A Bird in the Hand: Klutch City Edition

Right now, as the trade deadline approaches this week, the NBA community has been inundated with an unusually high amount of rumors and leaks for what was thought, as little as 2 weeks ago, to be a very inactive trade deadline.

So what changed?

Anthony Davis’ trade request. Well, rather, Klutch Sports informing the New Orleans Pelicans that AD has no intention of signing an extension this summer, and fully expects to leave in free agency in 2020 (if not traded away sooner).

This is a familiar trope with superstar players in the NBA that on surface appears to be good-natured: Superstar Player X announces intent to leave team early enough for said-team to trade Superstar Player X for valuable assets.

The truth? Superstar Player X wants to navigate his way to his preferred team early, so that new team can offered him a 5-year max contract only offered by incumbent teams, as opposed to the 4-year contract every other team is limited to. Basically a “have your cake and eat it too’ scenario, which is fine and well within the rules.

Anthony Davis’ situation is a bit more complex, given that this past summer he changed agencies, and signed with Klutch Sports, run by LeBron’s best friend Rich Paul (and which is also rumored to be co-owned by LeBron himself).

Why is that interesting?

Because it is in the best interest of Klutch Sport’s to have their Number 1 client to continue to build on his already historical resume, and hopefully win another championship or two before he hangs up his sneakers for good. LeBron James is almost a corporation all by himself. From sneakers, to movies, and philanthropic work to the representation of professional athletes, LeBron is the first NBA superstar to truly build his brand from the ground-up, all while simultaneously playing pro ball. His greatest cannot be denied, and you would hard-pressed to find his name outside the top 3 of all-time NBA greats.

What could help that ranking? Perhaps matching, or even surpassing Michael Jordan’s 6 championships. How could he accomplish that at his advanced age (in basketball years, at least?) How about teaming up with arguably the best player in the league Anthony Davis?

Well, to make that happen, since Davis is under contract until summer 2020, is to trade with the Pelicans. So, they better hope they have the best trade package on the market then, as New Orleans needs to receive the best possible haul for generational talent.

Boston has been stockpiling assets since Garnett and Pierce were shipped to Brooklyn, and have deftly navigated through recent drafts to acquire an extremely talented and deep pool of young prospects, as well as 1st round picks.

However, because Boston currently has Kyrie Irving on the roster, who was signed to his current deal under the designated Rose-Rule, they are unable to trade for Davis (also a Rose-Rule contract) until Kyrie opts of his deal this summer, in order to resign with Boston long term (a team cannot have more than 1 player on their team with a Rose-Rule designation).

Boston can blow any Lakers trade offer out of the water once summer starts. Not only do they have tantalizing good, young, proven players like Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier, they have 1st round draft picks from the Grizzlies, Clippers, Kings as well as their own.

And the icing on the cake?

Jayson Tatum, if need be.

But again, Boston cannot swing a deal for Davis, even with all of these valuable pieces, until Kyrie opts out July 1st. That could spell doom for LeBron James and Klutch Sports.

So what can they do? They can try to manipulate the market for Davis, and force New Orleans hand.

  • First, the story comes out about Kyrie and LeBron burying the hatchet.
  • Then we hear that Kyrie and Anthony Davis became very close at Team USA, and would maybe like to play with each other (in Boston?).
  • Then we hear that Davis would like to end up in Los Angeles with LeBron.
  • Then we hear that Kyrie is not a guarantee to re-sign with Boston (even though he stated so before the season.
  • Then we hear that Davis wouldn’t be interested in Boston if Kyrie wasn’t there.
  • Then we hear rumors that maybe Kyrie is open to joining LeBron and Davis in L.A.
  • Then we hear that Anthony Davis has in no interest in Boston, and wouldn’t re-sign there.

Now we get the report that there are multiple teams AD would re-sign with, but Boston is not one of them. (On top of the Lakers, we get the Clippers, Bucks, and Knicks. The last three, which ironically, do not have nearly the assets Boston does. Klutch is creating a fake marketplace.)

The thing to keep in mind with these rumors: they come from Davis’ camp. And when we say “Davis’ Camp” you have to remember that it also means “LeBron’s Camp”. If Klutch can manipulate the news cycle to make New Orleans believe that Boston will not make a competitive offer this summer for Davis because he would not re-sign with the Celtics, then they have won.

In the end, the Pelicans need to do what is best, long term, for their franchise. Klutch (and LeBron) are trying their hardest to deter New Orleans from accomplishing that goal by scaring them into trading Anthony Davis to the Lakers. Boston has been building towards an AD offer for years. To think, but 3 p.m. on Thursday, we may get a clearer picture of what the NBA will look like for the next half-decade.

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Green with Envy

2014 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day
 Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

As of the writing of this article, the Celtics are 12 games above .500.

That’s the third-best mark in the Eastern Conference.

Seems reasonable, with a talented roster loaded with All-Stars, featuring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.

But this isn’t that team.

This roster is stacked with Evan Turner, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, and Isaiah Thomas. With a coach that’s younger than Kevin Garnett.

To say the Celtic’s post-Big Three rebuild has been a success would be a gargantuan understatement. Not only did the Celtics seemingly get the very best of every transaction it took to dismantle that Championship team, they didn’t sign a single bad contract, and they certainly didn’t simply hire a coach that’s “been there” before.

The hiring of Brad Stevens from Butler, following the trade of coach Doc Rivers to the Clippers for a 2015 first round pick (that turned into R.J. Hunter), the Celtics’ organization immediately proved that they were in it for the long haul. No quick fixes with savvy vets, like the Mavs have done so many times. No forcing a respected, tenured coach to oversee the development of young players in the current NBA culture that so many old school coaches can’t seem to understand, or respect.

Brad Stevens has instilled a culture into the Celtics locker room and basketball court where everyone knows their role, and executes his amazing play-calling flawlessly. The team is truly greater than the sum of their parts when they are clicking, and more often-than-not, they’re clicking like crazy.

Jae Crowder is the glue guy on a team filled with spare parts, tossed away projects, and overlooked prospects. Considered a “throw-in” in the deal that sent Rajon Rondo to Dallas, Crowder has absolutely out-played expectations and is now an integral cog in the well-oiled Celtics machine. Sacramento never bought into what Isaiah Thomas was selling, then Phoenix promptly (and foolishly) shipped him out of town once it was determined a Bledsoe/Dragic/Thomas point guard-by-committee wasn’t working and needed to be broken up.

Danny Ainge, ever the opportunist, gladly scooped him up, knowing how underpaid Thomas would be under the new rising salary cap, in relation with his then-current production. Then IT4 blew past those projections to make his first All-Star team this year, while being the Celtics primary go-to scorer.

Marcus Smart is in year number two, and has already cemented himself as a defensive bulldog who plays with a relentlessness that would have fit right in with those Garnett-anchored defenses of a few years ago.

Avery Bradley inked a four-year, $44 million dollar contract for his potential as a 3 and D guy. While his defense has never waned, this season, his three-point stroke has found its rhythym, and he has already exceeded the value of that once questioned contract.

Evan Turner has completely rehabilitated his career as jack-of-trades, after failing to live up to his draft position (Number two overall) in Philadelphia, and then in Indiana. He doesn’t shy away from the big moments, yet always seems to know when to make the right play, even if it isn’t self-serving.

Then you throw in Olynyk and Sullinger, stretch bigs that fit the mold of the ideal stretch four (or even five) of the current NBA, and you have an extremely talented, deep team that players the right way, and frankly, overachieves. That isn’t even including the three draftees selected in the 2015 draft, as well as veterans Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko.

Not only are the Celtics near the top of the Eastern Conference already, they have amassed a plethora of draft picks. The Brooklyn Banquet (unprotected first-rounders in 2016 and 2018, with swap rights in 2017), the Dallas 2016 first-rounder (top 7 protected), as well as the Celtics own first rounders for the foreseeable future, plus the multiple second-rounders coming to them from various trades, and loads of open cap space, the present and future are overwhelmingly bright in Boston.

Really, they only lack one thing. Unfortunately, that one thing is the absolute most difficult thing to acquire in the NBA. Some franchises go decades without one, while other teams are able to regularly sign them outright: an unquestionable superstar player.

Most teams draft them, and unless one of the Brooklyn picks hits that number one spot with a transcendent player going pro that summer, Boston might be forced to go another route, which historically-speaking, has never been their forte.

Taking all the forementioned players, assets, coaching, savvy front office history, and the fact that they’ve been able to build a winner before, this summer will hopefully grant them the ability to take a meeting with someone who will be one of the biggest NBA players to ever hit the open market: Kevin Freakin Durant ( shout out to @zachlowe ).

Yes. Kevin Durant.

The fact that this is even a remote possibility for Boston is a triumph. The Celtics were able to keep their team fluid and malleable, waiting for that star player to become available via trade. Disgruntled Boogie Cousins? Volatile Blake Griffin? Jimmy Butler? Paul George? It doesn’t matter. From a value standpoint, the Celtics could offer the absolute best package for any star player.

Unfortunately, that scenario has not played out as soon as most fans would have liked.

Sure, Ainge could have dealt the farm for free agent-to-be Dwight Howard, but he was never going to do that. Al Horford was apparently on the trading block as well, but Ainge preferred to keep his assets for the summer of 2016, when the Celtics may just luck their way into the number one overall pick. Or maybe they received a strong indication from Horford’s camp to stand pat with their treasure trove of goodies, and maybe Al would heavily consider signing there outright this summer. The team is much more attractive with the roster intact, instead of say, what James Dolan gave up to get Carmelo Anthony to New York instead of waiting until the summer to sign him outright, while keeping his supporting cast stocked.

Lets put Horford on the back burner for a minute, and talk about the Durantula in the room.

If Kevin Durant decides Oklahoma City will never be able to build a true Championship team around him by going in the luxury tax, Boston may be his best option. Sure, the rumors about Golden State being a potential landing spot seem to be real, but there’s no way Durant’s brand would ever be the same. He’d be simply jumping aboard the Warriors machine that’s poised to make a run at the Finals for a few years, even without him.

If people question his and Russell Westbrooks relationship and basketball fit, how would he respond to being Curry’s sidekick, along with Klay and Draymond? As salivating as the idea is, ultimately Durant is too dominant a player for a supporting role.

Boston could give him his first real taste of NBA royalty. There’s no NBA franchise with a deeper tradition and history of success. The 2008 Championship team was assembled by the same ownership and GM that are currently sitting on a pile of team-altering assets, able to tweak the roster on-the-fly to bring in the ultimate complementary players. Russell Westbrook? Horford? Anyone would be fair game. Remember, KG didn’t approve of the trade to Boston until Ray Allen was acquired. One star often leads to another in the new NBA.

Kevin Durant has never had a coach on the level of Brad Stevens. If he’s capable of squeezing this much production and success out of Evan Turner and Jae Crowder, it’s almost unfathomable what Durant could become.

Another huge selling point: Durant would escape the Western Conference, and dodge the Warriors/Spurs freight train. Setting up in the East, with a youthful roster, and Cleveland as their only true competition, Durant could conceivably find himself in the Finals year-after-year. The Eastern Conference is still a handful of years away from The Next Great Team’s emergence, and nothing is guaranteed as Lebron piles all those minutes on his aging and aching body.

Furthermore, the city of Boston would adore him. He would follow in the footsteps of the All-Timers to play, and win for the Celtics. He would be putting his career and legacy in experienced hands, as OKC continues to remind us of just the opposite with every post-Harden trade transaction.

In the end, the most likely outcome will be Durant taking a cue from LeBron, by signing a one year deal, giving the Thunder another year to prove he should resign. Short of a Finals appearance this year, and/or next, they could very well lose Durant and Westbrook, and be forced to truly feel the pressures of a small-market NBA franchise.

Boston has been waiting to choose that star player that becomes available in a trade. It would be serendipitous if the star player chose the Celtics for change.