The next championship Celtics team might not include Isaiah Thomas, but if it does expect the Celtics to have to trade away Al Horford at some point.
The NBA salary cap madness that came in at a lower-than-expected $99 million burned the Celtics not only this off-season (Paul George might actually have happened if the number had come in higher), but it could haunt the C’s for several years to come. The Celtics might have the second best team in the league this coming season, but they are still lightyears away from the Warriors. To get to that level, Danny Ainge is going to have to get creative – and it will likely involve him having to trade one of his top two players from last season – either Thomas or Horford.
Boston Sports Journal’s Brian Robb wrote this week that he does not believe the Celtics will give Thomas a max deal. All indications from Thomas’ camp so far have been that he will in no way settle for a hometown discount. Thomas believes he is The Reason (coined by Metro columnist Danny Picard) the Celtics were able to lure Horford and Hayward to Boston in free agency in the past year, so his ego is healthy. The guy believes he is a max player and will be insulted if he doesn’t make as much or more than Horford and Hayward.
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If Robb is right and if Thomas is hell-bent on getting paid, then this thing could end sooner rather than later. In a relatively similar situation, Ainge traded Rajon Rondo (who was getting max buzz prior to being dealt) in December of 2014. If Ainge is convinced a player won’t meet his contract demands, he is not afraid to pull the trigger. The one time you could say he blew it came when Ray Allen jetted in 2012 (the Celtics offered more money than Miami at the time).
That’s the reason why these Kyrie Irving for Isaiah trade rumors should not be taken lightly. Irving has an extra year on his deal and will have a cheaper contract than Thomas in 2018-19. Of course, the Celtics would have to pay up in the summer of 2019 to keep Irving – but this trade would buy them some time.
Another option for Ainge in the near future, particularly if they do show Isaiah the money, might be trading Horford. That idea was booted around a bit when the Celtics were reportedly interested in a George trade. Horford will make $26.5 million this coming season – the second highest figure on the team behind Hayward.
Trading Horford would give the Celtics some great flexibility, but it might be a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Horford was an integral part of the Celtics’ offense last season and had his moments in the playoffs (15.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists in 2016-17 postseason).