Ainge vs. Altman: The Off-court GM Battle Which May Decide the NBA’s Eastern Conference

Kevin Stott

Sunday, September 3, 2017 5:43 PM UTC

Sunday, Sep. 3, 2017 5:43 PM UTC

The Cavaliers and month-old General Manager Koby Altman—we all know LeBron James is calling the shots in Cleveland and has been for some time—made a big move this Offseason. But nobody beats Danny Ainge's hustle ...

Cavaliers-Celtics Competition in Eastern Conference Extending Beyond the Hardwood

Huge Cavaliers-Celtics Irving-Thomas Trade May Benefit Both Teams, But Who Wins the East Right Now?

No teams in NBA history had ever traded star players averaging 25.0+ ppg before, and while one would think it might happen between two mid-level or weaker clubs looking to swap unhappy gunners, when it did finally happen last month, it was the two teams who met in the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals—the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers—who ended up pulling the strings on a blockbuster deal with fresh Cavaliers General Manager Koby Altman sending frustrated SG Kyrie Irving (25.2 ppg in 2016) to Beantown to an open-armed President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge for PG Isaiah Thomas (28.9 ppg in 2016), SF Jae Crowder, Rookie C Ante Žižic and an unprotected pick from the Brooklyn Nets in next year’s 2018 NBA Draft. After possibly realizing Thomas’s Hip Injury was worse than they thought, Cleveland chirped like little wine, gold, and navy blue birds and demanded more compensation, so Ainge and the heavily stocked Celtics completed the choppy deal by sending the Cavaliers a Round 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. So is everyone happy now? I thought not.


Before the big trade, the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook here in muggy Sin City had the Cavaliers lined at 4/1 odds to win the NBA Finals with the Celtics at 10/1. After the Aug. 21 trade, Cleveland was still at 4/1 and Boston also held firm at 10/1. Offshore, the Celtics are currently at a high of 9/1 to win 2017/18 NBA Championship (Bookmaker, JustBet) and at +245 to win the Eastern Conference (Heritage) with LeBron James and the Cavaliers odds slightly rising now to a high of +485 (BookMaker) to win it all and to a best-price of -155 to win the East (5Dimes). But in the Props Futures Book marketplace, there was some significant movement in one market with Irving plunging to 25/1 from 50/1 to win the 2017 NBA MVP—Irving is now actually at 12/1 at Online sportsbook Bovada—while Thomas rose from 30/1 to 100/1, showing just how big of a shadow league superstar and living legend James (+450 to win 2017/18 NBA MVP, Bovada) casts as a teammate.

Celtics Could Easily Afford to Trade #1 Pick in 2018 NBA Draft Obtained From Nets with Stash of First Rounders

Astute President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge and the Celtics (9/1 to win 2017/18 NBA Championship, BetDSI) had a weak 25% chance of landing the top pick in the NBA Draft Lottery, but the former Celtics guard must have had a lucky four-leaf clover in his emerald green suit that evening as Boston (+245 to win Eastern Conference, Heritage) won the No. 1 pick and then promptly (and wisely) traded it to the Philadelphia 76ers for their No. 3 pick, with the clever Ainge knowing that the guy he wanted all along—Duke sensation and SF Jayson Tatum—would still be available at the No. 3 spot with the Lakers and new President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson strongly committed to choosing local kid and UCLA product Lonzo Ball at No. 2 in the NBA Draft on June 22 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This move was chess-like.



In early July, G Avery Bradley was traded from Boston to Detroit for PF Marcus Morris to free up some Salary Cap space for the Celtics as well as try to get some bigger perimeter players in its Starting 5 for Defense. With Thomas (5’9”) and Bradley (6’2”) out there at the same time in the backcourt, Boston was hamstrung in a way, but Ainge and the Celtics did lose one of the best defenders in the NBA in Findlay Prep and Washington product Bradley (16.3 ppg), a two-time NBA All-Defensive Team member. But the great thing for Boston in getting Morris (14.0 ppg with Pistons in 2016), Hayward (21.9 ppg with Jazz), Rookie Tatum (16.8 ppg with Duke in 2016) and Irving (25.2 ppg) is the sheer amount of potential scoring Ainge has swiftly added to the Roster in the months of July and August. Combined, those four potential future Boston stalwarts averaged 77.9 ppg playing with their respective teams last year with Irving having to play second-fiddle to LBJ and Tatum (6’8”) injured (Foot) for a solid spell for Coach K and Duke.



And with a stockpile of No. 1 picks in future NBA Drafts still ready to be used to either draft hopefully elite College players or to use as tools in Trades in the future as the 58-year-old Celtics Ainge did in sending that No. 1 pick from Brooklyn in next year’s NBA Draft, knowing his team would still have their own pick as well as the Lakers 2018 pick should it fall between No.’s 2-5 and as many as four Round 1 picks in the 2019 NBA Draft. Yes, four. The future looks very bright now in Boston—who also signed 6-10, 260-pound Free Agent Australian C Aron Baynes (4.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and who are now reportedly also taking a look at former Kansas star Thomas Robinson. And with teams like the Bulls, Raptors, Hawks, and Pacers all looking weaker, we could be witnessing several more Cavaliers-Celtics collisions in the Eastern Conference Finals over the next three to six seasons, should Akron-native James stay in Cleveland, of course.



For now, the Boston Starring 5 could be Al Horford at Center, Morris at Power Forward, Hayward at Small Forward, Jaylen Brown at Shooting Guard with Irving at Point Guard with Tatum (7.3 rpg in 2016) a great backup at SF but more in the basketball mold of those players like John Havlicek, Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen and Kobe Bryant, who can effectively evolve as an “Wingman” (SF-SG hybrid). Ainge and the Celtics also took SF/PF Semi Ojeleye (SMU, No. 37 Pick), SG Kadeem Allen (Arizona, No. 37 Pick) and SG Jabari Bird (Cal, No. 56 Pick) in the 2017 NBA Draft and finally have some decent depth as well as a very young, athletic and taller team overall. If 31-year-old Center Horford (14.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) can have a good year, this team could make a run at the NBA title because New Kids On The Boston Block Irving—one of six players in league history to average 20+ ppg and 5+ apg in his first five NBA seasons—Hayward, Morris and Tatum (5/1, 2017/18 NBA Rookie of the Year, Bovada) are all going to score points, something this team has been truly lacking these last several years—despite having seven Round 1 picks from 2014 to 2017—with scorers like Ainge himself, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett all long gone and with the Little Engine That Could Thomas having to carry the bulk of the scoring weight as the Roster evolved.


How the Cavaliers, New GM Altman Could Win in Long Run From Recent Irving-Thomas Blockbuster Deal

Cleveland GM Altman, Head Coach Tyronn Lue, and the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers could possibly end up being the perceived long-run winners in the blockbuster trade if Irving somehow stumbles, gets injured or becomes unhappy in Boston—he wants to be the centerpiece, right?—and if Thomas’s Hip injury be no big thing and the PG end up jelling with James, Tristan Thompson, JR Smith and the rest of the ever-changing Cleveland Roster. Also, if Jae Crowder (13.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg with Celtics in 2016) and Croatian big man Ante Žižic (6-11, 250) become key cogs with Cavs and can work well with LeBron and find their roles, this may look like a wonderful 5-for-1 deal someday with Thomas, Crowder, Žižic, the Nets No. 1 pick next season and that throw-in Boston 2020 Round 2 pick.



Should Brooklyn (2,350/1 to win 2017/18 NBA Championship, 5Dimes) really suck next Regular Season, and they often do, Cleveland could end up landing a Top 3 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft with players like Michael Porter (Missouri), Marvin Bagley (Duke), DeAndre Ayton (Arizona), Mohamed Bamba (Texas) or talented Slovenian SG/PG Luka Doncic (Real Madrid, Liga ACB, EuroLeague) on top of 2018 Mock NBA Draft boards currently. For Brooklyn native Altman, who broke into basketball as a Grad Assistant at Southern Illinois University (at Carbondale) and then became an assistant Coach at Ivy League school Columbia before joining the Cavaliers front office in 2012, the Irving-Thomas Trade could be an albatross with King James the real decision-maker on this Cleveland franchise and seemingly in a constant wheel-and-deal mode with the mighty Warriors (-160 to win 2017/18 NBA Championship, Bovada) sending much Fear into his mind with the acquisition of simple scorer Kevin Durant. And that’s exactly what the Celtics coveted, a simple scorer.

Analysis: Will LeBron Be Blaming Altman Should the Hip-Hobbled Thomas Eventually Become a Bust?

Whoever gets to the NBA Finals will likely have to deal with Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and the world champion and probable Western Conference champion Golden State (-275 to win 2017/18 Western Conference, BetOnline) and that’s part of the story behind these ongoing Cavaliers and Celtics Roster transformations. Try to get bigger and meaner and try to get some more scoring to deal with the big beast. But even in shipping the Nets’ No. 1 Pick in next year’s NBA Draft, giving up that Round 2 pick in 2020 and having so many first round selections these last four years, Boston President of Basketball Operations Ainge and the Celtics (53-29 SU, 40-40-2 ATS in 2016) still have the cupboards stocked, very similar in a way to the current Los Angeles Dodgers in MLB although much of their talent in the Farm System is now thriving this season with the big club at Chavez Ravine.



With the 19-year-old Tatum reportedly getting some direction from his former Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski—friends with Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens after Stevens and his Butler Bulldogs faced Duke in the 2010 NCAA Championship Game—the Blue Devils Freshman traveled to Boston to work out for the team. “He was just ranting about how great of a person Brad Stevens is—that Coach K would love the opportunity if they would pick me, and he really wanted me to go up there and work out for the,” Tatum said “I was all for it. It worked out. I had a great time up there on my visit, and obviously they enjoyed me.”



So Tatum and Irving have their Duke pedigrees and that should create some welcome synergy on the parquet floor and with Butler-boy Stevens getting Butler-boy Hayward in Beantown, we have an almost rare situation in the NBA with a historic franchise with a bunch of new players on it who really want to play together and look like they want to make Boston their homes for some time, and unit who might actually be able to make a run at the NBA Finals after adding so much potential scoring to its Roster. With James calling the shots, comparing Altman to Ainge is almost unfair at this point and it seems there could be many more moves by these two in the future although it’s highly doubtful they will be trading players with each other again after the Irving-Thomas blockbuster.


2017-18 NBA EASTERN CONFERENCE PICK: Boston Celtics +245 (Heritage)

2017-18 NBA ROOKIE OF THE YEAR PICK: Jayson Tatum 5/1 (Bovada)

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