The Summer of Danny Ainge
FILE - In this May 17, 2016, file photo, Boston Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge walks past NBA Championship banners as he prepares to address reporters at the team's training facility in Waltham, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
Gordon Hayward, Utah’s golden boy and All-Star forward has reunited with his former college Coach Brad Stevens in Boston.
That has so far been the headline of Boston’s offseason, which some fans and pundits have called the Summer of Ainge – a summer where the team that had the most assets in the league could have potentially made the biggest offseason splash.
Don’t get me wrong, landing Hayward was a big offseason move for the Celtics. He was Utah’s All-Star forward, a homegrown talent drafted ninth overall. An unrestricted free agent, the Jazz offered him a five-year, $172-million deal (other squads were limited to four years, $128 million). He’s well worth that, coming off the best season of his career, while arguably among the league’s top 20 players.
Getting Hayward to Boston was something that had been talked about, and seemed more probable than not, for some time already. The connection with Stevens, his old Butler coach with whom he shared some unfinished championship business, was too difficult to pass up. Moreover, the road to the Finals in the East -- from which an exodus of NBA stars happened this offseason -- was also much, much easier. For a 27-year old superstar like Hayward who wanted to contend for a championship, playing in the East, -- where Boston’s 53-win season last year was enough to get them first seed and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals – probably seemed like a cakewalk compared to the Wild Wild West, where majority of the NBA’s elite now reside.
Hayward will also have no problem fitting into Brad Stevens’ fast-paced motion offense. He’ll immediately be their second-best scoring option, one that could complement Isaiah Thomas, especially come playoff time where we saw defenses really tune in to stop IT. Hayward is one of the league’s most well-rounded scorers, who ranked in the top 80th percentile in scoring either via pick-and-roll, spot-up, off-screen, in transition and through cuts. He also won’t take away ball touches from Isaiah as he doesn’t need to dominate the rock to score. In fact, his 27.6 percent usage rate was one of the lowest among players that scored 20 points per game last season.
Defensively, he’s also one of the most underrated wing defenders in the league. While it’s true that the loss of Bradley will sting, as he was arguably one of their best perimeter defenders who helped mask the defensive weaknesses of IT, Hayward is still a much bigger wing defender who can match up with his Eastern Conference counterparts – think LeBron James and the Greek Freak.
In order to make Hayward’s salary fit into Boston’s cap, the C’s had to trade one of the core guys, Avery Bradley – who had been a revelation offensively the past season – for Marcus Morris of the Pistons, who had a friendlier contract. They also had to let go of centers Tyler Zeller, and Kelly Olynyk – who starred in a playoff game against the Wizards – and forward Jonas Jerebko to make room for Hayward’s $29.7 million first year salary. Make no mistake about it though, adding Hayward was definitely an upgrade to Boston’s starting unit.
Nonetheless, with all the assets that the Celtics had prior to Draft Night – the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, multiple first round picks in next year’s and the succeeding year’s drafts, and a multitude of trade-worthy assets – some Celtic fans and basketball pundits still think of what could have been a league-altering offseason. Had the Celtics kept the first pick and taken Markelle Fultz first overall -- a playmaker who some feel was more ready to go than the player they actually selected, Jayson Tatum, despite the latter being a summer league stud so far -- they could have had a cornerstone franchise point guard for the post-Isaiah Thomas era.
And, probably the biggest “what if” of many Celtics fans was the scenario that they could have gotten Paul George, had they been willing to send some of their valuable assets Indiana’s way. Of course, with Paul George already declaring that he’d end up in LA after next season, one could understand why Danny Ainge would be reluctant to pull the trigger on trading valuable assets for what could be one year rental. Still, a Big 3 of Isaiah Thomas, Paul George, and Al Horford, would on paper look more formidable than the Thomas-Hayward-Horford triumvirate.
Ultimately, the Celtics GM has stuck to the safer, higher percentage bets; he’s kept his cards well hidden and continued to gather assets. With the lineup he has now, he’ll still likely make it to the conference finals. But it may hardly be enough to get past Cleveland, much less Golden State. Jury is therefore still out on the Summer of Ainge. Who knows, he may even have more moves in the pipeline.
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