If you believe in Danny Ainge’s history, then yes, he’s going to shake the NBA up in the coming weeks. I put zero stock in the idea of teams “waiting out” the Cavs and Warriors, especially the Celtics. Ainge was an incredible athlete in high school and college and played in the NBA and he’s a competitor. He’s never followed a traditional path as an executive. Drafting Jaylen Brown 3rd overall last year. Creating the Boston Super Team in 2007 in a move to thwart the NBA’s rising star, LeBron James, and the San Antonio Spurs, whose Big 3 had just won their third title in five years.
And now Ainge is flush with cap space (that he’s got to use), the #1 pick in the draft (plus next year’s #1 pick), a 53-win team, a top three coach in the NBA (Brad Stevens), and two talented young players who aren’t in the NBA, but will be next year (Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic, read about them here).
As Adrian Wojnarowski noted on his podcast, Boston’s top two targets this summer are Gordon Hayward and Blake Griffin. One would be nice; two might vault them ahead of the Cavs as the favorites in the East.
There’s actually a scenario where Ainge could grab both of them.
The Celtics sign Hayward in free agency. A 3-year deal which takes him to age 30, when he can sign another monster deal. That isn’t too crazy of an idea. Even though Hayward has played longer for Quin Snyder (3 years) than he did Brad Stevens (2 years), surely Hayward would love to get out of the West, where it’s extremely loaded and difficult to even make the Conference Finals.
The difficult part is getting Griffin. I can’t imagine a scenario where Boston clears cap space to afford him, but perhaps this is in play: Hey Blake, want to play for a Super Team? Don’t opt out of your contract. We’ll work out your next extension. Yes, he’d be leaving a lot of money on the table – which, given his injury history, is the type of risk no agent would advise – but he’s highly marketable and gets a fresh start, putting “Lob City” behind him.
The Celtics could offer the Clippers the Nets 2018 first-round pick (unprotected, almost certain to be Top 5), Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Tyler Zeller. The salaries match-up, and the Clippers get younger, with their future shooting guard (who is a stud defender) and the 3-and-D small forward they’ve long coveted. They’ll lose JJ Redick and probably Jamal Crawford this offseason, and replace both in one fell swoop with two younger players.
[Bonus, Clippers fans who hate this: You’ve just gotten a lot younger, which could be enticing for LeBron in 2018, assuming the Lakers don’t have that locked down.]
Boston would then be looking at this depth chart in 2017-2018:
PG: I Thomas/T Rozier/D Jackson
SG: Markelle Fultz/Marcus Smart
SF: Gordon Hayward/J Brown
PF: Blake Griffin/Olynyk/Guerschon Yabusele
C: Al Horford/Ante Zizic