemingly top-tier point guard prospect, Markelle Fultz. Ainge also passed on the uber athletic Josh Jackson, for Jason Tatum. A move that has now almost immediately been vindicated among fans after an impressive start for the Duke product in summer league action. Yup, that's how quickly the tide rises and falls on Revere Beach.
The off-season continued with more of the same disappointment. There was Kristaps Porzingis, who inexplicably seemed ripe for the plucking from the Barnum and Bailey front office of the New York Knicks. Then there was talk of Blake Griffin and/or Paul George shipping up to Boston. We just watched as the Clippers backed up the Brinks for Griffin after losing franchise anchor, Chris Paul, to the Rockets.
Surely we would land George, yes? Who could pony up as much as the Celtics to land the dynamic two-way wing? In the first installment of "Fireworks or Pop Rocks," I wrote about how the C's should make any reasonable deal to land George, with a legitimate expectation they would. I think everyone across the NBA landscape is still wondering who drugged the entire front office in Indianapolis after trading PG-13 for two average, albeit young players. Reports still differ drastically on what the Celtics actually offered up to the Pacers for George.
Going after a guy like Hayward was an easy call. Now come the hard decisions for the Celtics front office, and as fans like to think, themselves. With Boston choosing to pass on a young point guard in June's draft, does that mean the Celtics tie themselves to the dynamic, yet height-challenged Isaiah Thomas for years to come? Thomas enters the last year of a team-friendly deal and will surely demand a max payday come next summer, if he stays healthy. The diminutive score-first floor general comes off a career season that ended with a potentially career changing hip injury. Word on Causeway Street is that he won't need surgery and should fully recover, but that type of injury to a guy all about burst is terrifying.
Defensive ace Avery Bradley will likely need to hit the road with his steal of a contract running dry after this season. Will "hoarder Danny" move him at some point for more draft picks, or keep him in the fold for a potential Finals run next June?
Where will Jae Crowder fit on the parquet, if at all? Hayward will likely push the fan favorite to a lessened role this season. Crowder is lauded for his competitive brand of basketball, a trait that may make a smaller contribution difficult to swallow. The same case could be made for the league's best charge taker, and flopper, Marcus Smart. The green must also make physical and financial room for the bevy of young "draft and stash" talent looking to round out the roster. For now, the Celtics need to make some cuts to the salary cap in order to sign Hayward to the four-year, 127-million-dollar deal. Boston has already pulled the qualifying offer on Kelly Olynyk and sent Tyler Zeller packing. The C's may also need to move the contract of Crowder, Smart or Terry Rozier. The question also looms, will the Celtics try and bring in another skilled big man to pair with Horford, or make a go of it as currently constituted?
One truth is clear, with the addition of Gordon Hayward to the squad, the roller coaster of emotions that has plagued Celtics fans is finally grinding to a halt. For the time being, that is. Now that Boston can consider themselves a legit contender to come out of the East, fans are looking to hop on another championship caliber ride.