Smith said, “LeBron James is going to have a conversation with the Cleveland Cavaliers. They can offer him the most, and they are willing to do anything they can to keep him here, etc. etc., and obviously the wife is going to have a major, major say in things. So you got that going on. He’s going to have a conversation with Boston. He’s going to have a conversation with Philly. Obviously the Lakers. Houston’s in the mix as well. They are going to go after him. Make no mistake about it.”
“So you got Cleveland, Philly, Boston, Houston, LA, Golden State… I don’t think there’s anything Miami can do, but obviously because he was there and brought them two championships. Pat Riley made amends with Dwyane Wade, and you know how LeBron feels about D-Wade. Those are all conversations he’s going to have. Those are the seven teams.”
NBC Pro Basketball Talk: Stephen A. Smith lists Celtics as one of the teams LeBron James will talk with this summer
Let’s start at the top here and say this is Stephen A. Smith talking and while it’s entirely possible that information is being funneled to him, who knows how accurate this is.
Next, if we take this report at face value, it looks like LeBron would be looking at ready-made winning situations as opposed to Los Angeles Lakers-type “could be winning situations with a good young core that he can lift into contender-ship” situations. The obvious caveat there is the Lakers could get closer to “ready-made winner” by signing someone like Paul George.
With all that in mind, let’s, for the sake of discussion, again take this report at face value (reminder: never take reports at face value at this time of year)…
Danny Ainge has to talk to every premium free agent he can to gauge interest and explore ways to improve his team. If the Celtics and LeBron have mutual interest, then the Celtics have to consider the possibility of adding LeBron to the team.
(I’m going to pause here for all the LeBron haters who hate him at all costs to vomit, throw their computers or phones out windows, or generally throw tantrums.)
The obvious question here is “how the hell can you even add LeBron anyway?”
The answer is… well, it’d be very tough. It depends on how much of a discount LeBron is willing to take to move out of Cleveland.
If he pulls a Chris Paul and says to Cleveland “I’m opting into my final year, send me to Boston,” that’s $35 million in a sign-and-trade that would have to be matched. In that instance, one of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, or Al Horford would have to go. I’d guess it’s Kyrie because, well, you know…
The Celtics could do Kyrie, Marcus Morris, Jaylen Brown (and filler.. maybe they guarantee Nader and send him too) plus picks for LeBron. That’d give them a starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, LeBron James, and Al Horford with a bench that begins with Terry Rozier, Semi Ojeleye, and Daniel Theis.
LeBron could decide to take less in a sign-and-trade, which would lessen the overall haul Boston would have to give up… thus leaving the Celtics with a deeper bench. If he took $30 million, then Irving, Brown, Yabu, Nader and picks would do it and the Celtics would keep Morris for the bench (I’m assuming Cleveland would insist on at least one young star in return).
If we really want to get unrealistically crazy, LeBron could just ditch the Cavs altogether, look at Boston as the ideal situation, take the full mid-level exception (just under $9 million) and the only moves Boston would have to make is to make sure they stayed under the hard cap (using the full MLE hard caps teams at the “apron”… which is about $6 million above the tax line). In that case, Jaylen Brown sticks around and comes off the bench and either Morris gets moved for a pick as a salary dump or Smart’s qualifying offer is rescinded.
As you can see, none of those seem likely… but.. there’s a path there for LeBron to become a Celtic. There are others and I’m sure I’ve missed things off the top of my head, but it can be done.
Now… SHOULD it be done? That’s up for debate. You can argue that LeBron’s arrival is essentially taking over franchises like the NBA version of Venom. You can also argue that Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens, and this Celtics ownership group provide a level of stability LeBron hasn’t seen… not even in Miami (mostly because Erik Spoelstra was a new coach and not as well established or highly regarded as Stevens when LeBron joined the team. He’s certainly earned a better reputation now, but he wasn’t that back then).
You can also argue that Boston is fine without LeBron. Hayward and Irving are coming back healthy, Brown and Jayson Tatum are taking big steps forward, and the rest of the squad fits nicely without needing to feed the LeBron beast on every possession. They damn near beat LeBron already and they feel good about beating him wherever he goes in the future. They’re contenders now without him and, because of the stardom in their youth, will still be contenders when he retires.
It’s all valid and up for debate. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out, especially because there are paths to making it happen.
Kawhi Leonard wants out. Should Boston go for him?
Kawhi Leonard wants out from the San Antonio Spurs, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 15, 2018
So, Kawhi Leonard officially wants out of San Antonio.
I have to be honest, my first reaction is to wonder what the hell is wrong with Kawhi, but that’s not really fair. Nothing is 100% universal, and while I’d run through a brick wall for Pop (like right now if he wanted) it’s not for everyone.
Kawhi is under contract for one more season and just over $20 million. He’ll likely opt out of the final year of his deal to become a free agent and sign a max contract somewhere.
San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard has Los Angeles — preferably the Lakers — at the center of his preferences for a trade destination, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
While the player isn’t in the driver’s seat in this situation, he’s certainly leaning over with both hands on the steering wheel. A simple “I’m not signing in [enter your team’s city here] takes a lot of leverage away from San Antonio, who now has to move on from the guy they thought would take the championship baton from Tim Duncan.
Now that he’s not, everyone is flocking to the Trade Machine to plug in names to see if their favorite teams can steal Kawhi on the cheap. Danny Ainge has already tried once at the trade deadline, and chances are he’ll make another call just to see if the price has gone down.
So, of course, the question now is… should the Celtics go for Kawhi Leonard, and how much should they give up for him?
It’s not as simple as “yes, you moron, it’s Kawhi Leonard.” The Celtics are in the enviable position of having a lot of talent and a plan in place to see two separate championship-level tracks in play. Every single personnel decision has to be framed around “how much better does our chance of winning get, and how soon will this team get too expensive to sustain?”
The first question to ask ourselves is how close Jaylen Brown is to becoming a Kawhi Leonard-type player?
Looking strictly at their second seasons, the parallels are strikingly similar. Kawhi was more efficient in similar minutes and he was a slightly better rebounder, but Brown compares very favorably. Obviously, that doesn’t indicate they’ll progress at the same rate, but it’s a good starting point.
If you believe Brown can become Kawhi or even Kawhi-light, then there is strong value in keeping him and letting him develop strictly from a contractual standpoint.
Is one year of Kawhi Leonard such a marked improvement for this Celtics team that it’s worth giving up Brown and whatever other players and assets it would take to get him? Assuming they could get this done without adding Kyrie Irving or another max player (it’s financially possible), is giving up Brown, other players (teams would still have to match salaries), and draft picks worth having at least Kawhi, Al Horford, and Irving all opt out of their contracts at the same time?
The Celtics could certainly send a star out in exchange for Kawhi, though I don’t see the value in that for San Antonio. Trading Kawhi away means hitting the reset button, so young potential stars and picks would be of most value to them. A Smart sign-and-trade plus Brown, Ojeleye and picks could do the trick. It gives them youth, a guard to pair Dejounte Murray, a potential star wing, and some combination of first rounders to draft the next generation of Spurs.
The Celtics would be gutting their bench, but a starting lineup of Kyrie, Tatum, Hayward, Kawhi, and Horford would be a certain Warriors challenger. They’d be good enough that they could get a shot at the decent, ring-chasing veterans willing to play for nothing.
For how long, though, is the question. Are they willing to have four guys make $120 million in 2019-20? Are they willing to commit to four years of, probably, the most expensive team in the league?
Or… do they think they already have a soon-to-be Kawhi clone on their roster and on a rookie contract for two more years? Is Danny Ainge willing to give up his dream of building concurrent contenders on the same roster so the Celtics can make realistic Finals runs for another eight years?
There’s no easy answer to this question because there are valid points on both sides. Kyrie, Hayward, and Horford with second-year Tatum and third-year Brown can be almost as good a starting line up while keeping all those future assets for themselves.
However, there’s no guarantee of Brown’s future growth while Kawhi is a known entity. If you can get a known quantity now and throw a team out there that would actually scare Golden State, why not do it?
I’m admittedly a bad GM. I see value in keeping all of those assets and contending with the team they have. I don’t think people understand how good Hayward really is and how well the current Big 3 will fit together.
But I’m not 100% opposed to the Kawhi idea either. Welcome to another interesting offseason in Boston.
Is Ainge tinkering or overhauling?
All the talk around the Celtics is still about Kyrie Irving’s extension, free agency, and whether Danny Ainge is actually pursuing LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, or just talking and gauging interest. John Karalis discusses in today’s show.
Kyrie’s extension, redemption, & LeBron thoughts
Kyrie Irving held a media availability where he talked about not signing an extension with Boston, a redemption year where he’s talking title, and his thoughts on the LeBron rumors. Plus, John Karalis and Sam “Jam” Packard talk about the perfect LeBron landing spot.