The Boston Celtics met with Gordon Hayward yesterday as they hope to land the All-Star small forward.
Their meeting included a tour of Fenway Park and a video compiled of different stars – across all sports – talking about what it’s like to play in Boston. Although it seems like Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval wasn’t included in the video and that’s a shame because he probably has great things to say about the Beantown experience.
Hayward’s trip to Boston was sandwiched between a meeting with the Miami Heat on Saturday and another one with the Utah Jazz today. He’s expected to make a decision between those three teams on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Danny Ainge is putting a lot of eggs in the Hayward basket. So what if he chooses a different path?
There are still a few attractive options available out there if the Celtics do need to go in a different direction.
A lot of people might not like this idea, but you really shouldn’t have to dismantle your roster to get Anthony at this point. His no trade clause helps in this case, because he can easily say “no thank you” if a crappy team tries to undercut the Celtics offer like the New Orleans Pelicans did when they got DeMarucs Cousins at the trade deadline last season. There’s only a handful of teams that Anthony would go to and you’d have to imagine that he wouldn’t turn down a shot to upgrade a team that’s already coming off a 53 win season and a conference finals appearance.
Jae Crowder would be the first guy to go in such a deal, which should be perfectly okay with everybody on the Boston side of things because Anthony is essentially taking his place anyway. The Celtics also might have to include Kelly Olynyk in a sign-and-trade to help close the gap on salaries and make the cap fit both ways. Olynyk would have to agree to this as well, but such a deal would probably include the New York Knicks overpaying for the Canadian center anyway so he’d probably be more than happy to sign off on this. Draft pick compensation will be the final thing that the two sides need to iron out.
With Johnson, Olynyk and Zeller all out of the picture, Brad Stevens might as well use “small ball” lineups and start Carmelo Anthony at power forward. You could start rookie center Ante Zizic next to Al Horford in the frontcourt, but after watching Stevens start a guy like Gerald Green over Johnson a number of times in the playoffs it’s clear that he isn’t opposed to just starting games small. This lineup would feature Jaylen Brown moving into Crowder’s spot in the starting five. Your bench would feature Zizic, Marcus Smart and reigning third overall pick Jayson Tatum. The Celtics will still have room for a mid-level exception player and Ainge will have to choose wisely because getting a fourth key bench threat could be the difference between getting obliterated by the Cleveland Cavaliers again or putting up a fight.
Ainge would have to act quick here after Hayward turns the team down, because there are a few teams – most notably the Los Angeles Clippers – who seem to be moving in fast on Gallinari. The guy isn’t Gordon Hayward, but he still dropped 18.2 PPG last season for the Denver Nuggets and in a weird way he even fits this current Celtics team a bit better. Hayward played a bit like Isaiah Thomas last year with the Jazz by shouldering most the scoring load on his own, leading to him scoring nine more points per game than his next closest teammate in George Hill. Gallinari did lead Denver in scoring last season, but he never carried that load and he had two teammates – Nikola Jokic and Wilson Chander – finish within three points of him.
Signing Gallinari gives Stevens another team player to just plug into the mix. He’s good enough to be the team’s second offensive option and even take a few shots away from Thomas, but he’s not good enough to make you ever question who is in charge of the offense. Both Hayward and Thomas do play with the ball a lot and dominate the scoring load for their respective teams, which is something that could lead to issues with the two down the road.
With a number of playoff teams in the east – most notably the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers – taking steps back this offseason and nobody else really making a giant leap forward, Boston will still be the biggest challenger to the Cavaliers without making any major moves this summer. Settling for Gallinari might not get them over the hill, but it does continue to inch them closer with nobody seemingly on their tails and you get to keep all your assets in hand to make big splashes going forward.
The Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors both look like they’re going to run the same exact teams from a year ago out on the floor, while very few teams behind them seem to be making big leaps forward themselves. The Philadelphia 76ers will probably be a lot better but like all the young talent that the Minnesota Timberwolves had last year, it should still take time for them to fully develop and become a team that’s ready to make a playoff run. In the end, Hayward signing with the Heat is really the only thing that Boston has to fear in terms of a team jumping up to threaten their spot as the second best team in a weak Eastern Conference.
So why not just hold onto everything and let this all play out? LeBron James and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert are slowing crawling towards soap opera status again and with James able to leave next year, the best move could be to see how that whole saga plays out next summer and then assess what the best course of action is while still holding onto all your assets.
Ainge can fill the roster by getting veterans on one year contracts using the cap space that would have been used to get Hayward. This could include them jumping in on a guy like Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol or Nikola Mirotic to replenish the big men they’ll be losing and you still wind up with a team that wins over 50 games and likely advances to the Eastern Conference Finals. The future will still be just as bright.