The signing of Gordon Hayward Tuesday changes everything for the direction of the Boston Celtics. With Hayward, they now have the fire-power to conquer LeBron James and the Cavs in the East, and they should have the ability to topple the Warriors - eventually.
Make no mistake, had Danny Ainge whiffed on Hayward the Celtics would be screwed for the next few years. Al Horford is already 31-years-old and his window as a key cog on an elite team is closing quickly. Not only that, but the pressure for Ainge to make some sort of big move was increasing. He doesn't listen to outside noise much, but the online mocking was gaining great momentum. The Celtics may have been forced to make some sort of patchwork move like trading for Carmelo Anthony had Hayward not come on board.
Now, Ainge can stay the course. He has three All-Star caliber players in Hayward, Isaiah Thomas and Horford and has recent lottery-level talent in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. It's a team that will have the ability to beat the Cavs as soon as next spring.
Cleveland is already on the verge of imploding. The LeBron to the Lakers rumors aren't going away. The Cavs have reportedly entertained a Kyrie Irving trade, and a move like trading Carmelo Anthony for Kevin Love would be the definition of a lateral transaction.
No matter what transpires with the Cavs between now and next year's playoffs - there is virtually no way they will be as good as they were when they beat the Celtics in five games this past season. You'll also remember that the Celtics were without their best player - Isaiah Thomas - for the final four games of that series.
The window for the Celtics to become the new power of the East should be open as soon as the 2017-18 season.
Beating the juggernaut Warriors is an entirely different deal, of course.
As good as Thomas and Hayward are, neither are top 10 NBA talents like Kevin Durant or Steph Curry. The Celtics as they are presently constructed might be able to swipe a game from the Warriors in a potential NBA Finals matchup, but in no way would they be a legit threat to the throne.
The Celtics are stepping from stepping stone to stepping stone currently, until they become a super team. The goal for next season should be to win the East. The goal for 2019 should be to win the whole damn thing.
Either Tatum or Brown - the No. 3 picks of the past two drafts - could very well emerge as another All-Star level player (or better) by then. The Celtics will also have Brooklyn's No. 1 pick in next year's draft and either the Lakers pick next year or Sacramento's pick in 2019. If the Celtics keep those picks, odds are they will land another young stud.
The other option that's still on the table is for Ainge to cash in those picks in a trade for a superstar. If, say, the Pelicans go through another playoff-less season in 2017-18, expect the Anthony Davis rumors to heat up. Other teams in transition could also have superstar players become available in the next 365 days if things aren't going great. The Celtics still have the most assets of any team to swing a blockbuster deal - which is the beauty of what Ainge has done in terms of free agency. The C's haven't had to relinquish any of their assets in order to land two top three free agents the past two summers in Horford and Hayward.
With Hayward, the Celtics got the piece that will allow them to win the East. The next big piece will allow them to topple the mighty Warriors.