Unless you live under a rock you know Russell Westbrook, the most athletic point guard in the history of the NBA, has agreed to a three-year $85 million extension. Although he hasn’t signed anything yet, all signs point to Westbrook signing the deal. Why? Because now the Thunder are exclusively his team. No Durant. No Ibaka. Just run and gun Westbrook and a band of no-names.
Westbrook’s decision leaves a lot of teams wanting more, including the Boston Celtics. Three weeks ago, “competing GM’s” in the NBA said that they expected Westbrook to be traded and that Boston was the most likely landing spot for him. Clearly they were wrong. What then does that mean for Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens, and the boys in Green? They are, once again, without a big time player.
You might say, “no Sam, you idiot, we have Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford who are both All-Stars.” Yes, they are both All-Stars, but ask yourself objectively, can those two carry you past Cleveland… Toronto… Indiana…? The answer to that question is no. The Celtics are in a good position in terms of their picks and the room they have to sign players, but the time was now and Danny Ainge whiffed.
Now they are forced to look forward into either a trade before this season or look to 2017 free agency where there are plenty of big names. What should the Celtics do? Let’s break down both those options.
- Trade for a big man.
Jimmy Butler is off the table. Westbrook is off the table. Hell, most of the guards you could have wanted are now signed (I would have loved Dion Waiters). Although the Celtics don’t have many offensively talented guards, they have a lot of B-/B guards. They have Al Horford and after that a bunch of nothing. Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynk, and Amir Johnson don’t have any outstanding skills. Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel do. If I was Danny Ainge I would look towards Okafor. His ceiling is higher than Noel’s and his offensive skillset is far beyond anyone his age except Karl-Anthony Towns. He averaged 17.5 points, which was second among rookies, and 7.5 rebounds, which was third among rookies, last year. The trade I would propose is this. Marcus Smart and Amir Johnson, who have both under achieved, for Okafor. Yes, financially the trade works out.
If the 76er’s ask for another guard, I give them James Young or Avery Bradley. It would be foolish for them to turn this trade down considering the 76er’s have Joel Embid in their back pocket. Their starting guards were TJ McConnell and Nik Stauskas. Marcus Smart is an upgrade.
Why would they need three big men (Noel, Okafor, Embid) in a guard dominant league? They don’t. Part ways with Marcus Smart and bring in some proven young talent.
- 2017 Free Agency.
If the Celtics sit with the team they have now and lose in the second round of the playoffs, then they are in perfect position to sign someone in a loaded 2017 class of free agents. The down side is that a lot of the guys on the list of potential free agents are too big for the Celtics or have a player option. Kevin Durant has a player option as well as Chris Paul, Gordon Hayward, and Blake Griffin. If I’m the Celtics, I look at Kyle Lowry. Yes, he has a player option too. Will he leave Toronto? Maybe not, but Danny Ainge and Tom Brady were very close to grabbing Durant, who is much more of an asset than Lowry. Could they swing Lowry their way? I think they could if they could bring in a guy like Okafor too. I also look down the list at a guy like Gordon Hayward or Paul Millsap. Both have player options. If the Celtics don’t make a move for Okafor, I wouldn’t be surprised if Millsap gets a call or two from his buddy Al Horford in the off-season. Also, Millsap has to play with Dwight Howard this season and that is rough on anyone. Hayward is a good option too.
The bottom-line is this. The Celtics missed out on their chance for a franchise guy this year. They grabbed Al Horford, which was a good move, and improved their team. Stevens and the Celtics still won’t beat Cleveland. They still won’t beat Toronto and with all the improvements the Pacers made this offseason, I don’t see the Celtics beating them either. A trade for Okafor would be nice and help them now. Waiting until 2017 free agency would be a test of patience for some fans, but a lot can happen between then and now. Will Durant work in Golden State? Maybe not. Will RJ Hunter, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier step up and put up big time production for the Celtics this year? Maybe. Who knows, but barring some major injury Cleveland is the team to beat and nobody can beat them in a seven game series.