Kevin O'Connor

Westbrook extends with OKC, how does it impact the Celtics?

Westbrook extends with OKC, how does it impact the Celtics?

There were rumblings this past month that the Celtics were pursuing Russell Westbrook in what could’ve been a seismic trade, but Westbrook is now off the market. The superstar point guard has agreed with Oklahoma City on a three-year, $85 million contract extension, according to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski (first reported by Sonics Rising’s Kevin Nesgoda).

This impacts the Celtics in a number of ways.

Most immediately, it removes one of the best options in any potential deal this summer. Westbrook is a Hall of Fame talent that would’ve made the Celtics an instant contender this season. Danny Ainge will have to back to the drawing board to design a new scheme to acquire a star.

Perhaps the greatest implication will be felt next offseason.

Even with Westbrook extended, the Thunder could create the cap space necessary to pursue another star in what will be a loaded 2017 free agent class. The more title contenders with cap space there are, the more competition the Celtics will have for the services of players like Blake Griffin. That’s also true for any player that may become available on the trade market, assuming they have a say in their destination.

Woj reported that Griffin will be a "serious target" next summer, which could be bad news for the Celtics. Griffin is a native of Oklahoma and returning home could be an attractive choice. As stacked of a class it is next year, no other realistic unrestricted free agent is on the level of Griffin or Westbrook. Boston might end up being in the same spot next summer, pushing for stars through trades.

For Celtics fans still hoping there's a teeny tiny chance of acquiring Westbrook this season, you had better hope the Thunder are dumpster fire. If they are, and if they shop Russ, the Celtics would be right at the front of the line with their pile of assets. "So you're saying there's a chance?!" No. Don't count on it. Just don't. Dream about other stars instead. The chances are the Thunder will be right back in the playoffs with Westbrook dunking on fools like usual.

No matter the case, the Celtics are in a tremendous position going forward with so many assets under control. Fans will have to keep wishing upon the stars though.

Kevin O’Connor can be followed on Twitter: @KevinOConnorNBA

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

You’re probably thinking the summer fireworks are finished after the Celtics brought back Tyler Zeller, added ex-Celtic Gerald Green, and signed rookies Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil. It’s true, these moves do lower the likelihood of a multifaceted trade, but it doesn’t totally extinguish the odds of something seismic happening.

The Celtics still retain their flexibility, since none of these deals have actually been finalized. Even after they are, they’d still have the pieces required to make a deal work for a superstar like Blake Griffin. It’s not hard to make a valid trade for one player, but it is difficult if it’s a multi-step process like a Russell Westbrook renegotiate-and-extend trade.

“This is not necessarily what the team will be,” a source told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach. “There’s probably changes coming.”

Well, yeah. Changes have to come. The Celtics don’t really have a choice here.

Assuming Jaylen Brown is signed, they’ll have 18 players with at least partially guaranteed contracts. So at least three players will have to be exported before the season, since the NBA requires a maximum of 15 players on a roster.

Here’s a look at the Celtics’ current projected depth chart:

FRONT COURT Amir Johnson Kelly Olynyk Tyler Zeller  
Al Horford Jonas Jerebko Jordan Mickey Ben Bentil*
Jae Crowder Jaylen Brown* Gerald Green James Young
BACK COURT Avery Bradley Marcus Smart RJ Hunter John Holland*
Isaiah Thomas Terry Rozier Demetrius Jackson  

So, something has to happen. It’s just a matter of what. You can choose to believe the Celtics aren’t actually trying to make a blockbuster move. Or you can choose to believe the signals that have been firing off this month from the Celtics themselves indicating they’re “not done.”

It wouldn’t be difficult for the Celtics to get closer to 15 players by completing a blockbuster trade for a player like Griffin.
Perhaps some combination of veterans (Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley, and Jonas Jerebko) with youth (Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, and James Young) and draft picks (2018 Nets pick) could bring in Griffin and Paul Pierce.

Saturday’s moves make sense regardless of any transactions to follow.

Zeller is a bargain at just $8 million as a steadying presence on both ends of the floor. But, if Johnson were dealt, he’d be able to slide right up the depth chart as the team’s backup center.

Green shot 37.2 percent on spot up threes, per SportVU, over the past three years, so he provides spacing as a scorer who can catch fire. Considering Brad Stevens’ track record of sapping every ounce of talent out of each of his players -- hello, Jordan Crawford! -- it’s possible the Celtics will be getting the Green who scored an efficient 15.8 points per game just two years ago in Phoenix, and not the subpar Green who struggled to stay on the court last year in Miami.

If one or two of Boston’s young wings were dealt, Green, on a mere veteran minimum contract, would have an even easier path to playing time as a spark off the bench.

It’s difficult to read into the signings of second-round picks Jackson and Bentil, but either way the should both spend the season developing with the Celtics’ D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

The Celtics haven’t made a move yet, but they also haven’t done anything to suggest they’re entirely done. These moves could be precursors to something significant, or not. But at the least they provide depth to an already impressive roster.

Celtics’ actions indicate they’re still angling for a blockbuster

Celtics’ actions indicate they’re still angling for a blockbuster

It often appears the Celtics try to operate behind a veil of secrecy. But if you want to get an idea of what they're attempting to do, look at their actions.

Their rookies are still unsigned and they still haven’t made a decision on Tyler Zeller. That keeps them in position to make a potential blockbuster trade.

Last summer, the Celtics held off on finalizing contracts and trades that had been agreed to in principle in order to maintain maximum flexibility. They waited until late July to sign their two first-round draft choices, to formally re-sign Jae Crowder, and to make the David Lee trade official. That all happened on July 27, because that's when the path to acquire a star had finally been exhausted.

They're waiting for that chance again this summer.

Teams have handed out money like candy this offseason and Zeller missed out on all the fun as a restricted free agent. That makes his situation particularly compelling from a big-picture perspective.

The Celtics can withdraw their qualifying offer of $3.7 million at any point through July 23, and they have the right to match any offer sheet Zeller might sign. The issue is there only seven teams with enough cap space to make him an attractive offer. Most of those teams have already acquired centers this summer, and others are already loaded at the position. The chances of any of them tossing money at Zeller seems improbable.

Teams over the cap could sign Zeller to an offer sheet using an exception, but the lone exception more lucrative than Boston’s qualifying offer of $3.7 million is the mid-level, which is worth $5.6 million.

You’d think Zeller, still just 26 and a proven rotational center, would have received an offer like that already. In fact, it’s quite possible that he has but hasn’t signed it. And if he hasn't, then he’s still waiting to sign his qualifying offer.


The conventional answer is that he’s hoping to negotiate a new contract with the Celtics. But the more probable reason is that Zeller is aware of a potential sign-and-trade scenario that’d pay him an exorbitantly large sum of money.

Remember Keith Bogans? When the Celtics traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, the Nets needed a salary to make the deal valid. So they signed Bogans for $5 million and included him in the trade. It’s technically more complex than that, but, in a nutshell, Bogans’ bloated contract made the trade legal.

Of all the star players whose names have been discussed as options for the Celtics, there’s really only one in which a sign-and-trade for Zeller would actually be necessary. It’s the one no one takes seriously because it sounds so outrageous: The scenario where the Celtics acquire both Russell Westbrook and Blake Griffin.

That's what the Thunder are hoping to do next summer, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski. But the Celtics, theoretically, are a team with the assets to do that now.

Let’s play it out. Let’s say the Celtics were to acquire Westbrook, and he extended his contract to keep him signed until the summer of 2018. At that point, the Celtics would have almost no cap space. So if they were to then trade for Griffin, it’d be necessary to use a sign-and-trade for Zeller to make it work.

The value of the contract would vary greatly depending on which players were given in return for Westbrook and Griffin. But no matter the amount, it’d be for a hell of a lot more than his qualifying offer of $3.7 million. Double. Triple. Maybe even quadruple. Based on the cards Zeller has been dealt, it’s a no-brainer for him to wait . . . even if there’s only a miniscule chance of a blockbuster trade.

Contrary to popular belief, the Clippers aren’t rebuilding if they do trade Griffin. They’d simply be shuffling the deck to find a better mix, and adding assets (like a Nets pick) in the process. So there's a reason Zeller and the Clippers could do business. Despite signing two veteran power forwards, Los Angeles still needs a true backup center; Doc Rivers absolutely isn’t playing either of his two rookies. Zeller’s salary would also be non-guaranteed after the first year, making him a valuable trade asset entering the 2017 offseason.

The names and faces involved in this wild hypothetical scenario also have a history of making successful high-stakes business transactions. Trust is integral to any relationship, especially one with implications so significant.

Rivers and Danny Ainge worked together for years in Boston. And Ainge and OKC general manager Sam Presti have worked together numerous times, too. Presti’s first move as GM sent Ray Allen to Boston, and years later they made the shocking Jeff Green-for-Kendrick Perkins swap.

Two of the key players involved, Zeller and Griffin, happen to be represented by Excel Sports Management agents Sam Goldfeder and Jeff Schwartz. They also represent Boston’s master recruiter, Isaiah Thomas, who’s been in California this past week. Clippers forward Paul Pierce is also represented by Schwartz. Remember when Kevin Love showed up with Schwartz at a Red Sox game and they happened to bump into Rajon Rondo?

There is history, both in regards to actions and relationships, to suggest that all the ingredients are there for this so-called pipedream of a trade scenario to materialize. Enough of a chance, certainly, that Zeller and his agent are actually willing to bide their time in the hopes of landing a situation in which the payoff and opportunity would potentially be greater.

And in the more likely event that there's no trade, Zeller could still sign his $3.7 million qualifying offer with the Celtics. Or an offer sheet with another team. But he doesn't have to do it now, and he may benefit by waiting.

Want to know what’s actually outrageous? Thinking the Celtics are just waiting to sign their rookies because they haven't gotten around to it. Thinking that a young, cheap player like Zeller will go unsigned. Thinking that the Celtics aren’t actually angling to make a franchise-altering move.

There’s no guarantee it happens. The chances are it probably won’t, considering the complexity of the situation. If they re-sign Tyler Zeller and/or sign the rookies, that’s when you'll know it’s over.

But for now, the Celtics are taking the necessary actions to assure they can have a whale of an offseason if the opportunity presents itself.