Will Kevin Durant (35) and Avery Bradley be teammates next season? (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)
Remember the pursuit of Manny Ramirez? How about the ill-fated chase for Alex Rodriguez? Think back when Zdeno Chara was on the market in 2006. The Patriots and Darrelle Revis married for one season, and it yielded New England’s fourth Super Bowl title.
Well the Celtics’ dream of putting Kevin Durant in green next season has the potential of eclipsing all of those in terms of media focus and civic involvement.
Danny Ainge knows, just from their reaction to the lack of trade on draft night, that the entire fan base is in a frenzy. The Celtics are in full-in mode to get their guy who could change the fortunes of the franchise for the next decade.
This is like the summer of 2007. They not only brought in Ray Allen on draft night in the trade for the draft pick that netted Jeff Green, they got Kevin Garnett in a trade at the end of July. There is the draft. There are trades and then there’s free agency. All three factor in Ainge’s roster building.
This summer could be similar to ’07 as Kevin Durant and Kevin Love are potentially on the radar (that is, if Durant wants Love). Roc Nation Sports, Durant’s agency, is not only calling the shots on Durant’s deal, they are sending the message that Durant wants a full supporting cast around him that will immediately compete for his first NBA ring.
The Celtics have a lot going in their favor. They have tradition, a red-hot young coaching talent, loads of cap space and something L.A., Golden State, Miami, San Antonio and Oklahoma City don’t have. Civic pride and brotherhood among the pro sports teams. That’s why Rob Gronkowski, Bill Belichick and David Ortiz showing up courtside really matter. The Celtics should give Gronk, Belichick, Ortiz and even Tom Brady a call to reach out to Durant. Isaiah Thomas continued this effort on Saturday.
At $27.685 million committed to salaries for next season, the Celtics are in remarkably good shape to attack free agency. They not only are a young team coming off back-to-back playoff seasons, they have more cap space than any team that made the playoffs in last season. As a matter of fact, only the Sixers and Lakers, the two worst teams in the NBA last season, have less money committed to salary for the 2016-17 season.
Of the teams pursuing Durant (Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Celtics, Thunder, Heat), only the Celtics could pull off two max-deal free agent signings. There’s Durant, Dwight Howard, DeMar DeRozan, Luol Deng and Al Horford among others.
“We’ve been thinking about free agency for a while,” Ainge said Friday as the team was introducing five of the six draft picks in Waltham. “So, yeah, we’re already into free agency with our planning and preparation.”
Part of the reason there was not much player movement on Thursday at the draft is pending free agency that every team must consider for next season.
“It’s all part of the picture. So [Thursday], you didn’t see very many transactions, trades involving players,” Ainge explains. “There were a few. But no huge big-name players. A few solid role players that were traded. Those could have major impact on flexibility. So we had opportunities to do some trades but they weren’t significant enough of an upgrade to our franchise to do and we felt like it was more important to preserve flexibility this summer.”
Naturally, Ainge cannot speak to his specific desires in terms of talent but he did hint the Celtics would be active.
“I can’t talk about free agency,” Ainge added. “I mean, good players. We need help. We need some good players. And we have a lot of really good players. But, yeah, some more good players.”
Brad Stevens was a little more specific.
“The biggest needs as we look at it are continuing to grow ourselves on the offensive end, and what we decide to do with regard to protecting the rim,” Stevens said. “You can protect the rim in a couple of different ways. No. 1 is you have somebody in there to protect it. No. 2 is you don’t let the ball get there, and you need versatile guys at a bunch of different positions. You need to keep guys out of rotations. If you look at our team right now, No. 2 would be more of the option.”
In other words, just because veteran roster improvement didn’t happen Thursday doesn’t mean it won’t happen later in the summer.
“I think that it’s harder for fans,” Ainge said. “I think that I’m probably harder on myself than anybody else could be. But I think it’s hard for fans because they don’t see and they don’t know what is real. There’s so much talk about it on TV shows and radio talk shows and so forth that they don’t see what’s really happening.
“I’m a firm believer that, if all of you were sitting in my office and listening to our conversations, there might be 5 or 10 percent disagreement if this deal is good or not, but 90 percent I’m pretty confident would say, ‘No, you can’t do that.’
“There’s a lot of talk about trades at this time of year and there’s fewer trades made at this time, and a lot of reason is preparation for free agency and cap flexibility and a lot of trade being proposed and the trades that were even being done are capable of more, they potentially prohibit you from doing your plans in free agency and so there were a lot of calls. Brad’s working hard. We’re on the phone and talking and he’s bringing me like two or three typewritten sheets of paper on what he thinks. His involvement is huge in this process and his input is very well-valued as all his coaches are.”
No deal beats bad deal: There’s another aspect of Thursday that shouldn’t be underplayed. While Ainge couldn’t pull off a trade, he also didn’t risk a hasty move that would turn into a bad deal. No deal is better than a bad one.
“Absolutely. No question. We’re not afraid to make deals. If anybody knows the Celtics right now, they know we’re not afraid to make deals,” Ainge said. “But we don’t want to make bad deals. Sure.”
What was interesting listening to Ainge on Friday talk about trades is that these big deals sometimes take years, not months, to consummate. Ainge brought up one example to make his case.
“It’s not because we’re not trying, it’s not because we’re turning down or we overvalue our players or any of that stuff. It’s because you need a partner. I’ve said this many times before: I tried three years to get KG before we got him. It just takes the right time and the right place and have a partner that wants to do a deal.”
Just so happens, reports of Ainge’s desires for Love have existed for just about the same amount of time. He’s reportedly inquired as to the availability on several occasions. Safe to assume, the calls will be made again, if they haven’t been already, to Cleveland.
And just because the Celtics didn’t acquire Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor on trade night doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the next couple of months. It’s just that now the focus must be on getting the prize free agent. As long as the Celtics are in the KD sweepstakes, everything else is pretty much on hold. Maybe that played a bigger role in Ainge’s hesitation to pull the trigger Thursday with Philadelphia than anything else.
Big Men on Campus: In introducing five of his six picks, Ainge made a big point Friday of the physical nature of the new rookies. In the press conference, Ainge gave props to CSNNE Celtics analyst Brian Scalabrine.
“I want to give props to Scal. Scal was the only one of you media people that I heard, and I don’t pay attention to you all the time, but occasionally I’m listening, and Scal made a comment about in the draft what an advantage it is to be able to play right away physically in the NBA,” Ainge said. “But if you look down this row right here, he is playing in a man’s league. Look at every one of these guys, they are grown men that can play physically in the NBA.”
To wit, Jaylen Brown (6-foot-7, 225 pounds), Guerschon Yabusele (6-7, 275 pounds), Ante Zizic (6-11, 255 pounds), Ben Bentil (6-9, 235 pounds).
“I think instead of having to get their bodies ready and get them emotionally and mentally prepared and learning to live life and show up on time and get a driver’s license and buy groceries, this things sound simple and silly but all these guys right here are capable,” Ainge added. “Wherever they go and wherever their journeys take them, they’re ready to play, and I think that gives them an advantage in starting their careers.”
“That’s going to play a role in deciding on anybody, and it’s a hard league to play in from a physical standpoint,” Stevens added. “There’s different attributes we throw out to people and different buzz words that we give people, but there’s a minimum level of athletic ability you have to have to be able to function at this level. That’s a big deal. Strength is never a negative. You have a ton of guys sitting in front of you who are strong guys. There’s a good group in front of you, and they’ll continue to work hard on their bodies. That’s something Jaylen clearly does. He works hard on his body. When he came through here, even noticing his nutrition choices, what he would eat post-workout, you know he puts a lot of time and thought into taking care of himself.”
Eurostash: Ainge acknowledged Friday that there’s no way all six picks will be on the roster come October when the team is forming its final roster. This means, of course, that it’s likely the Celtics will buy out the existing contracts of Yabusele (Rouen – France) and Zizic (KK Cibona – Croatia) and then let them sign new deals overseas while the Celtics keep their NBA rights.
“It’s complicated, but yes, we have had initial discussions with their representatives,” Ainge said. “And we have not concluded anything yet. We’re still in that discussion and we’re not sure on some things.”
It should be noted that not all Eurostash players are international. Second-rounders like Ben Bentil (Providence), Abdel Nader (Iowa State) and Demetrius Jackson (Notre Dame, the only player not in attendance Friday) could wind up in Europe.
Why is it so complicated?
As allowed by the collective bargaining agreement, when a drafted NBA player stays in Europe, the team that drafted him retains his NBA rights but does not pay him. The European club does. The NBA team can bring him back at any time by signing the prospect to a rookie deal. If he’s a first-round pick (as is the case with both), the salary schedule is already set, based on the pick.
One thing is clear, both Yabusele and Zizic feel they could play in the NBA right now, if the situation presented itself.
“I think I’m ready right now so we’ll see,” Zizic said. “First I will seriously talk with the team and then see what they want. And we’re going to make a deal.”
“I feel like a man. I can’t say it but yeah, I’m ready for the NBA,” Yabusele said. “I really think I just work on my body every time, try to be the best, and try to move the best.”
The Kevin Durant basketball shoe from Nike. (NIKE)
Isaiah Thomas is not taking no for an answer.
The Celtics dynamic and personable point guard took to Twitter Saturday to continue his marketing effort to sell Kevin Durant on why he should come to Boston.
In a tweet, Thomas indicated he was ready to go out and get a new pair of shoes, “I need me a pair of those new @KDTrey5. They look comfortable lol”
The Nike “KD 8 Elite” basketball shoes go for roughly $200.
This, of course, is not the first time Thomas has taken to social media to woo the would-be free agent. Just an hour after the Warriors eliminated Durant and the Thunder in Game 7 of the Western finals on May 30, Thomas tweeted a picture of a Shamrock with the number ’35’ next to it.
Durant would not be able to wear that number with the Celtics, as it has been retired to honor the late Reggie Lewis. Thomas, perhaps realizing this, removed the tweet later that night.
Thomas had no need to remove Saturday tweet, as it is just the latest effort in a growing move to recruit Durant to Boston. The superstar has agreed, through his agency Roc Nation Sports, to meet with the Celtics and four other teams (Golden State, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Miami) before choosing his final destination.
A week after his Shamrock tweet, Thomas said he would be “all-in” in an effort to bring his friend to Boston.
Thomas is hardly alone among Boston athletes who would love to see Durant in Celtic green. Hartford native and lifelong Celtics fan Terrance Knighton took time after a Patriots practice in mini-camp to express a desire to reach out to Durant.
I need me a pair of those new @KDTrey5 they look comfortable lol
WALTHAM – Danny Ainge and Wyc Grousbeck had very different takes on what happened Thursday.
Grousbeck, as the team’s principal owner, addressed the angry and disgruntled fan base after the Celtics drafted Jaylen Brown. He then told the fans and the media that the team was never close to pulling off a trade that many had hung their hopes.
The owner then acknowledged that Ainge, the president of basketball operations, would be in a much better position to explain why the team did what it did.
Ainge didn’t come out because he was getting ready for two more first-round picks. He chose Guerschon Yabusele at 16 and Ante Zizic at 23, two players that could wind up overseas next season. But Ainge said after the draft that there were many discussions about trading the third pick, just nothing that the Celtics could accept.
On Friday, Ainge made two things clear: He felt bad for Grousbeck having to take the heat for the lack of trade and don’t take out the frustration on Jaylen Brown.
“The only thing I felt bad about that is that Wyc went out there,” Ainge said. “If I would have known that or if I wasn’t in the middle of something, I should have been the one that went out there and I would have been happy to and I would have enjoyed it. It’s what I love about Boston. When you’re throwing a no-hitter they appreciate it. And when you get rocked in the second inning, they boo you.
“The only thing about that is I love the passion of Boston fans, I love that they feel and they care. I truly believe that. I never take that stuff personal because there’s so many differing views. I think that that’s what makes Boston fun. The only thing that I don’t like about that is that it’s a reflection of Jaylen.
“Instead of a reflection of me — like, ‘We don’t like YOUR choice.’ That’s like OK to boo me. But give him a chance, would be the only thing I would say. Like, let’s see. Let’s wait a year then boo me. Let’s not boo the kid when his name is announced. As far as criticism in my position, I expect it, I’m used to it, and I don’t think you guys can offend me. You can try, but I don’t think it’ll work.
“I think everyone wants a deal. I think everyone expects a deal. We’ve been working really hard on trying to get a deal and do something significant. But we just haven’t been able to do it yet. And it’s not because we’re not trying, it’s not because we’re turning down or we overvalue our players or any of that stuff. It’s because you need a partner. I’ve said this many times before: I tried three years to get KG before we got him. It just takes the right time and the right place and have a partner that wants to do a deal.”
Ainge knows what the expectations are for the Celtics heading into next season. He realizes the fan base has seen a young team with a bright coach go from 25 t0 40 to 48 wins. Now, what’s next?
“Maybe the public expects more — no, I think that’s pretty obvious,” Ainge said. “But not more than what we feel. I want to do a deal. But it’s my job to oversee the Celtics and not do what makes me look really good and do something that’s instant gratification. It’s like we’re trying to build something. It’s a big responsibility and I take it very seriously. We’re going to keep trying to do bigger deals that will people cheer instead of boo.”
The Celtics may not be frontrunners in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, but they’ll at least get an audience.
According to Yahoo NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, the Celtics and other interested clubs will travel to a central location to meet with Durant and his representatives from Roc Nation Sports starting on July 1.
The other teams that Durant will meet are the Warriors, Clippers, Heat, Spurs and his incumbent Thunder, according to the report.
Oklahoma City remains the favorite to retain Durant, since it can offer him a two-year deal with an opt-out that makes him a free agent again next offseason. The Warriors are also considered strong contenders if he wants to join Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to build the league’s next super team.
But the Celtics at least have a seat at the table, which is more than interested clubs like the Lakers, Nuggets, Knicks, Rockets, and Durant’s hometown Wizards can say. The C’s can sell Durant on their cap space, as well as the presence of coach Brad Stevens on one of the better up-and-coming teams in the relatively weak East, which could provide a clearer path to the Finals than the loaded West, even with the defending champions from Cleveland and LeBron James standing in the way.
Durant, 27, is a seven-time All-Star and former MVP who led the Thunder within a win of their second NBA Finals this season. He averaged just over 28 points a game.
According to the Yahoo report, he’d like to decide on his future by July 9, when he begins a publicity tour in the Far East.