In my piece last week, Larry Bird was mentioned to be as one of the top small forwards of all-time.
While I had Lebron James as my top small forward of all-time because of several criteria considerations, especially longevity and more abilities due to his physical gifts, I still believe Bird is the most valuable small forward, best ever to play the position, if I am just to use skill set and basketball savvy as the basis.
Skill set and savvy are among the ways I used measure how one is more “valuable”, as used in the MVP term, over another.
Among the reasons why I had Bird up in my rankings is the way his skills would transition from one era to another. We saw what he could do before. I would argue he could even do more in today’s game.
Let’s dig into fantasy basketball.
Let me be Danny Ainge for a while try to build a Celtics team around a rookie Larry Bird under today’s rules, adhering to salary cap limitations and using as many of the current Celtics with a few additions here and there.
This simply means I cannot acquire the top talents because (1) there is only one ball to share; and (2) my team can’t pay them what they’re worth even if it wants to.
Let’s see how competitive it will be against today’s top teams.
First let me do the obvious, he has to take over one the slot and commensurate salary of one of the today’s current Celtics. That would have to be Gordon Hayward.
If a 23-year old Bird is rostered instead of Hayward, I would have start him at power forward. Here’s what we have:
Center: Al Horford, PF: Bird, Small Forward: Jayson Tatum, Shooting Guard: Marcus Smart, Point Guard: Kyrie Irving. Second five: Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, Aaron Baynes, and Daniel Theis.
See how that immediately changes the potency of the team. They’re obviously better now than they were with Hayward.
Problem with this is his partnership with Irving. Irving had demonstrated his wish of becoming the alpha male of the team. Irving will not be the ideal point guard of this team with Bird around, who would be the undisputed voice, leader of the team, and the man to go to during crunch time.
Besides, “Uncle Drew” has shown tremendous ability to perform in the clutch. We simply couldn’t have them both with only one ball to work with.
So let’s work a trade to find him a new home.
First, I would like to retain Horford and his willingness to play the role assigned to him in the starting line-up and add height to it without losing the capability to snipe from long-range.
Bird’s skill set would make me confident to elevate Rozier to the starting line-up, and swap Irving for a paint protector and a back-up point guard. It also allows me to give up Tatum with lesser impact on the team as the are expected to play the same position.
Let’s go to the best case scenario: Anthony Davis. I would offer New Orleans a package they couldn’t refuse.
I would try first Irving, Brown and draft picks for Anthony Davis and Elfrid Payton. If the Pelicans balk at this, then simply modify to Irving and Tatum for Davis and Payton. I would even add s second round draft pick if that is not enough for them.
Both trades are a go moneywise and if the Pelicans let it go through, here’s our new line-up, with Bird in his conventional position:
Center: Horford, PF: Davis, Small Forward: Bird, Shooting Guard: Tatum/Smart, Point Guard: Rozier. Second five: Morris, Payton, Smart/Brown, Baynes, and Theis.
How do you like it now? Probably ranked better than before the trade, right?
Let’s say New Orleans rejects this trade and we have to go another route.
I would go to the Indiana Pacers and ask for Myles Turner, and Cory Joseph for Kyrie Irving. For the trade to go through moneywise, Indiana needs to add one more body and I would ask for Doug McDermott. Draft picks and more bench players might have to be exchanged for this one to be agreed on.
If the Pacers let it through, I will put Bird and Horford in their conventional position and here’s our new line-up:
Center: Turner, PF: Horford, Small Forward: Bird, Shooting Guard: Tatum, Point Guard: Rozier. Bench: Smart, Morris, Brown, Baynes, Joseph and McDermott.
This will be my version of the Boston Big Three. This team also has the capability of playing small by taking out either Turner or Horford and inserting Brown or McDermott depending on the need.
Another situation that would be probably ranked better than before the trade again.
We already saw how effective Bird and his skill set during the physical, isolation filled defensive three second era.
These situations would show how Bird would be even more effective during this outside shooting, little contact filled rules today.
I would imagine how coaches would be put to stress in assigning a defender on this man who could consistently pull up for a three or could play with his back to the basket, posting up a smaller, weaker defender.
Not to mention how his defensive ability will now increase because there will be lesser isolations and more team-based defenses.
Well, the same might be said true in the cases of James and Kevin Durant. If the same process is applied to them, the Celtics will be ranked higher due to their presence.
It just that Bird has better clutch shot making ability than James, allowing the team to release Irving for a much needed big.
Bird, and Michael Jordan, are the anti Lebron James when games are tight in the dying seconds. Bird and Jordan usually get their teammates involved early in the game and then take over at clutch time. James is generally the reverse, he sets up the table early but normally defers to teammates late.
So releasing Irivng is something that is not probably advisable in the case paired with James.
James’ championship teams are proven to be better if he is partnered with Irving or Dwayne Wade, who were the undisputed closers of the Cleveland and Miami teams that won championships. It is still seen how many championships he will get he is if he is regularly given the task of making the shots to win a game.
In the case of Durant, Bird has better passing and posting up ability than him that the team formed can avail a middle paid starting point guard like Rozier instead of the too expensive Stephen Curry or Russell Westbrook that Durant played with where he won the championship.
We still have to see if Durant can be that successful without the Golden State foursome or the Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka tandems he had in Oklahoma.
It is again a case where his point guard teammate creates mismatches in favor of the team that probably opens up the floor for him. Losing Irving would seem to be not advisable again under the circumstances.
That’s also why I think he is ahead of Julius Erving because expectations would be lower if it was Erving who will be inserted in this Celtics line-up.
By: ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS, all hypothetical trades were verified to be salary cap compliant by the NBA Trade Machine