BOSTON – For so many months, too many to count really, Gordon Hayward has been the crown jewel in the Boston Celtics’ quest to once again become the king of the NBA.
It’s still their goal but it takes on a much different, far more significant importance after Paul George – the player Boston planned to add to the mix via trade after acquiring Hayward – has been traded to Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
Yes, Thunder GM Sam Presti Houdini’d the Celtics and the rest of the NBA in pulling off one of the more stealth trades we’ve seen in quite a while.
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And so where does that leave the Celtics?
The good news is that George’s departure to the West means the Celtics have one less All-Star talent to worry about in the East.
And that might actually turn out to be a good thing in their pursuit of Gordon Hayward.
There’s no telling what Hayward is most focused on when it comes to deciding between a return to Utah or packing up and heading to Boston or Miami.
But the one thing we do know is that winning at the highest levels will be at or near the front of his wish list.
With more talent heading out West, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the smoothest path towards playoff success will come if he heads East this summer.
And while the Heat do have some nice pieces in place which includes Hassan Whiteside, Boston’s roster is a little deeper and now has the confidence and experience gained by being in the Conference finals in which they were eliminated by Cleveland in five games.
But the pitch Boston now makes for Hayward isn’t nearly as strong as it could have been if they had George in waiting.
Because of that, the Celtics can’t feel nearly as confident in landing him as they did prior to the George trade. And if he’s not in a Celtics uniform next season, it’s hard to look at this offseason and not be disappointed.
Boston would have been in the mix for two of the game’s top players, and came up short in both instances. And with Blake Griffin re-upping with the Los Angeles Clippers, Boston’s backup plan was off the board as well.
This is not the kind of offseason the Celtics envisioned, one that began with Boston landing the number one overall pick in the draft only to trade down two spots while picking up another – you got it – asset (aka draft pick) along the way.
Danny Ainge has stockpiled draft picks the way some folks collect antique ornaments, hoping they will increase in value over time.
While doing that, Boston also went about carving out salary cap space this summer to target a player like Hayward, and to Boston’s credit they have made it to Hayward’s short list of possible teams for next season.
Getting close to landing Kevin Durant last summer was fine, knowing it came about after having gotten a commitment from Al Horford.
But for Boston to come up empty on adding George and Hayward?
No matter how much him going out West may benefit the Celtics, no one can feel good about the way the Thunder just swooped to get George despite Boston having significantly more assets to offer that depending on which narrative you believe, either 1) were offered up in huge bundles but were rejected by the Pacers or 2) were underwhelming to the point where the Pacers felt Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis was a better trade package.
Fortunately for Boston, they weren’t going into this summer in need of a superstar to make them competitive.
They were searching for a star to make them an immediate title contender which is still the goal, of course.
Short of that, they’ll continue building on what has been a franchise clearly on the rise as the search continues for that crown jewel.