NBA fans, are you ready for silly season? July 1st kicks off free agency, and this summer is extra special with LeBron James heading to the open market. There is no shortage of rumors linking James to teams all over the league. The latest rumor has the Boston Celtics very much in play to make a run at James. How could this happen? As The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks pointed out, by following the path Chris Paul took to get to the Rockets last off-season. James would have to opt-in to the final year of his Cavs deal, and Cleveland would need to trade James to the Celtics.
LeBron would need to take the same path to Boston that Chris Paul took to Houston. He could opt into the final year of his contract at $35.6 million, and the Celtics could trade for him with a package based around either Hayward or Irving. Since both teams are over the salary cap, the first step would be matching salaries, which would be easier with Hayward (who will make $31.2 million next season) than Kyrie ($20.1 million). The Cavs might prefer to acquire Hayward, who they once chased in free agency, over Kyrie considering all the prior history between the two parties. Hayward is also under contract for two more seasons, while Kyrie could be free next offseason.
The simplest deal would be trading LeBron for Hayward, Marcus Morris, and a first-round pick. Cleveland, as much as they might hate to trade LeBron within their conference, would have to do it. If Hayward returns at 100 percent from his ankle injury, he would be their new franchise player, and a team built around Hayward and Kevin Love would immediately be relevant in the Eastern Conference. They could round out their starting lineup with some combination of George Hill, J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr., Morris, and the no. 8 overall pick.
As Tjarks pointed out, the Celtics would likely have to part with Gordon Hayward who they just signed last summer. The Celtics are an attractive trade partner for the Cavs as they have a lot of assets to offer in return for sending James to his preferred destination. ESPN’s Chris Haynes thinks the Celtics could be a real possibility.
“Let’s not overlook the Boston Celtics,” Haynes told CLNS Media. “If Boston reached out and said we’re serious, LeBron would listen…One GM brought up to me, ‘There was a time where you stay in the east you had a much easier path to the finals. Will that necessarily be true with Boston and Philadelphia? There’s not a team like them [Celtics] in the west, a young team that looks like its going to be there for the next 9 or 10 years.'”
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith listed the Celtics as one of seven teams James would consider signing with. There are a few key pieces that could prevent this from happening.
First, everything connecting James to Boston is speculation at this point. Also, Irving demanded a trade away from Cleveland, so the Celtics trading for James would likely create a bit of tension (assuming they did not trade Irving). Finally, it is unclear where the Celtics stand on James.
What we do know from past experience is GM Danny Ainge would trade his own relatives if it meant the Celtics are closer to winning a title. We saw that last summer with Isaiah Thomas. It is hard to imagine the Celtics not being a better team with the addition of James. The Celtics also have as many as four picks in next year’s draft they can use as either trade bait, or a way to show James their roster can get even better.