By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON — The Celtics continue to be the talk of the offseason amid the latest reports from Adrian Wojnarowski that team is angling to land Gordon Hayward and Paul George next month to create a super team of their own. While there is no guarantee the duo will join forces in Boston, it’s important to remember a few key points while taking stock of what a team with George or Hayward/Blake Griffin might look like in Boston.
1. The Celtics will have to make some tough decisions to even sign Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin.
The new $98 million salary cap number hurts the Celtics a lot here. All of the team’s current free agents will have to be let go. Youngsters like Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson will be cut or traded. Guerschon Yabusele will have to be stashed another year. Plus, a key rotation member (Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart) will need to be dealt. Boston will be gutting most of their depth even before a possible trade for Paul George gets executed.
2. Signing Paul George to an extension that makes sense for him financially is going to be very hard if the Celtics want to keep a contending roster in 2017-18.
To get a player like George to sign an extension, you have to give some incentive for him to do so. He’s set to earn $19.6 million next year and the Celtics will need open up some salary cap room in order to give him the raise now that would offset his earnings upon hitting the open market in 2018 — likely as a max free agent.
In order to do that, the Celtics would likely have to say goodbye to two of the following players: Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum. Either that or a trade of Al Horford would be required.
A starting core of Hayward, George and Horford is enticing, but does it work without Thomas or Smart? You’d be looking at a team with Tatum, Brown, George, Hayward, Horford, Ante Zizic and little else. On the flip side, it’s hard to imagine Ainge sacrificing one or both of his last two No. 3 overall picks just to sign George to an extension now, particularly when that team wouldn’t be a NBA favorite compared to the Warriors.
Fill in the rest of those teams with rookies, veteran minimum deals, veterans from overseas and that’s what the Celtics would be looking like. That’s an elite team, but a squad that doesn’t have the depth to hang with the Cavs or Warriors. I think it’s safe to say the Celtics would rather roll the dice on keeping George after a year then risk losing two of Smart, Thomas, Tatum and Brown now.
3. Keeping a core of Thomas, Horford, Hayward and George together in 2018 is going to be incredibly expensive, unless some people are taking discounts.
Horford is signed to max money through the 2019 season. Hayward is due a max contract this summer. George and Thomas will both be looking for one next summer. That would be well over $120 million committed to four players, an amount that would send the Celtics skyrocketing into the high ends of the luxury tax for the foreseeable future. Would Wyc Grousbeck and Co. be willing to pay around $200+ million per year for a contender, even when they are a heavy underdog to the Warriors? It’s hard to see him taking that path, which is why the Celtics would probably have to choose between Thomas and Horford next summer in this scenario.
All of this would have to be under consideration for the Celtics upon pulling the trigger on a deal for George initially.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.