Fireworks momentarily ceased as Gordon Hayward reeled in reports for his agreement with the Celtics yesterday.
By nightfall, it was settled. Hayward would join the Celts, announced in his words on the Player’s Tribune, and now Boston is pressed with clearing the cap space necessary to fit his contract in. Shams Charania reports Hayward’s deal will be four years, $128 million, slotting him in at the $29.7 million max for next season.
Boston has some work to do in order to get there. Renouncing Kelly Olynyk and waiving Tyler Zeller was a start, but even without Demetrius Jackson, Jordan Mickey and Terry Rozier the Cs are deficient of $29.7 million.
To finalize the deal after July 6, Danny Ainge needs to let loose one of their top five rotation players last year in Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley or Jae Crowder. A key player could be gone in the name of shedding under $1 million in team salary.
It seems excessive, and it is considering Golden State was able to squeeze Kevin Durant onto their team last summer. Now the Celts are getting squeezed for every cent. To fit Hayward they’re going to have to essentially dump some important players to their team, which begs the question—why not pursue a larger deal?
That could come, via rampant social media speculation, in the form of Grizzlies star Marc Gasol.
Kevin O’Connor was the first to speculate possibly packaging Crowder, Bradley and Smart into a larger deal. Then Chris Mannix came along and indicated that several executives believe Gasol could be their guy, and it makes sense in various ways.
Gasol has maintained defensive anchor status and has been an award-winning defender for years with the Grizzlies. Memphis has been one of the best NBA defenses for several seasons, and the Celts struggled mightily on that end for periods last season, including allowing Devin Booker to score 70 points on them one game.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, Boston allowed a staggering 130 points twice and 108+ in all five games to the Cavaliers. LeBron James has stood as an immovable force since 2011, though defensive anchors like Tim Duncan, Tyson Chandler and Andrew Bogut have given him issues in the later rounds of the playoffs.
Gasol fits right in with those names among defensively dominant bigs. Over his last six NBA seasons, Gasol has an earth-shattering 102 defensive rating alongside 1.5 blocks per game over that period.
Boston has not been able to feature a premier defensive big in its lane since Kevin Garnett took home defensive player of the year in 2008. Their complete lack of interior presence helps explain a 1-8 playoff record vs. James since 2015.
Gasol also joined the modern NBA with 3.1 three-pointer attempts last season. After never taking so many as one per game before last year, he nailed 38.8% of his shots from deep this season, including a game-winner over the Clippers.
It shouldn’t take much convincing to prove Gasol’s worth, but the deal becomes a much bigger question.
In order to take on Gasol’s $22.6 million 2017-18 salary, the Celts have to dump quite a few bodies. Crowder at $6.8 million, Bradley at $8.8 million, Rozier at $2 million, Smart at $4.5 million, Jackson at $1.3 million and Mickey at $1.4 million add to roughly $25 million in salary. That works in a trade for Gasol, leaving enough room to finalize the Hayward deal on top of it.
That leaves motives. Memphis just lost Zach Randolph, and Tony Allen could be departing as well. They may opt to progress around recently signed Mike Conley and Gasol, who’s signed through 2019 with a player option that summer. That’s a short time frame for a Western Conference that seems to improve every single year.
Gasol is a Grizzlies legend though, and trading him won’t be easy to swallow, especially with multiple years left under contract. The Celtics can give up enough to force him out, though the Pacers’ discussions for Paul George showed they won’t cross the line of giving up crucial building assets like the 2018 Nets pick.
There are other selections Boston could pass along, including Memphis’ own 2019 protected pick that gets less protected every year it doesn’t convey. If Memphis is bad enough, they could eventually be giving Boston a 2021 unprotected first-rounder.
It wouldn’t be a bad move to hand that pick back and call it even on the Jeff Green trade, though even that would be a tough sell for moving Gasol.
Memphis would also have to re-sign Smart and Bradley next summer.
Then there’s Boston’s side of it. The prospect of trading Smart, Crowder, Rozier, Jackson and Bradley guts Boston’s depth at guard. One of the team’s strengths right now is having multiple ball handlers, and losing those puts more pressure on Isaiah Thomas off of a major hip injury. Losing that much of last year’s roster comes with identity issues as well.
The Celts have enough cheap second-round contracts in Abdel Nader, Semi Ojeleye and more to fill a bench in this scenario, as well as a mid-level exception to possibly use on one of their own free agents, but none of those players have proven their NBA impact.
What Boston would ultimately be trying to do here is get the most for their necessary salary dump in the coming days. A player like Gasol could propel them to the NBA Finals, but as they always do, trade negotiations come down to Ainge’s willingness to part with key assets. In this case a third team could help, but if it’s strictly a Memphis-Boston affair, the Cs will be faced with trading beloved players to go top heavy.
Fireworks come at a cost, and Boston is running out of cap space to navigate the store. Creativity like this will be necessary going forward.