In a three-team trade that actually bolstered Boston’s front line and added another first-round draft pick to their stockpile, the Celtics in turn may have helped the Cleveland Cavaliers lure back free agent LeBron James on Wednesday.
The Celtics acquired 7-foot-1 center Tyler Zeller, shooting guard Marcus Thornton and a protected 2016 first-round pick (top 10 protected 2016-18, unprotected in 2019 according to Yahoo), three moves that allowed Cleveland to creat enough cap space to offer James a maximum salary.
Boston now has two first-round picks in 2015, 2016 and 2018. Zeller, out of North Carolina, was taken 17th overall in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft by Cleveland. For his career he’s averaging seven points and five rebounds a game.
The 26-year-old Thornton, who averaged 12 points in 26 games for Brooklyn last season, has one year left on his current contract worth $8.69 million. The Celtics did relinquish a second-round pick in the trade.
As the four-time MVP was set to sit down with Miami Heat president Pat Riley, the Cavaliers dealt away three first-round picks in separate trades involving the Brooklyn Nets and Celtics.
The Celtics, who remain in pursuit of Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love, now have a total of $33 million in salary coming off the books before the 2015 offseason when Love is an unrestricted free agent.
The moves leave the Cavaliers with $21.7 million in cap space. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, James’ agent, Rich Paul, advised the Cavaliers to make the moves necessary to offer James a max deal.
Point guard Jarrett Jack and his $6.2 million salary was shipped to the Nets along with Sergey Karasev. The 20-year-old Karasev was the 19th overall pick in the 2013 draft.
Jack, 30, signed a three-year deal with the Cavaliers worth $18.5 million prior to the 2013-14 season. His 2014-15 salary was an obstruction for the team in finding the cap space to lure James to Cleveland.
Cleveland receives the draft rights to three players from the Nets: Ilkan Karaman, Christian Drejer and Edin Bavcic.
The trades will not be official until the moratorium on roster changes is lifted today.
The Cavaliers met with restricted free agent Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz on July 2 and multiple outlets reported general manager David Griffin would offer a maximum contract.
But everything changed when members of the front office sat down with Ohio-based agent Paul, who could become the central figure in turning James from villain to hero among the Cavs fan base James scorned by leaving for Miami in 2010.
The pitch from Cleveland is a far better roster than James experienced in his first tour with the Cavaliers. Two No. 1 picks — Kyrie Irving and incoming rookie Andrew Wiggins — plus another in Anthony Bennett, are fruits of a laborious four-year run without James by the Cleveland franchise. With Irving and possibly James at maximum-level contracts, Cleveland is still in fair shape to bring in free agents next season with little other salary committed.
ESPN reported the team is also attempting to add veteran shooting guard Ray Allen, who would play at age 39 if it meant remaining as James’ sidekick. However, with Allen contemplating retirement, the Cavaliers are also interested in former Heat shooting guard Mike Miller, who played in Memphis last season.
Yahoo reported that James reached out during to two veteran free agents about joining him if he did not re-sign in Miami.
James demanded improvement from Riley, the personnel boss who orchestrated the superteam alliance in South Beach, and opted out of his contract eight days before the deadline to inform the team of his intentions.
He is not actively recruiting players to Miami as he had in previous offseasons, which some around the Heat franchise are taking as a sign he could walk. James met with Dwyane Wade in Las Vegas, where will spend time this week for his annual skills academy before jetting to Brazil for the World Cup final.
Chris Bosh, the first free agent among the Big Three to commit to the Heat in 2010, has a four-year, $88 million offer from the Houston Rockets.