Watching the LeBron James free agent saga play out from afar, Danny Ainge pounced on an opportunity to capitalize on the hysteria.
With James’ agent, Rich Paul, pushing the belief that James was on the verge of signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Cavs worked frantically to clear salary cap space, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports. Paul’s pushing enabled the Celtics to poach Tyler Zeller and a first-round draft pick from the Cavs for basically nothing in a three-team trade.
“The Cavaliers were told to clear max salary-cap space for James, and they did so at an extreme price — a starting center and a 2016 lottery pick to the Boston Celtics,” Wojnarowski writes. “When paperwork was slow to be filed to finalize the three-way deal on Thursday morning, Cavaliers officials were imploring Boston and Brooklyn executives to speed up the process, that it was imperative the deal be finalized and Cleveland officials could be prepared to present James with a max contract with a starting salary of $20.7 million, sources said.”
The Cavs’ desperation moved Ainge and the Celtics, who needed to use their $10.3 million trade exception before Saturday, from a position of weakness into a position of strength. Instead of having to scramble to use the trade exception or to simply let it expire, Ainge was suddenly the driver’s seat of a trade that didn’t even involve the Celtics initially.
After all that, it’s still unclear if James will sign with the Cavs. Thursday’s widely rumored announcement never came to pass, and James is on his way to Brazil to watch the World Cup final. Meanwhile, the Cavs are left holding the bag, one young player and one draft pick lighter, with no four-time MVP so far to show for it.