Shopping season is upon us and Danny Ainge is looking to deal. He has two very attractive trading chips that are getting a lot of interest around the league.
Theo Ratliff may be the best expiring contract on the market. Not only can the owner of that contract shed $11.7M in salary at the end of this coming season (using just one roster spot), but they can collect millions in insurance money if he can't come back. A lot of teams want that contract.
This has long been touted as one of the strongest drafts in recent memory. Nobody is getting their hands on picks 1 or 2. Atlanta and Memphis have the next two picks and those teams both value the cheap talent they can get via the draft. So the 5th pick may be the highest pick for sale right now.
Another factor helping the value of that pick is the Mike Conley Jr. effect. Most rankings put him no higher than the 6th best prospect in the draft. The Hawks and Griz need point guards, but they might not be able to justify taking Conley that high. Picking him 5th is a lot more reasonable. The Bucks could lose Mo Williams to free agency, so it is possible Conley wouldn't last past that pick. Basically, any team in need of a point guard is looking at that 5 spot to get the best point guard in the draft at a reasonable value.
So by dangling Theo and the #5 pick, Danny is getting a lot of attention early on. However, it doesn't sound like things have gotten serious yet. Teams are fishing with lowball offers and putting out feelers to see how serious Ainge is in dealing.
Last week we heard Danny Ainge lamenting the fact that teams around the league are only looking for financial deals right now. "A lot of teams want to make deals that either free up money or cut their payroll just for cap or luxury tax reasons." I think he must have had Portland in mind when he made those comments. After winning the lottery, Portland is trying hard to offload serial knucklehead Zach Randolph. They reportedly have offered him to the Celtics for Theo Ratliff and the #5 pick. It wasn't reported how quickly Ainge hung up the phone, but I'm sure he must have muttered something unprintable about Telfair under his breath.
Another beauty had Isaiah Thomas trying to con us into giving them the #5 pick, Gerald Green, and Sebastian Telfair for Nate Robinson and David Lee. Now I like Lee as much as the next guy, but that trade offer is a joke. I hope that as the draft draws closer we'll see GMs get serious and start offering up some real value.
The latest scuttlebutt seems to be the Celtics talking with the Sonics about their bigs and perhaps a sign-and-trade for Rashard Lewis. Danny has long been linked to Robert Swift and he might be more available now that he's missed time with injuries. He's not worth the #5 pick by himself, but he could be worth picking up in a package deal. Or if Seattle wants a point guard we have Sebastian Telfair to offer in return.
Rashard Lewis is one of those types of All Star talent players that the Celtics would like to get in return for the #5 and Theo but that deal would be complex because they can't negotiate with him till July 1st (after the draft).
I'm sure the team would prefer to get a big man like Garnett, Gasol, or O'Neal, but if those guys aren't available (or sent to other teams as may be the case with O'Neal soon), then plan B might be to target some talented swing players like Lewis.
Another name to watch that is being bantered about on forums is Joe Johnson. If the Hawks want to shed salary and pick up a pick to get Conley without having to use the number 3 pick on him, then they might be willing to deal Johnson.
Of course, teams want Theo and the pick because they are indeed valuable. If the Celtics can't get decent value, they would be smart to hold onto them. They could use the extra cap space to resign Jefferson and other young players. They could use the pick to continue to add talent (rumors point to both Yi and Corey Brewer as the team's favorites). If the team takes the patient route, they may be able to offer up Wally Szczerbiack at the trade deadline when he'll have less than a year and a half left on his deal.
Then again, "patient" hardly describes the state of the Celtics right now. Ainge has proven over time that he'll make moves without worrying about what the fans think. However, he has to consider how Pierce will react if no immediate upgrades take place. The last thing they need is for Pierce to pull a Kobe. Pierce wants to win with the Celtics, but can you blame him for being tired of waiting? If you can put a winning team around Pierce, I would think that would be the primary goal of this offseason.
The Celtics are in a good position to field offers for the trade assets they have (which also include several young and talented players). Here's hoping that Danny can turn those assets into someone that will help Pierce and Jefferson make this team a contender. All we need is the right deal.