Since we've all been hanging on every Tweet throughout the machinations of the proposed mega-deal between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Boston Celtics, you know by now that the trade has been pronounced dead by both sides. So where does that leave us? Here are some random thoughts.
To recap, the basic structure of the transaction was in place as Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers for DeAndre Jordan and a pick or picks. In the final analysis, the Celtics wanted two first rounders, the Clippers were only willing to give up one; and that's where it fell apart. The reason Rivers, a coach, is part of the deal is because he is under contract with the Celtics and they would have to waive the non-compete clause in his contract in order for him to coach anywhere else over the next three years. And as if the non-compete clause wasn't enough, Kevin Garnett has a no-trade clause in his contract and DeAndre Jordan has a $3.5MM trade kicker in his. This was one complex transaction, folks.
Is the deal really dead? No. First and foremost,the deal is not truly done until the Clippers hire another coach. Byron Scott is coming for interviews today. Brian Shaw is back for a second set of interviews on Wednesday. Shaw and Lionel Hollins are considered the front runners as long as Rivers is out of the picture, and the Clippers will probably make a hire by Thursday, a week prior to the NBA draft. Billy Crystal is the Clippers number one celebrity fan, so we should all recall that there's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead and until the Clippers have hired a new coach, either party can pick up the phone and give this trade a miracle pill. Having said that, it is never a good sign when both parties involved use the D-word in talking about a deal. The Clippers, so far in this negotiation, have not blinked once. When they've pushed away from the table, it's always been Boston calling them back. Is this just another negotiating ploy? I think we can rest assured that the Clippers will move forward with hiring another coach unless Danny Ainge gets on the phone and accepts Gary Sacks' last offer (which has more or less been his offer all along).
Did it really fall apart over a single future draft pick? Apparently, yes. And no. Multiple sources seem to be telling a similar story, so I think we have some level of confidence that the broad strokes of what's being reported are more or less accurate. But unless you were in the room, you don't really know, and those who were in the room are telling their version of events to reporters, so everything has to be taken with a grain of salt. It's clear that money was an issue in the end as well. Part of the reason the Celtics wanted this deal was to save money -- money on Rivers' contract, money on Garnett's final two seasons, etc. But in order for the Celtics to save money, the Clippers had to spend it. In addition to a new long term contract for Rivers (currently presumed to be the highest paid coach in the NBA at $7MM per season), the Celtics were asking the Clippers to pay Jordan's trade kicker. I have seen no weather reports of Hell freezing over, so perhaps it's not surprising that Donald T. Sterling does not currently employ the highest paid coach in the NBA.
Either way; the money or the pick -- are you effing kidding me? Scuttle the entire deal over these minor details? WTF? Well, first of all, it ain't your money. I like to spend DTS' money as much as the next guy, but it turns out it's his money, and he doesn't have to write a check for $40MM to get a transaction done just because you think it would be cool to have Rivers as the new coach. It's not your call; sorry. Donald bought the team for $12M. It can't be easy to pay $40MM (for the trade kicker and Doc's salary and the additional expense of KG) just to get a single deal done.
As for the picks, we don't honestly know exactly what picks we're talking about. Assuming the one first rounder that both sides had agreed to was this year's pick (25th in next week's draft), then the additional pick could be the 2015 pick at the earliest (since the Stepien Rule precludes trading consecutive future picks). With Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, KG and possibly Paul Pierce on a roster all coached by Doc Rivers, one would suspect that the Clippers 2015 draft pick would be in the high 20s. So yeah -- it's tough to see why you'd let a deal you wanted to happen fall apart over that. But the fact is that the Clippers have taken a hard line in this negotiation from the start, and it was working for them up until today.
Who needed this deal more? I've maintained all along that the Celtics needed this deal more. Obviously they traveled pretty far down this road. In the middle of last week, they had a highly paid coach who wasn't sure he wanted to preside over a rebuilding project. Now they have a highly paid coach who's not sure he wants to preside over a rebuilding project who spent a week in the middle of a heated negotiation to go to a Western Conference contender where he'd immediately have championship aspirations again. It doesn't sound like a recipe for a happy coach in Bean town next year. The Celtics had better hope that Doc is burnt out enough to head back to the broadcast booth, because in that scenario at least they save on a coach's salary. As it is, the worst case scenario for the Celtics in all this is they postpone a much needed rebuilding project two more seasons while continuing to pay one of the highest team payrolls in the NBA. The Clippers deal -- between Doc's interest and KG's willingness to waive his no-trade clause -- is the only deal in town for them. Ainge wanted more out of it -- but something is better than nothing, which is what he gets if this deal stays dead. Which is why I think there's more than a slight chance that Ainge capitulates before the Clippers hire their new coach.
What's next for the Clippers? From the start, the Clippers treated this negotiation as a deal they wanted, not a deal they needed. All along, they negotiated from a position of strength, as if they were willing to walk away and lose out on Rivers and KG. At least twice that approach has served them well. Early in the negotiations, the Celtics insisted on the inclusion of Eric Bledsoe in the trade, the Clippers said no, the Celtics caved. Next the Celtics insisted that the Clippers take back a bad contract in the deal, the Clippers said no, the Celtics caved. The Clippers have done this for two reasons: (1) there are other coaches they like a lot who they can hire for less money and less hassle, with Brian Shaw and Lionel Hollins being at the top of that list and (2) they believe they can get something else in trade for the likes of Jordan and Bledsoe and Butler and draft picks. They're probably right.
What about Chris Paul? The national media will try to make this an issue for Paul's free agency; and maybe it will be. Look, if Paul winds up in Atlanta next year, and sits down at his Hawks introductory press conference and says "I would still be a Clipper if they'd traded for Garnett and Rivers" then walking away from this deal is a complete disaster. We'll have to wait and see if that happens -- I don't believe it will. The Clippers have done some tone deaf things over the years, but one has to presume that they've taken Paul's temperature on this. Perhaps Paul, not wanting to perpetuate the impression that he's pulling the strings, has kept his distance in the Boston negotiations. Even so, Sacks et al have a responsibility to interpret how this deal will impact Paul's impending free agency, and I can only assume that he is confident CP3 will remain a Clipper, with or without Rivers and KG. It's clear the Clippers are being aggressive in looking to upgrade the roster and are being shrewd negotiators. One can choose to interpret the supposed demise of this deal as "The stupid Clippers are cheap and it's going to cost them Paul" but taken on the whole, I fail to see how that is the message. Seems to me more like "The Clippers are determined to improve the roster around Paul, but they're not going to accept a bad deal." How is that a problem for Chris Paul? The Cavs made bad deals around LeBron James, those deals didn't work out, the team got worse, LeBron left, and the team was stuck with bad deals and no LeBron. So there are many different ways to look at this, and I think CP3 is smart enough to know that. We'll see.
The ultimate reckoning on this deal is yet to come. When the Clippers hire a coach, the deal will be done (in fact a Jordan for KG swap straight up could still happen but I'd consider that a very remote possibility). When Chris Paul signs, with the Clippers or elsewhere, we can check the final scoreboard.