COMMENTARY | Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears reported Sunday, Sept. 22 that All-Star small forward Paul George is close to signing an important contract extension with the Indiana Pacers.
While nothing has been officially put to paper, the expected deal is a five-year, $90 million maximum contract that should, according to league sources reported in the story, be finalized later this week.
Front offices set to free up cap space in the 2014 offseason are collectively slapping their hands against their foreheads now that George, the premier free agent of the class, appears to be on his way off the market before he was ever on it. No team would have been more interested in signing George than the Boston Celtics, a club that will be looking to make a splash in the trade market or in free agency over the next two offseasons as they continue to move on from the "Big Three" era.
Who is left on the market?
One of the primary reasons Ainge was willing to deal Garnett and Pierce for less-than-equal value was that he was receiving Kris Humphries' $12 million expiring contract, which coupled with a possible Rajon Rondo trade, would free up enough cap space for the Celtics to sign virtually any player in the league. With Paul George now off the market, however, the chances of Boston signing a star player worth a maximum contract deal just took a major hit.
Who are the top available (and young) options still remaining?
After negotiations with the Chicago Bulls broke off earlier in September, Herb Rudoy, Luol Deng's agent, announced to the press that Deng "will definitely go through the free-agent process."
At only 28 years old, Deng is currently in the prime of his career, and a five-year maximum contract (or something close to it) is likely coming his way. Deng is an ideal small forward for any team, averaging 16.0 points per game, 1 steal, 6.4 rebounds and a shooting percentage of .460 over the course of his nine years in the NBA.
The Sudanese native is an exceptional defender, clutch player and turns in hard-fought performances every single night he is on the floor. The only question about Deng, and it is a reasonable one, is whether or not he is worth maximum contract money considering he is not a big man and is not an elite scorer. Deng is a perfect complementary player, but building a team around him would be difficult to do, and the Celtics should avoid paying him the kind of money other teams will likely shell out for his services.
One of the fallouts of the George signing is that the former star of the Pacers, Danny Granger, is almost certainly not going to re-sign with the team. Granger enters the 2013-2014 season in a difficult position. He missed all but five regular season games in 2012-2013 as he recovered from an injury, and he underwent knee surgery in March to remove scar tissue from his patella tendon, a procedure Granger is still recovering from.
If Granger can return in 2013-2014 to the level of success he was able to attain in past years, it's still unlikely Boston would want to commit any significant amount of money to a guy who has suffered through a lot of injuries as of late and never lived up to the expectations so many fans had for him three or four seasons ago.
Now that Paul George is off the market, Toronto Raptors forward Rudy Gay has become the primary elite player likely to be available during free agency in 2014. After trading for Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies in a six-player trade in January of 2013, the new front office in Toronto is rumored to want to "tear down" the team's "bloated payroll" for the 2014 offseason, and many have speculated such a move requires Rudy Gay's departure from Canada.
There is a strong possibility Gay could exercise his player option or be traded, so it is difficult to know for sure whether or not he will end up in free agency at all, but assuming he does, he would be a good fit in Boston. At only 27 years old, Gay is a legitimate No. 1 option, averaging 18.2 points per game, 6.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.5 steals in 2012-2013.
Despite having a difficult shooting year last season, Gay has shot 45 percent from the field over his career and has made 34.3 percent of his 3-pointers as well. If Boston is going to make a big splash in free agency, the former University of Connecticut star makes a lot more sense than virtually all other big names set to hit the open market.
The ETOs: The story not yet realized
The casual NBA fan doesn't know it yet, but the story of the second half of the NBA season is likely going to be focused on the numerous stars across the league who have early termination options (ETO) in their contracts that can be exercised when the season ends. The biggest names include the three stars from the Miami Heat, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and the two stars on the New York Knicks, Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire.
Should any of these five players choose to terminate a current contract and join the 2014 free agent class, he (or they) would instantly become the most sought-after player in the offseason. Because we don't know how likely the prospect of any of these players leaving is, it's difficult to say that any of them would be a good fit in Boston. It should be noted, though, that of the teams that would have the available cap space to pay a maximum contract to one of these All-Stars, Boston is one of the most attractive markets, outpaced only by the Los Angeles Lakers, who could potentially sign two of these five players should they let Lakers legend Kobe Bryant walk when the season ends, and possibly the New York Knicks (assuming Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire leave).
The season may still be more than a month away from starting, but the Paul George re-signing and the subsequent fallout across the league is absolutely worth following closely over the coming months, especially for Boston Celtics fans.
Don't agree with me? Tell me why I am wrong on Twitter @THATCelticsGuy.
Justin Haskins is a New England native and a freelance journalist. He has been obsessively following Boston professional sports for 10 years and has been published in numerous online publications and websites.
- Sports & Recreation
- Paul George
- Boston Celtics
- Danny Granger
- Luol Deng