And Then There Were Two
For the first time in almost 40 years, both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference Finals were decided by a Game 7, and neither disappointed in their drama.
With the table now set for the 2018 NBA Finals, there are questions surrounding the now eliminated Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets and where they go from here.
It’s hard to characterize the Rockets’ defeat any other way than to say they shot themselves out of the game, going 7-for-44 from the three-point line and a dreadful 13-for-22 from the free throw line.
Rockets forward Trevor Ariza was a dismal 0-for-12 from the field and 0-for-9 from three.
That’s not going to be an easy game to live down, especially for Ariza, who is set to be a free agent in July.
The Rockets face a couple of free agency questions in addition to Ariza, who, by all accounts, wants to return to Houston but will likely command a starting salary north of his expiring $7.42 million.
Injured guard Chris Paul was everything the Rockets hoped he’d be when they traded for him last summer. The prevailing thought is he will be re-signed. The question becomes for how much and how long? Most NBA insiders expect that Paul will demand a full max. contract offer. The problem for Houston is that former Rockets owner Les Alexander isn’t signing the blank checks anymore and no one really knows how new Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta feels about what could be a massive payroll next season.
While Paul is a big piece of the Rockets offseason, he isn’t the only impact player hitting the market. Midseason acquisition Gerald Green will also be a free agent, and while the Houston native loves his situation, sources close to the process say he’ll go to the biggest long-term offer (hoping its Houston). Green finished the season on a minimum contract, so business may trump a return.
The same is true of midseason acquisition Joe Johnson, who saw limited action in Houston.
Defensive stalwart Luc Mbah a Moute will also hit the market. He signed in Houston last summer for the NBA minimum and is expected to be back, assuming a bigger offer doesn’t come his way.
The interesting situation for the Rockets is big man Clint Capella, who will likely be a restricted free agent once the Rockets tender a qualifying offer. There have already been rumblings that the Phoenix Suns have eyes for Capela and may put a big offer sheet on the table to sway Houston into not matching.
Capela was hugely productive for the Rockets, however, will they match a big offer sheet? It’s been suggested the Rockets might not be open to tying up big cap dollars into a center, given how they want to play. So it’s not a certainty that Capela will be back, especially if the dollars get too high.
The dream scenario for the Rockets is moving off unproductive money to create flexibility, with the big free agent fish being Cavaliers star LeBron James.
The Rockets will be hard-pressed to get enough cap room to sign James outright. However, there is a belief that James may play the same card Paul did to get out of LA and the Clippers, by telling the Cavaliers he’ll sign elsewhere unless traded to Houston.
The challenge for the Rockets is how to amass favorable trade chips to not only clear the salary cap requirements of a monster trade, but also to send back enough non-guaranteed and favorable chips to get the Cavaliers to consider it.
Much like the Rockets, the Celtics ultimately shot their way out of Game 7, going an equally dreadful 7-for-39 from the three-point line.
The Celtics held exit meetings over the weekend, and the word from Boston was everyone would be back.
The Celtics have three notable unrestricted free agents: Greg Monroe, Shane Larkin, and Aron Baynes. The prevailing thought is that Monroe and Larkin could be back on low dollar deals, but if either is seeking a payday, it won’t be in Boston. Baynes, on the other hand, looks to be headed towards a raise over his $4.328 million expiring deal.
Celtics guard Marcus Smart spent a lot of time talking about why he is worth more than the rumored $12 to $14 million trying to convince reporters that his intangibles were worth more than what’s been rumored.
Sources close to the process believe Boston is going to match offers on Smart, to a point. If someone puts a hefty $18 to $20 million offer sheet, the Celtics may very well pass. The question becomes with roughly eight teams with meaningful cap space will any of them go all in on Smart? The Celtics have been notoriously frugal with restricted free agents, so its possible that Smart is back if the money is right, and there doesn’t seem to be much high dollar interest in Smart at this point.
There has been talk that, given the success of the young core in Boston, that the Celtics should explore trade options. While that’s likely to happen, the narrative from the Celtics both publicly and privately is that they plan to stay the course.
Injured guard Kyrie Irving is eligible for a massive $200 plus million contract extension this summer, and there is a sense his side is going to push for the commitment from Boston.
If the Celtics do lock in Irving, that could create a ripple effect with guard Terry Rozier. The belief is that Rozier is very happy with his situation in Boston, but if the Celtics lock up Irving, that could change.
There is little doubt the future in Boston is extremely bright, and given what’s been said since elimination, most of the team should be back, and that puts the Celtics as the front-runner to win the East again next year.
With the NBA Finals getting underway on Thursday, both Eric Pincus (@EricPincus) and Spencer Davies (@SpinDavies) will be on site in Oakland and Cleveland respectively dropping news, notes, and updates. Make sure to follow both on Twitter and check in frequently for updates at Basketball Insiders.
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