Celtics more likely to trade for Okafor than Westbrook or Griffin

Celtics more likely to trade for Okafor than Westbrook or Griffin

BOSTON -- As much as the rumor mill churns out smoke signals that a deal involving the Celtics is forthcoming, multiple league sources have indicated that Boston’s eagerness to pull the trigger on a trade has done little to get teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and the Sacramento Kings to budge in their resistance to moving players targeted by the C's.

And the reason I’m told is quite simple.
“You win with players, not picks,” one assistant GM told CSNNE.com. “Boston has lots of picks and some good players. But there’s not a great player on that roster. And the players you (media) guys keep writing and talking about that they’re interested in, are great players. [Celtics president Danny Ainge] will tell you, it’s not easy making trades. And when it comes to great players, it’s even harder to acquire them no matter how many picks you offer up.”
The consensus among league executives spoken to by CSNNE.com is that the most likely trade for Boston will be one in which they wind up with Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor.
“From the moment Philly drafted Ben [Simmons], everyone around the league knew that they would have to trade a big, either Okafor or Nerlens [Noels],” an NBA scout told CSNNE.com. “Okafor is the better scorer; it’s not even close really. But Nerlens has that ability to run the floor and can protect the rim. Those two qualities . . . you can’t have enough guys in the frontcourt who call those two skills, strengths. That’s why Okafor is the more expendable player.”
The two teams were reportedly close to getting a deal done on draft night, and league sources claim both have kept the door ajar to getting a deal done between now and the start of training camp.

“[Okafor] would help Boston, obviously,” said a league official. “But it’s clear that Boston isn’t looking to just add a player who can make them better. They’re looking for a guy who can come in and make an immediate impact in a really, really big way. Okafor’s good, but I don’t think he’s that kind of guy for that team.”
And then there's the off-the-court concerns with Okafor, who was involved in a fighting incident in Boston following a Sixers loss to the Celtics last season. 
Ainge has never been one averse to taking a chance on a player. But he’s never been one to gamble just for the sake of gambling, either.
It has to be the right player, at the right time who provides the right fit that makes rolling the dice on them a chance worth taking.
There is no doubt Ainge and company are eager to get a blockbuster-type trade done, the kind that will immediately transform the Celtics into one of the better teams in the NBA.
But, as we’ve seen, those deals are few and far between.
 A third league official said Ainge is doing what he always does this time of year -- biding his time, waiting for an opportunity to snare the biggest fish that “no one sees coming.”
“I have no idea who that big fish is,” the executive told CSNNE.com. “But Danny knows there have to be certain circumstances in play that make guys available who wouldn’t be if you just went by talent. That’s how they got Ray Allen. That’s how they got KG (Kevin Garnett). Even Isaiah Thomas a couple years ago was about circumstance more than anything else. He’s looking for something like that now.”
And as we’ve seen with Ainge, he doesn’t mind waiting around for that opportunity to present itself.
When it does, he’ll be ready.
And based on the caliber of players Boston is trying to haul in now, it’ll be the kind of addition that will make those much-talked about fireworks we’ve been waiting to see finally come to fruition.

Celtics Exit Interviews: Marcus Smart was everything the 2018-19 Celtics weren't

Celtics Exit Interviews: Marcus Smart was everything the 2018-19 Celtics weren't

Allow Aron Baynes to explain why Marcus Smart is such a pest on the defensive end of the floor.

"He makes people uncomfortable,” said Baynes. "At the end of the day, [defenders are] trying to do what you can to make every shot tough but he wears on people. And it’s not just in that moment that he’s on the ball. It might be at the end of the game, they come down, they don’t have quite as much legs as they had at the beginning of the game. He’s worn on them the entire time. The cumulative effect of Marcus’ pressure over 48 minutes, it’s going to deteriorate anyone's offense.

“It’s great being able to have a guy like that on your team.”

Late this season, Smart had suggested that Baynes was as important to Boston’s defense as any player on the roster. This drew an audible grunt from Baynes — one of those booming All-of-Australia scoffs that left the big man ranting about why Smart is the team’s defensive conscience and why he deserved a spot on the All-Defense team.

Smart earned the long-overdue honor Wednesday when the NBA announced he was the top vote-getting guard, earning a spot on the All-Defense first team. Smart finished behind only Rudy Gobert, Paul George, and Giannis Antetokounmpo in media voting while earning 63 first-team and 19 second-team votes. 

This might not have even been the best defensive season of Smart’s career, but the reputation he’s built as one of the league’s top defensive bulldogs finally reached voters. Smart was on full display after elevating to a starting role in November and he spent the rest of the season playing alongside Kyrie Irving and hounding the opposing team’s best offensive weapon.

By March, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was publicly stumping for Smart.

"I'm sure if you took a poll of players around the league — even though they might be annoyed by him sometimes — they would all say that he is [one of the top defenders],” said Stevens. "Because he's into people, he's physical, he's tough, he's got a motor, he's got great hands. He should be on that team.”

It’s somewhat ironic that, in maybe his biggest season of offensive growth, Smart is finally being lauded for his defensive abilities.

Still, in a season in which little made sense about these Celtics, Smart was one of the few players to consistently bring a passion and desire that Boston fans so dearly yearned to see.

Smart’s shooting splits this season — 42.2 percent overall, 36.4% beyond the 3-point arc — weren’t just career highs but a jarring leap over his career numbers (36 FG%, 29.3 3PT%). On a team brimming with offensive potential, Smart sacrificed his own offensive chances and embraced being a creator, even as his teammates failed to show the same growth he did. 

Smart took great pride in emerging as a two-way threat, dispelling a reputation as a player who could only impact the game on the defensive end. Smart was still a defensive menace and his steal percentage (3.1) was the best in the NBA (he was third overall in total swipes). 

Smart ranked eighth among all point guards in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus and that felt criminally low (though he lingered in the same neighborhood as fellow All-Defense guards Patrick Beverly and Jrue Holiday).

Smart played a career-high 80 games only to suffer an oblique injury in the penultimate game of the regular season and missed seven of Boston’s nine playoff tilts. His return wasn’t enough to get the team on track as the Bucks raced away in the Eastern Conference semis.

Alas, you’d be nitpicking to point out ways Smart could have been better this season. He embodied everything that Celtics fans wanted from the rest of the roster — a player that yearned only to win and made the sacrifices necessary in hopes of bringing out the best in his teammates.

It’s why, after Wednesday’s All-Defense announcement, Smart took to Twitter to express appreciation for the honor but also noted, “I want a banner though,” and added, “Offseason is a myth. Let’s get it.”

Stevens isn’t big on captains — believing that players throughout the roster should feel empowered — but, man, Smart continues to make a compelling case for the honor with the way he carries himself on and off the court. Even in simply going to bat for Irving after the season, Smart continually showed the markings of a true leader.

Mind you, all this came a season after he inked a four-year, $52 million extension. While most players throttle down after getting their first big deal, Smart ramped up. And he was playing in the emotional aftermath of losing his mother to cancer last summer.

Smart might just be moving towards untouchable status because of what he brings to the Celtics. That’s particularly notable as we enter a summer in which Boston might need to use Smart’s contract in order to make money match in the pursuit of Anthony Davis.

That’s a bullet the Celtics almost certainly don’t want to bite and will explore all other avenues to avoid such an occurrence on the chance that a Davis deal could become a reality. It won’t be easy, but Smart is worth the headaches of exploring the three-team, sign-and-trade options or other front-office witchcraft that might be necessary to avoid putting him in a package.

But that sorta underscores the Marcus Smart experience. Here’s a player that’s been routinely criticized throughout his career and Celtics fans might legitimately riot if he was moved for one of the best players on the planet.

Smart’s intangibles are just that valuable. And, if the All-Defense honor is any indication, the rest of the league might just be catching on to just how important Smart is here.

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Cavs owner sees Kyrie Irving leaving Celtics, calls 2017 trade a success

Cavs owner sees Kyrie Irving leaving Celtics, calls 2017 trade a success

What a difference two years makes.

When the Celtics acquired Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers in August 2017, it felt like a steal for Boston. When Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder were off the Cavs' roster within a year and a talented Celtics squad reached the Eastern Conference Finals without Irving, it felt like a fleecing.

But if you ask Cavs owner Dan Gilbert now, he'll tell you Cleveland actually made out swimmingly in the deal -- because he believes Irving's tenure in Boston is over.

"I don’t know, but I think Kyrie will leave Boston,” Gilbert told Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We could have ended up with nothing. Looking back after all the moves (Cavs general manager) Koby (Altman) made, we killed it in that trade."

"Killed it" might be a bit strong, Dan.

The Cavs did use the Brooklyn Nets pick the Celtics sent them to draft point guard Collin Sexton. But turning Thomas and Crowder into Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson didn't exactly move the needle, and Cleveland dropped to No. 5 in the 2019 NBA Draft after tanking its way to a 19-63 record.

What Gilbert might be right about though, is trading Irving at the right time. Gilbert confirmed Irving's agent mentioned the All-Star guard could opt for knee surgery if the Cavs didn't deal him in 2017, and Irving's knee eventually held him out of the 2018 NBA playoffs.

One year later, Irving's future in Boston looks murky, as he's reportedly considering the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers in free agency this summer after cooling on his preseason promise to sign with the Celtics long-term.

As team success goes, the Celtics are still the clear winner of that 2017 blockbuster. But it sounds like Gilbert would view Irving bolting Boston as further validation the Cavs made the right move.

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