Although the Celtics are in rebuilding mode, with expectations lowered and assets being gathered, team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is able to take chances he wasn’t afforded during the Big Three Era.
When he made the deal last year to send Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn — a trade whose benefits appear endless — Ainge began toying with the Celtics’ roster, bringing in players with either soiled reputations, tradeable contracts, or the ability to blossom.
Such is the case with Evan Turner, who agreed to what is believed to be a two-year contract last week after being a free agent afterthought. Turner, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, was maligned in Philadelphia from the start because of his inability to become a game-breaker. He barely played for the Indiana Pacers after a midseason trade, leaving him at a career crossroads before the Celtics offered relief.
Remember, the Celtics revived the careers of Kris Humphries, who earned a three-year deal with the Washington Wizards, and Jerryd Bayless, who is close to a two-year agreement with the Milwaukee Bucks following a solid stint in Boston. There doesn’t appear to be much to lose for Ainge in this Turner transaction.
Turner’s agent believes it will be a successful marriage. “What it points out for me,” agent David Falk said, “is the other team we strongly considered [signing with]
In Philadelphia, Turner was drafted to aid in the 76ers’ quest to become respectable again in the Eastern Conference. Doug Collins was his first coach and the 76ers reached the playoffs in Turner’s first two seasons. But management then took a ridiculously risky chance and traded for Andrew Bynum, hoping to build on their conference semifinal appearance in 2012, and that was a disaster.
As the losses accumulated for the 76ers, the pressure to improve mounted on Turner, and new general manager Sam Hinkie decided to break down the roster even further by trading All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday in July 2013.
“I don’t think it’s about expectations,” Falk said. “I think he and Jrue Holiday were terrific together. And we had asked Philadelphia his entire fourth year, repeatedly, we urged him to please not trade [Turner]. He was really having fun. He was very productive playing for Brett Brown. and it’s not like they got a lot for the trade [to Indiana].
“They got a second-round pick for he and Lavoy Allen, and had to pay off many millions of dollars to Danny Granger to make the deal. I don’t think it was exactly a blockbuster deal for Philly. The situation could have been better.”
According to Falk, Pacers president Larry Bird told him if Turner gets into the right environment, he could average 17 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.
“If you would have told me you could sign a free agent that could average 17, 6, and 5 who was a wing player, I’d probably tell you you’re talking about a max player,” Falk said. “I’m not giving you my opinion because I’m a little bit biased because of how I feel about Evan but Larry Bird is a pretty astute observer of NBA basketball, pretty tough critic, and he has said publicly that’s who he thinks Evan Turner is. He’s always been a big Evan Turner fan and it’s unfortunate the situation didn’t work out in Indiana.
“I think Brad [Stevens] had an opportunity to take a player with a high skill set and a very strong desire to prove what happened in Indiana was a mistake. I think that Brad has a chance to put him in the right sets and have a great bargain in free agency. That’s why we put this thing together. We were looking for a coach that felt like Evan could be an important contributor to the team.”
When asked of Boston’s future roster plans, Falk said: “I think they have a lot of assets and Danny will evaluate the roster and use the assets to improve the team. I think they would have done that with or without Evan Turner.”
Perhaps the opportunity in Boston will allow Turner to live down the stigma of being a failed No. 2 overall pick. He isn’t the first such pick to struggle. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Derrick Williams, Hasheem Thabeet, and Michael Beasley are recent second overall picks to struggle mightily.
“I don’t in any way shape or form think Evan should not have been the No. 2 pick and I think he had two really good years,” Falk said. “There have been a lot of No. 2 picks that haven’t exactly been [stars]. It’s just situational. We’re excited about Boston and what lies ahead.”
MAN WITH A PLAN
Jazz general manager builds young nucleus
The Utah Jazz are attempting to build the foundation for a Western Conference contender in the near future. They drafted Dante Exum to join Trey Burke in the backcourt and then added Duke swingman Rodney Hood with their second first-round pick.
They promised to match any offer for former Butler forward and Brad Stevens pupil Gordon Hayward, and made good on that promise. The Charlotte Hornets made a maximum bid of four years and $62 million for the four-year veteran before the Jazz matched the contract. The Hornets, meanwhile, used that money to lure Lance Stephenson from the Indiana Pacers.
The Jazz appear intent on building methodically, realizing they are not a trendy free-agent destination. Tabbing Hayward as their cornerstone was a significant move.
“We were very consistent that we wanted to have Gordon here for the duration of his career,” Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey said. “You always review things, but we knew [the money] was going to be a big allotment and Gordon’s a restricted free agent, and he tested the market. He did very well but again relative to our salary-cap structure, it will not do anything to impede our ability to keep our team together and continue to build.”
The Jazz allowed Marvin Williams to sign with Charlotte a year after letting Al Jefferson join the then-Bobcats, and Paul Millsap to sign with Atlanta. Lindsey also re-signed Derrick Favors to a long-term deal, and increased playing time for former third overall pick Enes Kanter.
Hayward is one of Utah’s senior players, despite just four years of experience. The organization is committed to its youth movement.
“[Our management team] really since the Deron Williams trade [to the Nets in 2011] have been very systematic, very disciplined, and continue ahead with the rebuild and we decided to go extremely young,” Lindsey said. “And again, it was in anticipation of signings and offer sheets. We’ll stand by those decisions and own them and we’re very flexible with where we’re at as a team right now.”
Although Hayward’s yearly salary averages around $15.5 million for a player who has never made an All-Star team and whose career-best scoring average is 16.2, the value of the deal will appear more in line when the NBA raises the salary cap for the 2016-17 season with the renewal of the television contract. So the Jazz, like the Celtics with Avery Bradley, signed their restricted free agent to an above-market deal now that will eventually level off.
“The NBA is doing very well; the collective bargaining agreement is a strong one for teams and players and the cap has moved up,” Lindsey said. “So the amount that Gordon signed isn’t proportionally the same as it was seven years ago. We’re very comfortable with who [Hayward] is, the age that he’s at. He’s got pristine health. He’s 24, versatile, athletic, reliable, hard-working, and it just sounds like a natural fit for the Utah Jazz. It’s not like we had to go out and visit with other free agents to know who Gordon was. We said all along we wanted to keep him.”
Restricted free agency is a touchy situation for teams, who often pass on the opportunity to re-sign the player in an exclusive window and instead allow the player to pursue other offers before deciding on the right to match. Hayward made the trip to Charlotte, left impressed with the organization and signed an offer sheet. Before the Hornets’ offer sheet, Stevens called his former player and lobbied for the Celtics, but Boston could have only acquired Hayward through a sign-and-trade deal with the Jazz.
“Gordon and I visited and there were serious parts of the conversation,” Lindsey said. “Of course there was some levity as well. Gordon’s a smart guy and he understands negotiations. We went through that process. He understands that we’re an organization of our word and that we’re good for players. Are there bruised feelings? I don’t know how to characterize that other than to say we were both thrilled at the end of the conversation.”
Lindsey mentioned that management planned to include Hayward and Favors in personnel decisions as the Jazz attempt to reach respectability in the Western Conference under new coach Quin Snyder.
It will be an interesting season in Salt Lake City as Snyder attempts to integrate the talented Exum, who struggled in summer league play, with Burke in the backcourt — while Hayward and Favors become team leaders. The perils of building with youth is that each of those potential cornerstones eventually requires a sizable payday. Such is the case with Kanter, who is coming off his most productive season, averaging 12.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, and Alec Burks, who averaged 14 points despite starting just 12 of 78 games.
Lindsey has until Oct. 31 to agree to deals with that duo or risk the same restricted free-agency situation the team had with Hayward.
“There’s always conversations relative to your own salary cap,” Lindsey said. “We’ve already prepared for them and as the summer wears on we’ll make sure to engage both of those free agents because we really care about those guys. We envision them being members of the Jazz for a long time as well.”
Slipping in the draft works out for McGary
At the end of the 2012-13 college season, Mitch McGary was a projected lottery pick after leading Michigan to the NCAA championship game against Louisville. McGary transformed from a role player to a hulking power forward who was a nightly double-double during his freshman year.
Instead, McGary decided to return for his sophomore season, which ended up being disastrous. His season was limited to eight games because of back issues, then he failed an NCAA drug test, which threatened his eligibility.
McGary was already nearing his 22d birthday and decided to enter the draft after his back healed. McGary wasn’t a lottery pick last month. He fell to the 21st pick, but the fortunate aspect of falling in the draft is the better chance of being selected by a more successful organization. McGary ended up in Oklahoma City.
And the Thunder have a spot ready for him with both Kendrick Perkins and NickCollison aging. Oklahoma City needs a young, aggressive big man and McGary may have been the most talented big man in the NCAA Tournament two years ago.
So McGary is trying to erase the stench created by that failed drug test, blend into a championship-caliber team that includes Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, while also trying to adjust to the NBA game after nearly 14 months off.
“This is the fit for me and I’m happy overall with where I ended up,” McGary said. “Hopefully we have a bunch of veteran big guys that I learn from, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Serge [Ibaka] and even [second-year center] Steven [Adams]. He taught me how to play defense against [Brooklyn’s] Mason Plumlee [in the summer league.] It helped out.”
If McGary had not failed his drug test, he would likely be preparing for his junior season at Michigan and the 2015 draft. But circumstances threw him into this situation. It can be difficult for college players who decide to enter the NBA Draft under adverse circumstances. Chane Behanan, a burly forward who was kicked off Louisville by Rick Pitino last season, decided to make the jump and went undrafted.
“I believe everything happens for a reason, a lot of adversity I went through,” McGary said. “But everything worked out perfectly for me to be in this situation.”
McGary played in four summer games, averaging 14.8 points and 5.8 rebounds.
While many players are cashing in on free agency, others are either still searching for work or signing undervalued deals. Take Rodney Stuckey, for instance. The former Pistons swingman was looking to cash in with a lucrative, multiyear deal. But Stuckey agreed to a one-year deal with Indiana for $915,000. That’s less than Donald Sloan, who played on the Pacers’ summer league team, Damjan Rudez, and Solomon Hill. Stuckey has averaged double figures in six of his seven seasons, including 13.9 points last season in just 26 minutes. While Stuckey had his issues in Detroit, it seems his reputation adversely affected his free agency. Stuckey is a better player than the veteran’s minimum but he is an example of how much perhaps one poor relationship can affect a payday . . . Rumor has it that the NBA’s season-opening game on TNT will be San Antonio at Cleveland, the first home game for LeBron James in his return to Cleveland and the first game for the defending NBA champion Spurs. The NBA schedule is expected to be released next month . . . NBA free agency intrigue will spill into August with a number of quality players still on the market, including swingman Shawn Marion, point guard Ramon Sessions, former Celtic Jordan Crawford, and Mo Williams, Andray Blatche and Michael Beasley. Those players come with baggage and it seems teams are going to wait for the market to dry and try to sign them to below-market contracts . . . Another intriguing player on the market is former Celtic E’Twaun Moore, who had his moments the past two years with Orlando, while the Knicks just waived Shannon Brown a week after he played for their summer league entry in Las Vegas. Moore and Brown could compete for a third guard slot on a club . . . The Celtics are privately thrilled that Marcus Smart has been invited to participate for the USA Select Team that will train against Team USA for the next few weeks as it prepares for the FIBA World Cup that begins Aug. 30 in Spain. Although Smart impressed coaches with how hard he played and his offensive development as summer league progressed, the USA Select experience will give Smart a head start over other rookies as training camp approaches. Chicago’s Doug McDermott was the other rookie invited.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.