DOMINO EF­FECT

Chas­ing Golden State al­ready send­ing rip­ples through NBA

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

For­get Thurs­day’s NBA draft. The ma­nia started well prior. Boston traded the No. 1 over­all pick to Philadel­phia. Paul Ge­orge made it known he wants out of In­di­ana. Cleve­land just dis­missed its gen­eral man­ager, David Grif­fin. That bum­bling sil­hou­ette ca­reen­ing down the road? That’s the Eastern Con­fer­ence, in­un­dated by change and mys­tery just days af­ter the NBA Fi­nals con­cluded.

This is the Golden State Ef­fect. Ev­ery­one watched what the War­riors did in the post­sea­son. Ev­ery­one knows Kevin Du­rant is re­turn­ing.

Ev­ery­one has to fig­ure out some way, if there is one, to grap­ple with the War­riors.

Boston has turned to as­set hoard­ing. Al­ready pow­er­ful teams are now in pur­suit of Ge­orge. The Cava­liers de­ter­mined a gen­eral man­ager who over­saw a team with three con­sec­u­tive Fi­nals ap­pear­ances was not do­ing a good enough job. Those de­ci­sions are based in Golden State’s hold on the league.

When Thurs­day’s draft ar­rives, more moves will come. Can the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers ac­quire Ge­orge? If so, will it cost them the No. 2 over­all pick and a fu­ture with Lonzo Ball? Would Cleve­land, un­der new lead­er­ship, try to trade Kevin Love as part of a pack­age for Ge­orge? Just what in the world is Danny Ainge up to in Boston? Does any of this change things for the Wizards (spoiler: Not re­ally)?

Let’s start in Boston. Ainge has spent years pil­ing up picks while turn­ing the team into a con­tender in the East. Boston fin­ished as the No. 1 seed last sea­son, then was pre­dictably whacked by Cleve­land in the con­fer­ence fi­nals. Trad­ing the No. 1 over­all pick — a se­lec­tion mined from the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett hood­wink­ing of Brook­lyn — elim­i­nates the Celtics’ op­por­tu­nity to select Mary­land na­tive Markelle Fultz. It’s a cu­ri­ous de­ci­sion by Ainge.

Boston could have se­lected Fultz and still pos­sessed plenty of as­sets to make a sig­nif­i­cant trade. In­stead, trad­ing the top pick to Philadel­phia, and mov­ing down to No. 3 over­all, gave the Celtics yet another fu­ture first-round pick. Boston’s cur­rent gag­gle of draft picks is stag­ger­ing. Thurs­day, it has four picks. In 2018, it has two first-round picks and pos­si­bly two sec­on­dround picks. In 2019, it has a chance at up to four first-round picks and two sec­ond-round picks. In the next four drafts, Boston could have up to eight first-round picks, in­clud­ing No. 3 over­all this sea­son, plus what should be a top-5 pick next sea­son. Trade pro­tec­tions will in­flu­ence how it shakes out. But, the Celtics are loaded with op­tions, which makes them the league’s most in­trigu­ing team Thurs­day.

Boston has such an ex­cess of se­lec­tions, it could put to­gether a vi­able pack­age to rent Ge­orge’s abil­ity for a sea­son. It could pur­sue a trade for Blake Grif­fin. It can look at ways to

sign Gor­don Hayward. Or, the Celtics could sit tight with their as­sets, wait for LeBron James to fur­ther age — as­sum­ing his body does that — and try to jump in for mul­ti­ple sea­sons once Cleve­land be­gins to slide back. How­ever, that still doesn’t solve the prob­lem of un­seat­ing Golden State, which is pop­u­lated by stars who are less than 29 years old or younger.

Trad­ing the top pick is a risk, even if it gar­ners another as­set and drops the Celtics just two spots. Boston was part of one of the great trade heists in NBA his­tory when it flipped the No. 1 and No. 13 picks to Golden State in 1980 in ex­change for the No. 3 pick and a cen­ter named Robert Parish. Boston se­lected Kevin McHale with the No. 3 pick. Joe Barry Car­roll was the top se­lec­tion. The fleec­ing helped put that per­ma­nent smirk on Red Auer­bach’s face.

Swap­ping spots with Philadel­phia pre­sum­ably puts Fultz on the 76ers’ ros­ter. The move also con­jures two ques­tions: If Philadel­phia can keep its young core of Ben Sim­mons, Joel Em­biid and Fultz healthy, how long un­til they are a force in the East? If Fultz be­comes a 10time All-Star and the Celtics’ pick at No. 3 fiz­zles, how much is Ainge set back?

Wash­ing­ton joins the rest of the con­fer­ence watch­ing these moves pin­ball around. The Wizards, like the Toronto Rap­tors, are in an odd spot. They ex­pect to push the best in the con­fer­ence, but their wig­gle room for as­cen­sion is lim­ited. Toronto made a move last sea­son, ac­quir­ing Serge Ibaka at the trade dead­line. The Wizards won their di­vi­sion for the first time since 1979. Nei­ther reached the con­fer­ence fi­nals. Both are at the mercy of Cleve­land and Boston this off­sea­son be­cause their op­tions are so re­stricted.

In Wash­ing­ton’s case, the pos­si­ble ac­qui­si­tion of Ge­orge is ex­tremely un­likely. They don’t have the as­sets — Kelly Oubre Jr., a first-round pick and Marcin Gor­tat are not go­ing to draw the Pac­ers’ at­ten­tion — out­side of their core play­ers to trade for Ge­orge. It’s safe to as­sume In­di­ana would want Bradley Beal in any prospec­tive deal, which would leave the Wizards with no shoot­ing guard and du­pli­ca­tion and heavy in­vest­ment at the small for­ward po­si­tion with Ge­orge and Otto Porter. Or, Porter is not re-signed, which means the team loses two lessthan-25-years-old starters in or­der to have Ge­orge for a sea­son. None of those op­tions make sense, even if Ge­orge hints he would con­sider sign­ing long term.

The week has been wild al­ready. Thurs­day’s draft will frame the prospects for more moves, if not de­liver the changes them­selves. Ev­ery­one is chas­ing Golden State. Be­cause of that, a sum­mer of tu­mult be­gan just af­ter the sea­son ended.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

For­ward Kevin Du­rant led Golden State to the NBA ti­tle in his first sea­son with the team, leav­ing teams to fig­ure out what is needed to wrest away the War­riors’ hold on the league. The Boston Celtics, Los An­ge­les Lak­ers and Cleve­land Cava­liers are among the teams jock­ey­ing to make ma­jor trades.

Pac­ers for­ward Paul Ge­orge has made it known that he wants out of In­di­ana and sev­eral teams are lin­ing up pos­si­ble trades for him.

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