Belden: Celtics still have options for improvement

Ben Belden

Thursday's draft came has come and gone, and Paul George is still an Indiana Pacer, at least for the time being. That could change come July, however.

According to Indiana general manager Kevin Pritchard, the Pacers still have a list of offers on the table for George's services, but are waiting to see which one best suits their needs. Reading into this a little bit, it would seem that a team with plenty of accumulated assets is waiting to see how free agency plays out before making a move. Reading further into this, it seems like the Boston Celtics would make the most sense to land George's services.

If the Celtics clear their cap holds by renouncing their rights to impending free agents Amir Johnson, JonasJerebko, GeraldGreen, and JamesYoung, they clear enough space to offer a maximum contract to a premier player. Two candidates to receive that money who have been linked to the Celtics in recent weeks are GordonHayward and BlakeGriffin.

From there, the Celtics could sign one of the aforementioned stars and then use some combination of remaining players on their roster (take your pick from Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller, Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Terry Rozier) to match salaries in a trade for Paul George. The Celtics also have control of Brooklyn's 1st-round pick in 2018, Philadelphia's pick in 2019, and numerous picks of their own that they can use as bargaining chips in the process.

But clearly there are important decisions need to be made. There are a few scenarios that would afford the Celtics the ability to add to their team:

  1. Sign Gordon Hayward and trade for Paul George: The Celtics' interest in Hayward has been long-lived, especially given his relationship with Celtics coach Brad Stevens who coached Hayward at Butler. However, if the Celtics choose to go the route of signing Hayward and trading for George, they lack a traditional power forward and big men in general. Hayward and George could share the front court with Al Horford, creating a powerful small lineup, but the Celtics may struggle to cover some teams in the East, such as the Cavs, in that scenario.
  2. Sign Blake Griffin and trade for Paul George: Griffin is a more traditional power forward who still gives the Celtics the versatility they need to compete with the Cavaliers other teams' small-ball lineups. Griffin and George would share the front court with Horford, while Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas would round out the starting lineup. This may also be Boston's back-up plan if Hayward decides to go elsewhere in free agency.
  3. Sign Hayward or Griffin and don't trade for George at all: This is probably the least exciting option for the Celtics, but it also would be the option that gives the Celtics the most depth.
  4. Trade picks for George and absorb his contract into cap space: Perhaps the Pacers would be interested in getting Brooklyn's 2018 pick and Philadelphia's 2019 pick in exchange for George. This wouldn't deplete the Celtics of their most valuable assets and would allow them to add a terrific player to a team that played in the Eastern Conference Finals a month ago. In addition, it would allow the Pacers to create a massive trade exception--as they would be taking on no additional salary--to absorb players with bad contracts and draft picks from other teams throughout the season. .

While it remains unclear if George would commit to the Celtics long-term or whether the Celtics would be willing to pull the trigger on a trade without any assurance from George, there are some options for the Celtics to improve and compete for Eastern Conference supremacy next season.

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