The NBA belongs to the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder, these teams might never hook up and do a deal, but they control the fate of what could be another wild swing in league hierarchy.
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Boston, led by resourceful president Danny Ainge, has a wealth of draft picks and an excess of talent capable of putting together a package for almost any player in the league.
The Thunder, scorned by Kevin Durant, have to figure out what to do with Russell Westbrook, meaning a team could wind up taking a potential MVP off their hands.
The Celtics have disappointed so far this summer.
The team is at least partially to blame for the silly amounts of hype on the rumors market. Look at the draft, where speculation a major trade was a sure thing instead turned up Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabuseleand Ante Zizic in the first round.
Al Horford was a major get in free agency who perhaps makes the Celtics the biggest threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. But folks understand the team still has a wild amount of assets, and Ainge loves to search for a deal.
Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald noted that Ainge remains on the hunt for a deal: “According to league sources, Danny Ainge is still very much open to making deals, but the process on anything larger than today’s transactions may not begin in earnest for weeks, if not months.”
That’s a long time to wait.
Bulpett went on to explain what most don’t want to hear: Boston isn’t willing to give up what it would take to bring on Westbrook or Blake Griffin. It’s especially the case with the former because he heads to free agency after next season, and there isn’t a guarantee he would re-sign with the team.
By now it’s obvious Jahlil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers might be the most realistic option for the Celtics,
“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,” Blakely wrote.
But this is interesting too because Bulpett added his own opinion on any Boston-Philadelphia get-together, classifying the talks that started as early as the draft as “stale.”
It’s becoming more apparent Boston isn’t willing to break up what it has for change, which makes sense. Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and a few high-upside players make for a deep backcourt, Jae Crowder is a solid forward who mentors Brown, and Horford leads the way down low.
Ainge will have a hard time convincing another team to give up something for a price he likes when the potential trade partner can point to the roster and ask for more. This isn’t necessarily Boston’s fault for playing the situation smart, but it won’t stop the constant rumblings, either.
The Thunder don’t want to give up top assets, either.
Said top asset is Westbrook, the last man standing after Durant joined the Golden State Warriors. Speculation has surrounded his future since the seconds after Durant’s decision, with the fact that he heads to free agency next summer the main talking point.
Conventional wisdom says the Thunder need to give Westbrook an ultimatum and deal him if he cannot commit to a future with the organization. It’s what the front office failed to do with Durant, and now the Thunder run the risk of fading back into small-market obscurity.
It’s easy to assume Westbrook might desire a star solo role in a bigger market, but it might be wise for the Thunder to let him have a run in such a capacity with the team. Who knows? Maybe he puts up MVP-caliber numbers and the team continues to make moves to strengthen the team around him. The front office has a knack for it (hence the great addition of Oladipo to keep Durant happy) and can offer as much cash as anywhere.
Still, 2017 will continue to loom. Westbrook might not want to leave, but he doesn’t seem to want to get bogged down by an extension, either. This tosses the Thunder in a historically tough spot for the second season in a row and makes for the most important and fluid situation in the NBA.