Why the Paul George Trade Fell Through for the Celtics
The Boston Celtics are the best set team for the next five years when it comes to young players and high draft picks while also fielding an entertaining club night in and night out. Most Celtics fans have spent every waking moment since the horn sounded on the Eastern Conference Finals fretting over whether or not Danny Ainge could pull off a trade for Paul George and bring in free agent Gordon Hayward. Now we know only one of those is a possibility (and even Plan C; attaining Blake Griffin, is off the table). Paul George was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the poo poo platter known as Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis… and exactly zero picks. The Indiana Pacers made this trade for two reasons; Oladippo is a fine young player with ties to Indiana, and Sabonis still has room to grow and figure out NBA rotations and three point consistency. That trade has lodged a 20 pound pit in the stomach of Celtics fans because they are all thinking, “how did Danny Ainge not propose a better offer?” If the initial reports are to be believed, Ainge had a much better off on the table for Indiana, but they wanted more and Ainge was not going to sell the farm for possibly one year, and only year only, of Paul George.
When Paul George said he wanted to play in Los Angeles for the Lakers he completely shredded any chance the Pacers had at leverage. Somehow though the Pacers turned what should be a lose-lose situation (superstar wants to leave town, trade him now or watch him leave for nothing) into a bonus; field all possible trade offers from practically every team in the league. Where people get confused in these scenarios is how much Player A and Pick A are valued by Team A and how much Player A and Pick A are valued by Team B. In this case Team A is the Pacers and Team B is the Celtics. Both teams set their value for Paul George. But in this particular case, the Pacers wanted something from the Celtics they were unwilling to give up (the Brooklyn/Lakers pick) and without that trade piece, they were never going to make a deal.
The irony of the Celtics being in such a great place assets wise is that every team they try to deal with wants the same thing; the highest pick possible. The Celtics most recent offer was Three First-Round draft picks and two starters (including Jae Crowder). The noise on the internet is that the Celtics offered a similar package at the trade deadline, but included the Brooklyn pick, which at that time nobody knew was going to be the No. 1 overall pick. If the rumor is true, and the Pacers were guaranteed that was going to be the No. 1, they would have made that trade in an instant. The Pacers did not gamble though and lost out on what turned out to the be the No. 1 pick. Now that the Celtics have Jayson Tatum, they are in even better position than they were at the trading deadline. I am on record as saying I love the fit of Tatum with the Celtics and cannot wait to see what Semi Ojeleye does while rocking the Shamrock.
Why the Paul George trade kept falling though though is because the Pacers and Celtics could not agree on the value of assets vis a vis Paul George. At this year’s trading deadline the Celtics had a high opinion of the Brooklyn pick while the Pacers clearly did not because they were not assured it was the No. 1 pick (this was also before Paul George said he wanted to play in L.A.). Now, after the draft, the Celtics had a higher opinion of next year’s pick, and the Pacers placed an even higher value on that pick after seeing what happened this draft and knowing that it could very well be the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft. The Pacers know the Celtics have a ton of assets and tried to ransom away those draft picks, but when Danny Ainge said hell no to trading away Jaylen/Jayson, the Pacers tried to play chicken and said “those guys or nothing.” Danny Ainge was content with nothing.
The problem is the Celtics have so many valuable assets teams think the Celtics will part with them for lower than their value. If there is one thing for certain about Dany Ainge, he does not like to be on the wrong end of trades. Just because the Celtics have more toys than any other team in the NBA, does not mean they do not like all of their toys. Ainge loves the shiny new Al Horford toy he bought last offseason. He cherishes the undersized Isaiah Thomas mini toy he got in a trade with the Suns. He has always loved his hand-picked defensive toys he selected at the NBA draft (Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart) and rightfully refuses to let anybody play with his two newest attractions, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. However, just because Ainge has a plethora of toys, does not mean he is willing to share them. He gave the Pacers a chance to take two of his older and beloved defensive toys, and even three future ones, but the Pacers wanted the brand new toys… so Ainge decided to be selfish, and I think that was the right move.
What the Paul George Trade Taught Us About the Celtics Timeline
The Pacers played chicken with Ainge. Ainge did not blink. Instead of the Pacers walking away with Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley plus three first round picks, they got Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis plus… nothing. The Pacers believed the Celtics did not value their picks because they had so many. That was incorrect. The price was too high for Ainge. Especially for Paul George who might just end up as a one year rental. If you are the Celtics and made the Eastern Conference Finals last season, what is compelling you to make a panic move? Nothing.
All signs point to LeBron James being gone from Cleveland next season and more than likely to the Western Conference. If that is the case then the Celtics are in a one year holding pattern, and all they have done is added another dynamic scorer to the rotation. Everybody is undervaluing what the Celtics have right now. That is, everybody is undervaluing what the Celtics have right now with the exception of Danny Ainge. Ainge knows that Paul George was going to make the Celtics better. But if it was at the cost of one year, the one year being the last time you have to deal with LeBron James, why would you mortgage your future for a present that is not guaranteed?
The Celtics are a fun, young, and more importantly, good team. Waiting one year will not hurt their chances. In fact, waiting one year will more than likely increase their chances. They will only get better as everybody with the exception of Avery Bradley is on good contracts. They will have to extend Isaiah Thomas after the season, but they still have room on this roster, a roster that I will remind you… made the eastern conference finals this season and won a game without their best player.
There is this panic around the NBA to jump ahead of the Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. Everyone wants to jump to light speed, but Danny Ainge is content to travel at 71 MPH in the left hand land. It might look like he is barely moving compared to Steph Curry and the Warriors, but while the Western Conference juggernaut is plowing through all the cars on the highway without fear of damage, Ainge is steering clear of the wreckage and passing every other car while staying in pristine condition. Everybody wants to win now and nobody wants to wait six years. But Ainge is not saying wait till 2024. He is saying wait till 2019, and in the mean time, enjoy this thrilling, explosive and entertaining young team.
If the Pacers had waited and not jumped the gun, maybe they could have had this type of team. But they panicked while Ainge stayed cool and relaxed. So Paul George will not be a Celtic this year. More than likely he would not have been a Celtic two years from now no matter what. When all the cards were on the table, Ainge took a look at his chip count and decided to bet. When the Pacers attempted to come over the top of Ainge, he took another look at the scenario and folded. There is nothing wrong with folding when the common consensus is you have to wait it out another year anyways. The Cavaliers are in horrendous straits in terms of the cap this year. They are in an even worse position after 2018 because most people believe LeBron James will high-tail it out once again.
In this day and age of instant information, patience is not something most people deal well with. Ainge has told Celtics fans to cool out and wait, but most have reached the end of their patience. But there is good news. Celtics fans have discovered two new pieces of information they can cling to for hope now that the Paul George scenario is clear: (1) Ainge is in fact willing to put his chips into the middle of the table and place bets, but if other teams want to break Ainge’s bank, he is unwilling to do that, and (2) we now finally know the timeline for success; Ainge is going to let all his shiny toys out of the box and expects them to play for the championship, not in 2018, but in 2019.