With all the rumors beginning to fly around, I thought I'd add some perspective into the type of thought process that goes into planning out potential scenarios when it comes to building an organization. The situation I outline below is not to be considered low-risk or "likely" based on the number of variables beyond the organizations control.
However, it is "plausible" and has merit based on the real-life market situations that factor into game planning based on calculated risk. Ainge has been known as a "gambler" who is not afraid to take risks, so I can see the scenario below as being "on the list" in some way shape or form. I don't think Ainge is careless enough to mitigate his exposure to this type of risk by being idle and waiting for the "long shot" to come in if an alternative plan presents itself. This may be why we see rumors involving Tyson Chandler, as well as the inevitable litany of other names that are sure to follow.
Consistent with the "3 Star" building system and the competition shaping up within the Eastern Conference with teams like NYK, MIA, and CHI, I am going to call this the "CP3= DH + 1" scenario:
This is just semantic conjecture, but I believe Boston can offer Howard an extremely compelling argument based on the presence of the current "Big 3" and the potential addition of Chris Paul. Much like the acquisitions of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, this would have to be a process that involves some risk/exposure based on the limiting factors and variables beyond the team's ability to control - namely the idea that Howard's is most likely obtainable via free agency due to the current paucity of trade-worthy assets at Boston's disposal, (this could change) and the notion that Boston's current veteran All-Star core is somewhat of an essential component to the sales pitch necessary to execute the acquisition.
Move One - Chris Paul:
The set up for this one is fairly straight forward. New Orleans is faced with the virtual inevitability that
CP3 is going to walk. Despite the talk regarding New Orleans being league owned and not moving Paul
due to the media fallout, I believe it's in the team's best interest to realize a return rather than be left
with nothing. Based on this premise, I also believe that will create a limited market - which Paul will
influence - that consists of a short-list of teams that make sense for both parties respective interests.
Boston has to be considered a part of that list due to three important factors:
1. Boston's current status as contender in a high exposure market with clearly defined needs
2. Boston's impending cap flexibility, allowing them a clear path to acquire support talent
3. The presence and stature of the "Big 3" and Doc Rivers to support interest
How does this work for New Orleans? The team is going to need a marketable presence to build around
and Rondo represents arguably the greatest replacement value for that need. He's been in 2 NBA finals
and is widely considered to be a top 5 PG in the league. His long-term deal gives the Hornets time to formulate a rebuilding plan that Paul does not.
It's important to recognize that trades aren't always about the talent and assets alone. In this scenario,
New Orleans has a limited market and short-time to make decisions. This give Boston an advantage
when it comes to negotiation. Boston can manage its risk by limiting the package it offers - think about
this as the anti-Carmelo scenario, where the team doesn't strip all its assets away in a rush to "get it
done". Rondo is enough of a talent based on the situation to offer him virtually straight up or with
limited additional/replaceable assets. If New Orleans holds out for the moon (excessive picks, prospects,
etc.) Boston stands pat.
Move Two - Dwight Howard:
This set up is a bit more convoluted and would require more variables to align in Boston's favor. the
greatest of these is Orlando's desire to get some return for Howard without him walking away and
leaving them with nothing. You have to really read the market accurately and gauge the likelihood of
Orlando executing a trade with another party. Based on the current landscape, it appears that LAL, NYK,
CHI, LAC and NJ are the most prominent destinations.
NY and NJ can be eliminated right off the bat because they don't have trade assets and have to wait
their turn. ChI and LAL/LAC are more concerning because they each have a high-impact center to offer
as part of a package. Each of their potential packages would have limitations pertaining to various
factors - most notably the type of impact the players represent, their cap implications, and their desire
to be a part of such a transaction.
LAL has the only true scoring threat to offer, unless you count Kamen as a desirable trade chip for
Orlando. But Bynum has injury concerns and little else attractive to package with him in order to make
the salaries match up. Most of LAL's large salary players don't make sense for Orlando's build plans
going forward and would prohibit additional moves.
Chicago would have a bit more flexibility to offer, but Noah isn't the type of player skill-wise that would
typically be considered a foundation piece for a team with no go-to scoring options and facing a rebuild -
he's also not likely to be thrilled with such a move and that can't be ignored.
Boston may actually be able to provide a compelling package relative to Orlando's other options as
they have Jermaine O'neal's expiring deal and Jeff Green/Glen Davis as potential S&T assets that would
represent short-term financial commitments with manageable/movable annual cost. Factor in draft
picks JuJuan Jonhson, Avery Bradley, and two first round picks and Boston at least has the potential to
offer a "re-set button" trade scenario for Orlando to consider.
Regardless of actually trading for Howard, Boston can use the opportunity of Howard's pending free
agency to begin planting the seeds for a free agent acquisition even if they cannot actually consummate
a trade. In fact, the act/intent of looking into a trade may have more value in terms of creating
hesitation in Howard's thought process which could see him relinquish his interest in accepting a trade
to the other interested parties.
The above has now laid the theoretical groundwork for the attempted acquisition of both elite stars.
The next section will provide some insight into how inside connectivity to the market place and the
involved parties helps to further eliminate risk by calculating variables.
The Set Up - Interpreting the Motivations of all Parties:
This is the part where Ainge and company have to expose themselves to the most risk and really hope
their due diligence pays off. They've likely discussed at least some of the various scenarios with the
current core of the team or will do so when the time is right. Unlike most 3rd party observers, Boston's
personnel has the ability to gather as much 1st and 2nd hand information as is allowed by the rules that
They have the advantage of being able to gain a much greater insight into the motivations of the
players involved in these scenarios and can base probability on a much clearer understanding of what
it would take to succeed. There are still plenty of variables beyond their control, but they are also less
reliant on chance as well. The ability to actually "sell" a scenario to the parties involved is a huge part
of successfully executing such transactions. This was the case in the Garnett trade, to use a relevant
example. Ainge won't just rely on what he believes to be true and then "hope" that Howard and Paul see
his line of thinking, he'll get the opportunity to represent that viewpoint to them.
Reading the Tea Leaves - What we (think) we Know:
What's been most evident in all the information at our disposal is that superstar movement has been
based on a desire to win championships. This statement seems obvious, but there is often too narrow a
scope attached to the particulars associated with it.
1. That the players absolutely have a destination picked out with little flexibility
2. That the players require a pre-existing, youthful core to accomplish their objectives
The two above statements absolutely factor into the equation. In fact, they are likely to be the
predominant factors at play in each superstars thought process because its the most linear path with
the least amount of perceived obstacles. Going to a team that already has the pieces in place makes
sense, and going to a team with in-their-prime talent provides the most logical and lengthy window for
obtaining the objective.
All these guys - CP3, Howard, etc - they all want the ring. But that doesn't have to be synonymous
with going to a team with a youthful core of stars, even if its the cleanest path. By analyzing Boston's
current talent and financial status, there is a path that can be visualized where the immediate desire for
championship satisfaction can be accomplished short-term and perpetuated long-term.
Based on what we've observed the past two seasons, Boston has shown itself to be capable of playing
championship caliber defense. But as the offensive consistency of the "Big 3" has declined they have not
been able to sustain the offensive firepower necessary to compete on both ends of the court. The clear
team need is for scoring in order to maximize the chances of winning a title this season.
Extending that logic further - it is very plausible to consider that adding a bonafide superstar "go-to"
offensive option would be enough to put Boston back into true title contention. Considering the impact
Shaquille O'neal had on Boston's offensive efficiency by commanding defensive attention in the post,
Chris Paul's potential impact as a perimeter threat can't be ignored.
Selling CP3 on this logic would be an essential component to making the move to acquire him if the
teams agreed in principle to such a trade. Much like KG, it is unlikely that Boston would do as NJ did
and make the trade in the hopes that Paul bought in over time. Rondo is far too valuable in fall-back
scenarios to over-commit to this stage. There are plenty of negotiating tactics to utilize to find middle
ground with Paul as well, it doesn't have to be "5 years or bust".
Assuming CP3 buys into his part in this scenario the team has accomplished the "Ray Allen" part of this
equation and CP3 now becomes an active part of the soft-recruiting process. (Think Dwight playing with
the "Big 4" in the All Star Game vs. "tampering" - player's talk, its reality.)
Regardless of the outcome of this season, as long as Boston is highly competitive and show that they are
degrees away from winning again, they should have enough of a case to sell Howard on their viability
as a contender. CP3 clearly represents the core for the future, which only Miami currently trumps with
their 3 stars. The fact that Boston would be dominant at two positions that both Miami and New York
are weak at is yet another selling point for this strategy.
The tipping point for this scenario is represented by the current "Big 3" and is certainly up for argument.
There have been numerous veterans who have contributed vital roles for contending teams in their late
30's. Considering the way that the "Big 3" maintain themselves and their body of work, its hard to argue
that they cannot be defensive role players with support offensive contributions, if willing.
Dallas just won the title around the singular scoring prowess of Dirk and air-tight execution on both ends
of the court. The proximity and relevance of the example is yet another selling point in this scenario.
I can see a scenario where KG and Ray re-sign for very little money provided 2 stars are added to the
team, because this is what they'd be doing if they went somewhere else. For Howard/CP3, the presence
of the "Big 3" provides a window of 2-3 years where they are competing for a championship right away.
Obviously, both Garnett and Allen would have to have acknowledged their willingness to take what's left
over after two max contracts have been added to the ledger. It's clear that both players could stand to
make more money joining other contending teams as both could likely command the mid-level or mini-
mid from other contenders. This would have been outlined and determined in advance and considering
how the market is likely to shake in terms of contract values, I believe we'll see more players taking less
than we've grown accustom to thinking with the past CBA.
The above scenario provides a possible opportunity to contend for a title over the next 3-4 seasons.
It is not a guarantee, but it is an argument that can be made based on past history and calculated
speculation into the future. Eliminating Howard and Paul as options for the other contending teams
must also factor into this scenario. It would drastically curtail the ambitions of the other contenders.
While this may not be enough in and of itself, there is a final piece to this complicated and risky puzzle
that provides an additional sales incentive for the involved parties. The team would also be financially
positioned to add the proverbial "3rd star" as soon as the "Old Big 3" window of contention closes
because they'd be the only players under contract with any substantial salary.
Based on the competition, it can be argued that Howard and Paul would have enjoyed their best
opportunity to win a championship quickly. If Paul goes to NYK he has Chicago and Miami to contend
with. If Howard goes to NYK, NJ, or LAL he'd be facing competition with similar levels of talent to the
squad he chooses. In the Boston scenario the team would have BY FAR the greatest volume of talent
among any of the contenders.
All the other burgeoning super teams are voraciously trying to add complementary role players with
very limited assets. Boston could have those already in place by virtue of the rules of the CBA. They
would have taken advantage of the two-year S&T clause and wouldn't be faced with the dilemma of
choosing to retain their own free agents vs. signing mid-level contracts because all the vital pieces would
already be under contract.
When that immediate contending window expires, Howard and Paul would find themselves on equal
footing with some of the other contending teams who also have "only" two superstars and they'd have
the advantage of being the only "book end" star tandem among the contenders. Boston may or may not
have been able to retain some quality prospects or other assets, but they'd certainly be in a position to
offer a sizable contract to whichever free agent PF,SF, or SG they desire.
Once Pierce's deal is off the books the team is free and clear. The amnesty clause is also an important
factor here because if something goes wrong with the 3-4 year window, the team can accelerate the
process of clearing cap space to match the available options on the market. Their positions of need are
typically areas where there is a greater availability of talent.
The need for the type of impact required at those need areas is also drastically reduced based on
Howard's tremendous defensive impact. Boston could easily look into the secondary market of star
players vs. requiring a true "superstar".
By no means is any of this a slam dunk, but I can assure you that planning like the theoretical scenario
outlined above has been done by Ainge to prepare for every possible scenario. He basically used this
blueprint with Allen & KG, albeit with Pierce already on the roster as the incumbent star. That plan was
arguably harder as he had no cap flexibility and Boston had zero reputation as a desirable location.
As far as all the "desirable market" talk - Doc is one of the most popular coaches in the league and
the "Big 3" have tremendous recruiting value if they are aligned with this plan, which they surely would
be based on how open the communication has been within this organization internally. Boston is also a
HUGE basketball market is extremely close to NYK and is on national TV constantly - these guys would
get their endorsement dollars and all that other tangential stuff that interests today's players.
Again, none of this is meant to serve as a "lock" for acquiring either player. The intent is to address two
very popular topics by providing some insight into the type of thought process that goes into planning
moves of this magnitude. My analysis of the potential KG and Pau acquisitions followed similar logic and
neither were deemed likely based on how convoluted the process seemed. In both instances the stars
aligned and both players moved to new teams with surprise following the return it took to obtain them.
As we approach the holiday season and exit a Thanksgiving where we were all gifted with the surprise
of basketball waiting under our tree, what better way to ring in the new year than with the prospect of
more impossible gifts to come...