Over the weekend, Yahoo Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted, “Here’s something that remains unchanged: Danny Ainge‘s relentless pursuit of creative ways to engage Minnesota on a Kevin Love deal.”
It should come as no surprise that Ainge is continuing to target Love. After all, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck promised fireworks this summer, and a Love connection is the only big splash left to make. Go ahead, look at the available free agents at point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward and center.
News flash: LeBron James, Chris Bosh and/or Carmelo Anthony aren’t coming to Boston. The Suns, Pistons, Rockets and Jazz are all respectively expected to match offers for restricted free agents Eric Bledsoe, Greg Monroe, Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward. Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kyle Lowry and Marcin Gortat are all off the board. Lance Stephenson, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Paul Pierce are rumored elsewhere. That leaves one top-20 player in Tom Ziller’s great free agent rankings: 5-foot-9 point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Considering he plays the same position as Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart, Thomas doesn’t exactly qualify as fireworks. Now, look at the unrestricted free agents available in 2015. The two biggest names: Rondo and Love. If Ainge doesn’t pair them now, how confident are you he can do so when they hit the open market next summer? If nothing else, the first week of July has proven high-profile free agents have no interest in the Celtics. Re-signing Rondo and Love would be a different story, since the C’s could offer significantly more money.
In other words, the C’s only real shot to compete in the near future is pairing Rondo and Love. This is a star’s league, and those are the only two that set foot in Boston this summer. Other pieces will follow. Otherwise, Ainge might as well trade Rondo and start from scratch, because the Celtics won’t be contending for quite some time.
Ainge will exhaust all options to acquire Love, including every attempt to involve other teams and satisfy Minnesota’s desire to land a legitimate player in return. Since we can get creative, too, here’s one such option he could try.
Kevin Love ($15.7 million in 2014-15, $16.7M player option in 2015-16)
Gordon Hayward (restricted free agent to be signed for double-digit millions annually)
Kevin Martin ($6.8M in 2014-15, $7.1M in 2015-16, $7.4M player option in 2016-17)
While saddled with Martin’s salary for the next three seasons, the C’s land both Love and Hayward. Fireworks.
Derrick Favors ($13.0M in 2014-15, $12.0M in 2015-16, $11.1M in 2016-17, $12.0M in 2017-18)
Trey Burke ($2.6M in 2014-15, $2.7M in 2015-16, $3.4M in 2016-17, $4.6M qualifying offer in 2017-18)
Jeff Green ($9.2M in 2014-15, $9.2M player option in 2015-16)
Avery Bradley (restricted free agent to be signed for 4 years, $32 million)
2015 first-round pick (Clippers)
While ridding themselves of Martin’s salary, Minnesota acquires a replacement for Love and a backcourt for the future while assuming Green’s salary (and production) in exchange for a first-round pick next summer.
Marcus Smart (rookie scale contract can be traded 30 days from signing)
Jared Sullinger ($1.4M in 2014-15, $2.3M in 2015-16, $3.3M qualifying offer in 2017-18)
Brandon Bass ($6.9M in 2014-15)
Keith Bogans ($5.3M non-guaranteed in 2014-15)
2015 first-round pick (Celtics)
2016 first-round pick (Nets)
On the surface, Utah is the real loser, parting ways with three of their most productive players this past season. However, the Jazz upgrade from Burke to Smart alongside Dante Exum, cementing a future backcourt worth building around. They also replace Favors with Sullinger while freeing up $10 million upon cutting Bogans and either letting Bass walk or dealing his expiring contract again at the deadline. Of course, Utah also gets a pair of first-round picks, giving them two apiece for the next three summers. An under-26 starting lineup of Smart, Exum, Jeremy Evans, Sullinger and Enes Kanter with six first-round picks through 2017 is a foundation for future success.
In essence, the Celtics trade Smart, Bradley, Green, Sullinger, Bass, Bogans and three first-round picks for Love and Hayward — a handful of quarters for a pair of dollars. Eating Martin’s contract, losing Bradley’s defense and parting with both 2015 first-round picks are tough pills to swallow, but a triumvirate of Rondo, Love and Hayward makes the Celtics one of the best four teams in the East this season once the roster fills out around them.
This is a pipe dream, probably, considering Bradley and Hayward would have to agree to sign-and-trade deals before waiting a month until Smart’s rookie contract becomes eligible to be dealt. Still, this is the type of creativity required of Ainge when searching for a third team to pull into a potential Love deal. Every day there’s a new idea.