You must be thinking, ‘What does a dead whale named Wally have to do with the Danny Ainge, the Boston Celtics, and NBA stars?' Well, hold on for a second before you click away. Put on your detective hat and stick around for a tracking-Dan-Gilbert's-plane level look into the NBA rumor world.
As you know by now, there have been countless rumors floating around this past week regarding the Celtics' pursuit of a superstar. Some reports say they're after Blake Griffin. Others say it's Russell Westbrook. Some say it's neither of them, and it's the typical names mentioned like Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love, and Jahlil Okafor.
Anyway, on Thursday Isaiah Thomas tweeted the words, "Road Trip to San Diego" and then later that night posted this photo on Instagram:
Thomas was at Coronado Beach in San Diego and used the same phrase, this time in hashtag form: #RoadTripToSanDiego.
It's the offseason, and Thomas could just be on vacation with his family.
But then Saturday morning speculation ramped up that Ainge and Celtics brass were also going to California. Keith Smith of Real GM wrote that he heard, "Ainge, Zarren and Stevens were not going right back to Boston but would be going to LA first."
This was never verified over the course of the day though.
But then Danny Ainge confirmed it himself by tweeting this photo:
That whale is named Wally. It's a dead 22-ton humpback that first washed ashore around the Fourth of July, and it's done so again after being towed off the beach six times. On Saturday evening it made an appearance at Grandview Beach. For those spectating, including Ainge, it was a breathtaking experience. For fans, it only fuels the rumor fire.
The Celtics have been hyping how they're "not done" all month. Thomas creates a hashtag for a road trip. Ainge tweets a photo of a dead whale and makes it clear he's in California, which happens to be the state where many players spend their summers. They must know those tweets spark conversation like this.
So, is this #RoadTripToSanDiego just a mere road trip?
Nah. You know what it is. Come on. Put the pieces together. It's a road trip for a bunch of championship-hungry Celtics that could involve a meeting with a star trade target.
It's not like this hasn't happened before.
On July 20, 2007, with permission from Minnesota, Ainge met Kevin Garnett in the backyard of his home in Malibu. As told by SI's Ian Thomsen, Ainge and KG had a 90-minute conversation that covered how Garnett would fit with the Celtics, and they renegotiated the final two years of his contract. Eight days later, on July 28, the Celtics and Wolves came to an agreement. On July 31, the Celtics changed the NBA landscape and announced the deal.
If you're still here, then you're wondering who the star could be. There are very few that any team would grant the Celtics permission to speak with, so let's focus on the names we know.
Scratch DeMarcus Cousins and Jahlil Okafor off the list. They're both in Las Vegas preparing for Team USA practices, which start Monday. Okafor isn't good enough to deserve a pre-trade recruitment meeting anyway.
Jimmy Butler was training at UCLA Saturday, so maybe it's him. But why would the Bulls trade away the player that just recruited their two big free-agent signings? He's also signed for the next four years, so why would a meeting even be necessary? And he's playing for Team USA, so he should soon be heading out to Las Vegas.
Or maybe it's Kevin Love, who was at the ESPYs in Los Angeles with his Cavaliers teammates last week. But it just seems odd that the Cavs would deal him away after his contributions in their NBA Finals run. And, as is the case with Butler, he's signed until the summer of 2020.
Russell Westbrook was in San Diego as recently as July 9, a recent Instagram post reveals. He posted a Snapchat from Malibu at 11:33 AM PST on Saturday, so he's in the state. The Thunder just lost Kevin Durant, and there were rumblings that OKC GM Sam Presti would consider trading their star point guard. Westbrook is an unrestricted free agent next summer and could bolt, just like Durant did, leaving OKC empty handed.
So Westbrook is a player you'd want to meet with.
Here's what the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett wrote Thursday regarding Westbrook:
Bulpett: Sorting through Celtics trade rumor season
Considering how strongly Ainge has praised Westbrook in the past, it is logical to conclude that he wouldn't mind having the Oklahoma City guard playing for his team. But there are several hurdles between here and that.
For the Celts to give up the kind of assets it would take to get one of the most talented players in the league, they would have to be convinced he would stay beyond the 2016-17 season — the last on his contract.
It's similar to the Kevin Garnett situation in 2007 when he had to agree not to exercise his opt-out in 2008 and additionally agree to a three-year extension.
Ah, exactly. It is similar to the Garnett situation, the other star they happened to have a meeting with prior to completing the deal.
But there are no guarantees it's Westbrook, so let's move on.
Blake Griffin lives in Los Angeles. The Clippers signed two free agent power forwards this month—Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass—and signed their two rookie bigs, Brice Johnson and Diamond Stone. They're loaded at that spot, and they've never been able to get over the hump with their current core. They also reportedly shopped Griffin prior to the trade deadline.
Maybe it's Griffin. The Celtics are only a short flight away from LA, so maybe they went to San Diego first to pick up Thomas.
Bulpett wrote Friday about Griffin.
Bulpett: Celtics working the NBA room, but no deals pending
"For one, Griffin has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer, so, as was the case in the 2007 acquisition of Garnett, there would need to be assurances that he would not exercise that option and would be willing to consider signing an extension. He will make $20,140,839 this year and $21,373,952 the following season."
There's another Garnett mention. But that's not all. Bulpett then quoted a source who said there is a "pretty serious" concern over Griffin's partially torn left quad tendon that reportedly required a bone marrow injection following the season.
The source told Bulpett that "you’d better be really sure about that leg before you go making any big commitments."
There are contractual questions with both players, and health questions with Griffin. Sounds like there are plenty of reasons to meet up with those guys to figure it all out financially and medically.
But Bulpett says there's "silence on these two fronts," though Boston is still active looking for a deal. Bulpett then quoted a rival general manager who said, "Danny definitely wants to do something," and that he believes the player is Jahlil Okafor.
Jahlil . . . Okafor?!?
Look, Okafor would be a nice addition if the Celtics are forced to add a non-established star. A backup plan. A buy-low. A player you don't really want but you settle for.
But Ainge, Thomas, and possibly other members of Celtics brass aren't in California for vacation. Wyc Grousbeck recently said he wants not just Banner 18, but Banners 19 and 20. Ainge is a big dreamer. They're going for it all. They want to rip the 'dynasty' label away from the Warriors and make it their own.
This isn't just the #RoadTripToSanDiego. It's the #RoadTripToBanner18AndBeyond.
If they are meeting a player it must be Russell Westbrook or Blake Griffin.
Or maybe both.
Even a dead whale could figure that out.