The Boston Celtics finished the 2017 NBA regular season as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Finals. The Cavaliers breezed to the NBA Finals, but the Celtics’ one win in Cleveland proved Brad Stevens’ system can compete with the NBA’s elite with the right players.
Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Amir Johnson are good role players, but if the Celtics want to get past the Cavaliers they’ll need two more star players. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, those two stars could be Paul George and Gordon Hayward.
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.
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.
Since the Celtics need Hayward first, let’s start with him.
Hayward opted out of the final year of his four-year, $63 million contract with the Utah Jazz making him an unrestricted free agent. He’s expecting a max contract, but can’t receive a five-year deal outside of Utah. That makes him eligible for a four-year deal worth roughly $133 million in Boston. His other option is to sign a two-year deal with a player option to try and make an All-NBA team. That gives him super-max eligibility in 2019 or 2020.
The Celtics will have to shed some salary off the current roster to sign Hayward. They currently have $71.4 million, $63 million guaranteed, contracts giving them roughly $30 million in cap space. Right off the bat, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson, and Jonas Jerebko won’t be wearing Celtic green next season. Gerald Green could return on a veteran’s minimum.
This turns Danny Ainge’s attention to Tyler Zeller. Zeller signed two-year, $16 million contract last season, with only $8 million guaranteed. Since he only averaged 3.5 points and 2.4 rebounds per game last season, shedding his salary is a near guarantee. The Celtics already have Jayson Tatum, Ante Zizic, Guerschon Yabusele, Demetrius Jackson and Semi Ojeleye to fill the roster spots.
After the Celtics clear the space, they need to convince Hayward to sign in Boston. The Celtics will be in the Hayward pursuit with the Utah Jazz and Miami Heat. Ainge needs to be aggressive because Hayward puts them in a position to trade for Paul George.
George last week informed the Indiana Pacers he plans on leaving the organization next summer. With only one season left on his current contract, he’s a likely candidate to be traded this offseason. The Celtics are in great position to trade for the All-Star.
The Celtics have potentially six first-round picks these next two drafts. They also only have one player with a cap hit over $9 million. With potential lottery picks from the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers/Sacramento Kings, the Celtics have the assets for the Pacers to start a rebuild.
Indiana would receive a top draft pick in return for George. It’s the other pieces to the trade that makes things tricky.
Ainge already confirmed Jaylen Brown isn’t available. When it comes to Tatum, Ainge is unlikely to shop another early draft pick for one year of Paul George. The Celtics still have the assets to pull off a trade.
Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley are the likely candidates to be traded to Indiana. Crowder is owed $22 million over the next three seasons and Bradley earns less than $9 million next year. Bradley is an unrestricted free agent next season and unlikely he returns to Boston. Losing these two contracts gives the Celtics the space to absorb George’s $19.3 million salary. Another future draft pick would go to Indiana to sweeten the deal.
Acquiring Paul George and Gordon Hayward puts the Celtics in the best position to challenge the Cleveland Cavaliers. Here’s their projected depth chart if these moves were to be made:
PG: Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier, Demetrius Jackson
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Semi Ojeleye
PF: Paul George, Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele, Jordan Mickey
C: Al Horford, Ante Zizic
Can this beat the Cleveland Cavaliers? We’ll have to wait until the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals to find out.