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Grading The Deal: Celtics Capitalize In Three-Team Deal With Cavs, Nets

The Cleveland Cavaliers wanted to create cap space to facilitate a max offer for LeBron James and the Brooklyn Nets had been targeting Jarrett Jack for months, creating the framework for a trade that needed a third team.

The Boston Celtics were more than happy to grease the wheels, adding to an abundance of long-term assets in the process.

Cleveland will trade Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev to Brooklyn and Tyler Zeller and a protected first-round pick in 2016 to Boston, shedding approximately $9.5 million in salary.  The trade helps give the Cavaliers $21.7 million in cap space, spurring speculation that LeBron could return to his home state and the franchise that made him the first overall pick in 2003.

The Cavaliers will also acquire the draft rights to Edin Bavcic and Ilkan Karaman from the Nets. While the Cavaliers are the principal team in the deal, Boston will also acquire Marcus Thornton from Brooklyn to complete the trade.

The Celtics will reportedly surrender a future second-round selection, but is unlikely to be conveyed since it is top-55 protected.

Brooklyn needed help in the backcourt after Shaun Livingston signed with the Golden State Warriors as a free agent. The Nets and Cavaliers reportedly discussed Jack last February before Brooklyn acquired Thornton from the Sacramento Kings.

Danny Ainge and Mike Zarren are able to add a pair of assets in Zeller and a first-round pick for the cost of Thornton’s expiring $8.5 million contract. Boston has so many future draft picks that parting with a second-rounder was an easy decision.

The Celtics were able to take on the salaries of Zeller and Thornton thanks to the $10.3 million trade exception they acquired from the Nets last offseason in the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett deal. It might be a good idea for Mikhail Prokhorov to bar Billy King from negotiating with Ainge in the future.

Zeller gives Brad Stevens a much-needed big body and the 24-year-old could still develop into something more than he was in Cleveland, but he’ll never be the rim protector that Boston is lacking. At his price point and experience, he should be a nice option off the bench.

He averaged just 15 minutes and 4.1 attempts in 2013-14, but Zeller shot 53.8% from the field and his Total Rebound Percentage (15.1%) ranked third among Cleveland’s regulars. His per 36 numbers last season were solid -- 13.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.

Thornton, who will play for his fourth team since he was drafted 43rd overall in 2009, will provide scoring and not much else for the Celtics. He has averaged 13.4 points per game in his career, but never shot better than 45.1% over the course of a full season. His shooting percentages have all trended downward over the last three years, including a career-low 39.4% in 2013-14.

Primarily the top scorer off the bench throughout his career, which had included 126 starts (341 games), Thornton tends to use up several possessions while rarely finding teammates in position to score. He’s a better shooter, but in many ways he will be Jordan Crawford 2.0.

As you might expect, Cleveland’s 2016 first-round pick is the biggest part of this deal from Boston’s perspective. The selection is reportedly top-10 protected for three years until it becomes completely unprotected in 2019. With Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins (or Kevin Love) and possibility LeBron in the fold, the Celtics should except to receive the pick in the first possible draft.

Grade for the Celtics: A-

It’s hard to assume what else the Celtics could have done with the $10.3 million trade exception, but receiving what they did is a very nice haul. Adding a seven-footer to your rotation and a first-round pick is an obvious win, but Thornton’s expiring deal brings other options as well.

A playoff contender might be interested in acquiring Thornton, who would be due just a portion of his $8.5 million salary, at midseason to bolster their bench.

I mentioned Love above in regards to the Cavaliers, but Ainge is still believed to be in the hunt to acquire the All-Star from the Minnesota Timberwolves. An additional pick in the debt column should help Boston’s cause if they do engage in serious talks with Minnesota.

Here is the breakdown of the first-round picks the Celtics have through 2018:

2015: Own, Clippers, 76ers 15-30 (via Heat)

2016: Own, Nets

2017: Own or Nets, whichever is better

2018: Own, Nets

The Celtics have a ton of tools to execute a successful rebuild, but will have to find the perfect combination of using picks and dealing them for established talent over the next four years.

Grading The Deal: Celtics Keep Avery Bradley

The Boston Celtics acted quickly in reaching terms with Avery Bradley on a new contract, agreeing to a four-year, $32 million deal on Wednesday. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald first reported that Bradley would remain with the Celtics.

Bradley entered July as a restricted free agent after the Celtics extended his $3.6 million qualifying offer earlier this week. Boston drafted Bradley with the 19th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft.

In a vacuum, spending $8 million annually on Bradley seems careless, but it’s not as troubling when you consider the other contracts that have been agreed upon since free agency opened (see: Jodie Meeks and Ben Gordon). It’s not smart to grade the terms of a contract solely on what others are doing, but it has become clear rather quickly that 2014 will be a lucrative summer.

Bradley is a 23-year-old four-year veteran, but a series of injuries (ankle, shoulders) have kept him from putting together a complete season. He has averaged just 51 games played per season, including 60 this past year as the Celtics endured a transitional season. There are significant questions about his offensive game, but his ability to stay healthy is the biggest question mark surrounding his future.

Danny Ainge and the Boston medical staff don’t expect any of Bradley past injuries to prove chronic, despite a pair of shoulder surgeries in 2012 that had lasting effects on his game.

Brad Stevens can always count on Bradley for great defense, he’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the league, but his offensive game has left many wanting more. He was a horrible shooter during his rookie season of 2010-11 when he had a 36 True Shooting Percentage. However, his ability to develop a three-point shot has helped make him a more efficient scorer.

Bradley was percentage points (49.8%) away from being a 50% shooter in 2011-12 and made 40.7% of his threes, but the aforementioned shoulder woes hindered any further development. During the 2012-13 season, he shot 40.2% from the field and 31.7% from three as he regressed.

Given more time to heal and put in work without restrictions, Bradley accomplished an impressive feat this past season. He increased his usage rate to 23.2% (up from 17.9 in 2011-12 and 18.8 in 2012-13), while also featuring an improved shot. He shot just 43.8% overall, but made 39.5% of his threes. His three-point percentage is significant because he attempted a career-high 3.3 per game.

Assuming his three-point shot has leveled off and will remain a reliable option, Bradley’s next task will be to improve his midrange shot. Opposing teams are going to key in on running Bradley off the three-point line and into the danger zone. In his career, he shoots just 28.4% from 3-10 feet out and 32.1% from 10-16 feet.

Grade for Bradley: A

Bradley is comfortable in Boston and had stated a desire to re-sign with the Celtics. Landing long-term security and a pretty large payday given his injury history is a huge win for the former Texas Longhorn. Reports have suggested that Bradley and his representation requested this sort of deal prior to the 2013-14 season, but the Celtics weren’t willing to take the plunge. I’m not sure what Ainge and Co. saw over the last eight months that convinced them to pull the trigger, but they seem confident Bradley will be healthy and that he’s not done developing.

Grade for the Celtics: B-

The terms of this deal were eye-popping when first reported, but it seems as though $8 million per season is the new mid-level, average NBA contract for a rotation player under 30. It’s simply conjecture, but I’d imagine that Brad Stevens had a significant say in re-signing Bradley at this number. Stevens has a year with the Celtics under his belt and values the toughness and defense that Bradley brings to the court.

It was a bit puzzling that Boston was able to come to terms so quickly with Bradley, especially since the Philadelphia 76ers were also believed to be very interested in his services and they have what may become a crowded backcourt.

Ainge maintains that Rajon Rondo isn’t being shopped even though the Celtics used the sixth overall pick on Marcus Smart last week. The team has also been linked to another restricted free agent -- Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas.

Bradley and Rondo have plenty of experience playing together and you can add Smart into a strong three-guard rotation that was a revolving door last season.

As Long Season Ends, Danny Ainge Provides Insight Into Celtics' Offseason

The Boston Celtics mercifully closed the books on their 2013-14 season on Wednesday night with a listless 118-102 loss to the playoff-bound Washington Wizards. At one point in the first half -- with Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Kris Humphries and Jerryd Bayless sitting out -- Brad Stevens sent out Chris Babb, Avery Bradley, Chris Johnson, Brandon Bass and Joel Anthony.

The loss dropped the Celtics to 25-57, their lowest win total since the 2006-07 season, when they scratched together just 24 victories. We all know they flipped the script just one year later, winning it all after acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in offseason trades, but such a drastic turnaround won’t happen this time around.

“I think the Fourth of July, we’ll have some fireworks,” Ainge said when asked if this offseason would be an eventful one. “I don’t know; we’re hopeful. I have some ideas and some plans that I’d like to do but there’s just no guarantee that we can do it. We need to find good trading partners. We always are trying to make fireworks every summer. We try to do something that’s unique and special and we will definitely try this summer.”

The work begins immediately for Ainge, who has already been preparing for June’s NBA Draft. The Celtics will have about $15 million in salary coming off the books heading into the offseason, but the most efficient way for them to add long-term talent will be using their multiple draft picks.

Boston has the highest chance at landing the fifth pick in next month’s lottery and also has Brooklyn’s first-rounder at their disposal in a draft that has lost some of it’s luster, thanks in part to executives like Ainge downplaying the class publicly. On Wednesday night, Ainge left open the possibility of either dealing for more picks or even trading some of their current ones away.

“I could see that possibly happening, acquiring more assets,” Ainge said. “I could see giving up our assets, our young assets and some draft picks for players as well and everywhere in between.”

Ainge will have the contract of Brandon Bass ($6.95 million) to use as a trade sweetener because it expires after next season. Rajon Rondo ($13 million in 2014-15) is Boston’s only other expiring contract of note and I remain of the belief that Ainge will hang onto the mercurial point guard rather than trade him. It’s telling that Rondo has been mentioned in rumors for several seasons, yet never been moved.

In perhaps another veiled attempt to increase Rondo’s value heading into this summer, Ainge predicted big things for the 28-year-old next season.

“I think that Rajon will have the best year of his career next year. I think he’s sort of in a phase of his life where he’s matured, he’s just smarter, and the game has slowed for him,” he said.

“I think he’ll be really healthy and fresher with a summer of strength [work]. You sort of bypass the mental anguish from him coming back from the knee surgery and the ACL and that’s been sort of the pattern of guys in the past. The first few, 30, 20 games whatever are an adjustment period so I’m confident he’ll have the best year of his career.”

Rondo played in a career-low 30 games this season after tearing his ACL last January. He was sidelined by shin and hamstring injuries in the season’s final week and didn’t play in back-to-back situations upon his initial return.

Whether it was his ongoing recovery, or the absence of longtime teammates Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Rondo had the lowest TS% (46.1) of his career and a 44.0 eFG%, the lowest mark since his rookie season. He inched closer to 30% as a three-point shooter (28.9%), but was just a 40.3% shooter overall.

Deciding Rondo’s future has to be the first step on Ainge’s checklist because it will shape how the organization attacks both the draft and free agency.

“Listen, there’s no one person that’s more important than the whole organization,” Ainge said when asked if he would hasten the team’s rebuilding project with Rondo only under contract for another year. “We need to be good because we all want to be good. I want my coach to stay, I want Jeff Green to want to be here, I want free agents that are out there looking at us play to want to play here. I want fans to want to come to the game, everybody wants to win, but not just for one player, not just for one person. We all want to win and that’s what we are trying to accomplish.”

The Celtics began this season just a few months removed from the end of the Pierce-Garnett-Doc Rivers era, and the haze from the emotional departures never fully cleared. They were without a true leader or superstar in the first half of the season with Rondo sidelined and featured a disjointed roster.

There were flashes from Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk and Pressey, but Stevens’ infamous postgame “#EveryGameIsAnAdventure” back in December proved to be a mantra for the entire season.

“It was a long season, I guess not that long, but it was a tough, tough year and I saw a lot of positive things from individuals,” Ainge reflected. “I thought our team gave good effort most nights, I think consistency was our biggest challenge and I don’t think the team was a great fit, great mix, but individually I think what I saw in almost every player. I just feel like we didn’t have the size inside to protect the rim, I thought that was a big factor that cost us a lot of games and we didn’t finish a lot of games down the stretch.”

After trading Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets, Ainge was left with a disorganized roster and future flexibility. Not doing much after the Brooklyn trade made it seem as though Ainge had been looking past this season all along, but he wouldn’t admit as much. Even if it sounded very much like that was the case.

“I think that we started the season very concerned with the personnel,” Ainge said. “I thought Vitor gave us some size at times; his injury hurt us some there. He was a rookie and playing inconsistent, but showing some signs of being a presence inside. I think all the way up to the trade deadline we looked at opportunities to make our team better, but we wouldn’t sacrifice draft picks to make us better for just this year, but we looked for opportunities to make out team better in the long-term.”

Assuming Rondo remains, the core of this team will likely also contain Jared Sullinger, Olynyk and whomever the Celtics take with their top pick two months from now. The Kevin Love rumors will be persistent and Sullinger (as well as the high pick) would undoubtedly have to be part of any deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but I’ve never been a believer in either the likelihood of such a deal or just how much better the Celtics would be with a Rondo-Love tandem.

Whether he remains in Boston or is the centerpiece of a trade, Sullinger has a lot of room to grow. In just his second season, with major back surgery coming in between the two, Sullinger averaged 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds in fewer than 28 minutes per game.

“I think that Jared is still very young and I don’t think he understands, yet, how good he is,” Ainge said. “He’s heard it. He’s heard it from a lot of people: his father, from his agent to his coaches how good he can be, but until he believes how good he can be and really puts in the time, and I really do believe that Jared will this summer and is going to be in better shape next year.”

Regardless of what it looks like in six months, Brad Stevens will be the one coaching the roster Ainge puts together. Stevens gave himself an “incomplete” for the season, but in reality he did about as well he could have with the hand he was dealt.

In six years at Butler, Stevens won 77.2% of his games and was on the losing end just 49 times. The Celtics lost their 49th game on March 28, and then proceeded to lose eight more times.

“Brad did a great job this year. He’s a special person and a great coach and the players see it,” Ainge said. “The players see his work ethic, they see his integrity and they see his intelligence, so I think he’s earned the respect of the team in a really difficult situation this year and I know he’s going to get better. He’ll be better next year and he’ll be better the next year. He’s a sponge, and he’s very intelligent with a great work ethic and I couldn’t be happier.”

The two biggest remaining question marks for the Celtics are the futures of Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. Green is due $9.2 million in each of the next two seasons, with 2015-16 coming as a player option, while Bradley is a restricted free agent this summer.

Bradley hasn’t shown that he can remain on the floor and his offense has yet to progress significantly. There are two schools of thought on what that means for the Celtics -- he’s either easy to let go or valuable on a discounted deal given his lowered value.

Green was forced into the role of a No. 1 option, something he’s not, often this season. His contract isn’t as bad as it once looked, which gives Ainge multiple options -- keep him and move him into a more customary and effective supportive role, or move him for future assets.

“[Green] became more a focal point of the offense and he had his ups and downs with that, but I think his game is complete and I think Jeff is improving as a player,” Ainge said. “I think he still has a lot of growth still left in his game and I think he’s going to have a better year next year than he had this year.”

Without a Garnett and Allen out there to acquire, Ainge has his work cut out for him. If he thought this season was long, wait until the offseason begins.

The Eastern Conference At The Deadline

The East deals included the only two All-Stars dealt (Antawn Jamison and Danny Granger), the two best players (Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes), and the smartest player (Professor Andre Miller, PhD).

A Year After Back Surgery, Jared Sullinger Isn’t Yet Satisfied

A little more than a year since going under the knife, Jared Sullinger is headed to All-Star weekend for the Rising Stars Challenge in New Orleans. He talks to RealGM about how he remained strong during rehab and where he sees his career going.

Fix It: Boston Celtics

The Celtics traded away two of their three best players, hired a rookie head coach without previous NBA experience, and their best player has sat out the first two months of the season recovering from a torn ACL. Where has that left them? Second place in the Atlantic Division and a shot at homecourt advantage in the playoffs.

30 Rapid-Fire Questions For Each Team's Front Office

The following 30 questions are the biggest issues facing each NBA front office as the 13-14 regular season begins.

Gerald Wallace Still Learning To Accept New Role With Celtics

Rajon Rondo is the unquestioned leader of the Celtics, but Gerald Wallace will have to take on somewhat of a mentoring role as well. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce helped keep the mercurial point guard in check when necessary and Brad Stevens will turn just 37 in late October.

30-Team Offseason Rundown

Great drafts for the Rockets, 76ers, Nets, Warriors, Hawks and Grizzlies headline this complete rundown of the 2013 offseason.

Summer League Player Evaluation: Kelly Olynyk

It isn’t by chance that Kelly Olynyk is so refined offensively. As a kid, he was taught the game of basketball by having it broken down for him completely, making him a very fundamentally-sound player. In the same way, he must break the game down on the defensive end of the floor in order to elevate his IQ and develop his skills as a defender.

2013 NBA Offseason Primer

With the 2013 NBA offseason underway, here is a primer on what all 30 teams are facing.

Leroux's 2013 NBA Draft Review

Breaking down all 30 teams by category of how they fared in the often surprising, never disappointing 2013 NBA Draft.

The End Of A Celtics' Era Regardless

A page needs to be turned and the Clippers are doing Danny Ainge and the Celtics a favor by making it impossible not to flip it and jumpstart the rebuilding process.

Ray Allen's Choice

Only Ray Allen can tell you what he really felt about the way he was treated after deciding to leave the Celtics, but none of that really matters. He’s four wins away from his second NBA title and his decision to join the Heat has been validated. That, however, wasn’t what this was all about.

2013 NBA Amnesty Primer

One fun component of the Amnesty rule is that we know exactly which players are eligible for it and that number can only decrease over time since the players had to have been under contract with the same team before the new CBA.

Celtics Pushed To Brink With Poor Performance In Game 3

Now, the Celtics, who many felt no one wanted to face in the first round, are a loss away from a sweep. Before long, the questions surrounding the team will have a much farther reach than just the scope of a poor playoff series.

Knicks Protect Homecourt With Second Half Defense

The Knicks allowed only 25 points in the second half of Game 1, only to allow 23 points in the second half of Game 2. New York’s second half performance in Game 2 set a new franchise playoff record for the fewest points allowed in a half.

Celtics Rested, Ready To Go

The Celtics, old as they may be, are still capable of playing good basketball, that we know, but will they have enough in the tank to compete for another title? Rested and healthy, the Celtics are confident that a deep playoff run is not only possible, it's probable.

After Being The Man In China, D.J. White Ready To Restart NBA Career

D.J. White has struggled to establish himself as an NBA player, but hopes his return from China after playing a bigger role again changes his career trajectory.

How Many Players Teams Acquire At Each Trade Deadline On Average

The Kings, Knicks, Rockets, Thunder and Cavaliers have been the most active teams at the deadline over the past decade, while the Spurs, Pistons, Heat, Lakers and Pacers have made the fewest deals.

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