“We’re not done yet.”
Those words are still ringing in Celtics fans’ ears.
Names like Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, and Jimmy Butler are still running through our heads.
Danny Ainge has not signed any draft picks, nor has he added any free agents beyond Al Horford, despite needing to fill out the roster to achieve some stated goals (shooter, big center, ball handler). He’s done this to maintain maximum flexibility in the event that a big trade happens.
The thing is, he did much the same last summer. We waited with bated breath for fireworks to happen, and they never did (unless you count Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko to be fireworks).
So what’s the backup plan this year? Another big one-year contract (with team option for a 2nd year) to a free agent? Perhaps. Another idea is to make the move that Steve Bulpett and others have been hinting at for months: Jahlil Okafor.
The worst secret in the league all summer has been the availability of Okafor. The Sixers got Simmons first in the draft, and he could very well be a point-forward, but they still need guard help badly. They have two bigs that can’t really share the court in Noel and Okafor, and (in theory) they’ll add Joel Embiid and Dario Saric to the mix this year.
Most agree that Noel is the more valuable of the two because his defense translates into any system, while Okafor will need the right environment to maximize his offensive skills and minimize his defensive liability.
Perhaps Boston is that place, and according to A. Sherrod Blakely it sounds like the two sides have at least kept an open mind about the possibility.
The two teams were reportedly close to getting a deal done on draft night, and league sources claim both have kept the door ajar to getting a deal done between now and the start of training camp.
“[Okafor] would help Boston, obviously,” said a league official. “But it’s clear that Boston isn’t looking to just add a player who can make them better. They’re looking for a guy who can come in and make an immediate impact in a really, really big way. Okafor’s good, but I don’t think he’s that kind of guy for that team.”
There’s the rub. Okafor really is a very talented scorer, and he can rebound (something the team will be missing with the departure of Jared Sullinger). But are those talents worth giving up assets to acquire?
The most logical choice for the Sixers to ask for is Marcus Smart, but I don’t think I’d give him up for Jahlil at this point. Despite his positive Summer League, I doubt Terry Rozier is enough for the Sixers to bite. I’m sure they’d want Avery Bradley (they seem to be looking for a veteran guard), but I’m not crazy about that idea either. So if there isn’t a simple deal, then you have to get a 3rd team involved or use picks as sweeteners on either side.
So we come back to the topic of assets. The Celtics rightly have their eyes on bigger fish at this point, and to land those bigger fish they’ll need as many picks and prospects as possible to use as bait. Spending some of those assets on Okafor for a half step forward (at best) doesn’t seem to be Plan A.
On the other hand, as long as the Sixers are willing, I’m sure that we could involve them in a three-way trade for a star where Okafor is part of the package going to the team giving up a star.
Still, stars don’t shake free very easily, and Danny may not land one this summer. If plans A, B, and C fall through, he might take a chance on young Jahlil’s potential and trust Brad Stevens to utilize him effectively.
Al Horford would provide him more offensive spacing in the post and backup on defense. For his part, Okafor could keep help defenders honest, which might give Celtics shooters a half step extra space for getting off threes.
Obviously there are more attractive options that Ainge will explore, but it sounds like Okafor is at least a reasonable backup plan to consider.