Chasing Golden State already sending ripples through NBA
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.
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.