Celtics boss Danny Ainge has been on record as saying that he was only going to “tinker” with the Boston roster this offseason. Pretty sure he said that last year as well and he would up overhauling half the roster. So, with Ainge you never really know.
Even when things were rolling for the Celtics during this past regular season, it always seemed like they were one piece away from truly being able to compete with Golden State for NBA supremacy. Remember, these Warriors are a team that won 73 games – and THEN added a top three talent in the NBA in Kevin Durant. To beat a team like that, “adding” ONLY a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward this offseason might not be enough. The challenge is that tall in competing with what could very well go down in NBA history as the finest roster ever assembled.
That is why Kawhi Leonard is very much on the table this offseason for the Celtics. Leonard is a former NBA Finals MVP, and no matter how you slice it would be an upgrade for the Celtics over Jaylen Brown. Overall Brown had a spectacular postseason for the C’s this spring – but there were many costly occasions where he disappeared on offense, including the Celtics Game 7 loss to the Cavaliers. In that game Brown shot 3-for-12 from 3-point territory and finished with just 13 points in 39 minutes.
The 26-year-old Leonard has already established himself as a sure-thing in the NBA playoffs as he averaged 27.7 points per game in 2017. The 21-year-old Brown just isn’t a lock yet to put up those kind of numbers.
Another thing that Ainge, who has made his bones as an out-of-the-box thinker, has to be aware of is the fact that the Celtics’ primary competition in the Eastern Conference for the next decade – the Philadelphia 76ers – will also be targeting Leonard this summer. In fact, Philly is the favorite to land Kawhi as he would be the perfect complement to the poor shooting Ben Simmons and the unicorn known as Joel Embiid.
Would it be so absurd if part of the reason Ainge covets Kawhi is to keep him away from his main competition?
The Celtics are also the only team that would be interested in Leonard that has as many tradeable assets as the Sixers. The Sixers have two first round picks this season, and can also dangle Markelle Fultz and Dario Saric. The Celtics are the only contending team that can compete with that – with next year’s Kings pick (which is looking great right now) and the Grizzlies and Clippers first rounders (there are many strings tied to those picks, but they are still big-time assets) available. Of course, the Spurs would ask for a current young asset from the Celtics as well.
It’s become clear that the Celtics will not be trading Jayson Tatum after this postseason, as Tatum’s ceiling is legitimately “best player in the NBA.” Brown’s ceiling is not quite as high, and that is why he’s the most obvious one to be traded if the Celtics do indeed make a blockbuster trade for Kawhi.
San Antonio has repeatedly said that it would only trade away Leonard if it got a “grand slam offer.” Here is what The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor wrote about Kawhi’s situation with the Spurs last month.
“I’ve heard from multiple NBA executives that San Antonio won’t settle for anything less than a grand slam offer,” O’Connor wrote. “If offers were underwhelming around the draft and the start of free agency, the Spurs might opt to let the saga drag into training camp, or even into the season. Leonard could always rekindle his relationship with the team, or return to the floor and increase his trade value.”
Gotta think a package like this would constitute as at least a three-run homer for Spurs GM RC Buford, if not a grand slam:
Kings first round pick
Grizzlies first round pick