This piece will be a quick hitter about the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers and why the two make a good match at the 2016 NBA draft.
First, let’s look at the Clippers. With Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and Blake Griffin, they’ve been one of the best teams in the NBA the last few years. No one would begrudge them for giving it another go in Free Agency and seeing how well they can do. After all, they’ve been rather unfortunate with injuries the last two years. And unfortunate with calls the year before.
However, the Clippers are older than most of their competition, especially their best player, Chris Paul. He’s on the wrong side of 30.
The team also looks to be a level behind teams like Golden State, San Antonio, OKC and Cleveland, and they have no easy way to add talent to their core, since they have minimal draft assets (picks 25 and 33 this year is okay for the future but no player drafted there is likely to make an impact this year, or possibly even next) and for the first time in a while, some cap space, but still probably not enough to offer a competitive contract to a player like Kevin Durant.
(I believe all of the players with options would have to exercise their rights to test the market plus Paul Pierce might need to retire plus they might need to find someone to take on JJ Redick. And then you have a competitive contract but have to do a lot of late work to build a team.)
So not only are the Clippers a half level or full level behind the teams they’d need to beat, as great teams all have significant bench players, but there’s also no way for them to catch up. And even if they were to wait them out, the Clippers are likely to get old before anyone else is.
That’s not to say the Clippers are without options. They can trade Blake Griffin as has been rumored, with the Celtics being the destination that makes the most sense. Or they could take the nuclear option. Which is to say, they could trade Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Paul Pierce and JJ Redick too. And that’s the trade where Celtics makes far more sense, and perhaps the only sense, as a trade partner.
Let’s look at the Celtics. They have these players currently on their roster: Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson (non-guaranteed contract), Jonas Jerebko (non-guaranteed contract). And young guys Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey, RJ Turner, James Young and John Holland (non-guaranteed contract.) Which means they have around 35 million definitely committed towards next season with as much as 51 million if they choose to guarantee Johnson and Jerebko. Which is to say, they are in very good shape with the cap jumping to 92 million or more.
The Celtics also own picks 3, 16, 23, 31, 35, 45, 51 and 58 in the 2016 Draft, the right to swap their 2017 picks with Brooklyn’s (they could trade the rights to their own pick and this swap together), their own 1st round pick in 2018 and more importantly, an unprotected pick from Brooklyn in 2018.
If you are going to start talking shop for Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and JJ Redick, this is the team you do it with. And let’s figure that the trade structure is similar to the Love and Rondo deals. Which is essentially two first round picks and a player (or players), and since Paul and Jordan are both better than Love, we’re talking 1st round picks of real significance. And since the Clippers aren’t necessarily inclined to blow up their team, let’s add a little sweetness on top, making it the kind of trade Danny Ainge would never make. Since he wins every deal he’s in, often by a lot.
To start, let’s begin with picks 3, 16, 23, and 45 from this year. Let’s add the Celtics’ 2017 pick and pick swap (perhaps minimally protected). And then let’s add in Brooklyn’s 2018 unprotected pick.
That’s 5 first round picks, one of which is a Top 3 pick, and two others which might be Top 5 or Top 10 picks. And it’s a mid-second in a draft that looks deep with potential rotation players, and where a potential star like Derrick Jones Jr. is still likely to be available.
However that’s not enough, let’s add in some players. And let’s say Boston actually wants to compete next year, which means they are not trading Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley. Those guys are off-limits. And if I were Ainge, I’d also off-limits Smart and Johnson, since no one is competing with this bid. You just simply don’t have to trade them and they’ll give you a better chance now and into the future. Which would leave Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, Terry Rozier (who was decent at times this season), Jordan Mickey et al.
So now we have 3, 16, 23, 45, Boston’s 1st in 2017, Brooklyn’s first in 2018, Isaiah Thomas coming off an all-star season, Kelly Olynyk, Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey et al for Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and JJ Redick.
Where Does Such a Deal Leave the Celtics?
A Roster Looking Something Like:
PG Chris Paul-Marcus Smart
SG Avery Bradley-JJ Redick
SF Jae Crowder-Jerebko
PF Amir Johnson or Jae Crowder in small ball line-ups
C-DeAndre Jordan, Jared Sullinger (signed as an RFA)
Plus whatever young players they keep.
That looks like a highly competitive team. However, it could become much moreso. Were the Celtics to have a chance to sign a player like Kevin Durant or Lebron James in free agency (and this squad might be enticing, especially if Cleveland goes out easily in Game 5 tomorrow night), Boston could waive Johnson and Jerebko’s non-guaranteed contracts and have about 23 million in cap space. From there it would be easy for a team with this type of talent to clear cap room.
Where Does Such a Deal Leave the Clippers?
A Roster Looking Something like:
PG Isaiah Thomas-Terry Rozier
SG CJ Wilcox-RJ Hunter
SF Paul Pierce (if he doesn’t retire)-James Young
PF Blake Griffin-Brendan Dawson
C Kelly Olynyk-Jordan Mickey
Plus options and cap space. With how much cap space determining the quality of the options. If Paul Pierce retired, somewhere around the ballpark of at least 54 million. Which is to say, the Clippers would have enough money to place Free Agents around Blake Griffin and Isaiah Thomas, perhaps two significant ones, if that was the route they chose to go.
Or the Clippers could wait until 2017, when they could perhaps recruit both Durant and Westbrook together. If Durant signs a 1+1 deal, which seems possible. This route would also have the added advantage that the Clippers might then retain their 2017 1st round draft pick in a draft that is supposed to be loaded with talent. (We’ll see how that goes after the college season, but I like Markelle Fultz and Dennis Smith quite a bit from what I’ve seen.)
Or the Clippers could trade Griffin and Thomas and Olynyk and pick up more young players and draft assets, trying to bottom out completely for the 2017 NBA draft.
If the Clippers want to move forward, trading at least two players from their nucleus might be the best path, and if the Celtics wants to guarantee itself a couple of stars that could help their roster compete legitimately, some variation of this deal might be the best way.