Considering we are only nine games into the season, it may be a bit early to be considering any drastic changes. That won't stop us from having some fun with potential trade ideas anyway. With the Boston Celtics in need of a rim protector to solidify their defense, they may want to give the Brooklyn Nets a call to inquire about the availability of Brook Lopez.
Boston has struggled on the defensive end so far this season, hemorrhaging 109.4 points per 100 possessions - which makes them the 27th ranked defense in the league. While we're still working with limited sample sizes, the Celtics interior defense was always expected to be a problem with a front line of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. They expected to make up for it with lock-down perimeter defense and an above average offense, but it hasn't exactly worked out so far.
The offense has been even better than expected, ranking 6th in the league at 107.5 points per 100 possessions, but the defense has been a disaster thus far. This has amounted to a -1.9 Net Rating, which projects over a full season as a team below .500 that could flirt with the 8th playoff seed in a weak Eastern Conference. That's a decent improvement over last season, but Celtics fans are hoping for better than that. Lopez can help them get there.
Why the Celtics should want him
The former All-Star is rounding his way back into form after missing most of last season with a foot injury. When healthy, he's one of the best big men in the league, with career averages of 18.0 points per game on 51% shooting. During his last full healthy season, Lopez ranked 5th in the league with a 24.81 PER. While the injury limited him to only 17 games last season, he was once again among the league's elite (25.50 PER).
On the defensive end, Lopez isn't considered elite by any means, but the 7-footer is an imposing presence in the paint that would provide the Celtics with a needed shot blocker. Lopez has averaged 1.7 blocks per game in his career and ranked 7th in the league with 2.1 blocks during his All-Star campaign in 2012-13. The Celtics don't currently have anyone averaging more than Sullinger's 0.88 blocks, which makes them one of only three teams without at least one player averaging more than a block per game.
Lopez has produced disappointing rebounding numbers for a player his size, but that would be offset by playing alongside Sullinger, who rates as one of the top-ten power forwards with a 17.0 Rebound Rate (among players with a minimum of 15 minutes per game). Lopez's rebounding totals are also held back by playing for a Nets team that has played at one of the league's slowest paces over the past several years. He has averaged a more respectable 11.7 rebounds per 100 possessions, so moving to a faster paced team like the Celtics would boost his rebounding stats.
Why the Nets might trade him
I'll preface this by stating that Brooklyn has made no indication that Lopez is on the trading block, so this is purely speculation. However, that doesn't mean he's not attainable.
Brooklyn is off to a disappointing 4-6 start that has them fighting for the 8th seed in the East. Not exactly what they were hoping for from their $93.7 million roster (that's before accounting for a massive luxury tax bill). If their struggles continue, they may look to shake things up.
Lopez can become a free agent after this season if he opts out of his $16.7 million player option - which he almost certainly will do if he stays healthy enough to have a solid year. Brooklyn needs to get younger and cheaper, which would be all but impossible if they re-sign Lopez. Even if he opts out of his deal to go elsewhere in free agency, it wouldn't leave Brooklyn with much meaningful cap space, with over $60 million already committed to only 10 other players for next season.
There is also the theory that Brooklyn may actually play better without Lopez. Last season the Nets got off to a similar slow start with Lopez in-and-out of the lineup. Brooklyn stumbled to a 9-16 record before Lopez was shut down for the season, with their playoff chances looking hopelessly out of reach. With their star center on the shelf, the Nets reinvented themselves with a more small-ball oriented approach, which led to a 44-win season and the 6th seed in the East. Their offense improved from a middling 102.9 Offensive Rating before the All-Star break to a more acceptable 105.6 after the team found their new identity in the season's second half. After being outscored by 1.6 points per 100 possessions before the break, the Nets swung that around to a +1.1 Net Rating in the second half.
What would the Celtics give up?
Without any inside knowledge of what Brooklyn may specifically be looking for, here is the most realistic option that I've found, using ESPN's Trade Machine. Boston would also have to include a future draft pick from their treasury trove of assets - possibly even offering the Nets back one of the picks they already traded to Boston in the Pierce-Garnett trade.
If Brooklyn wants to get back to the style of play that made them so successful late last season, Olynyk may be a better fit, due to his ability to stretch the floor. He's a young, cost-controlled asset with upside. Paul Pierce is no longer around to slide into the power forward role in their small ball lineup, which is part of what made it so successful. However, Brandon Bass can help fill that role with his deadly mid-range game and improving three-point range from the corners.
In addition to Lopez, the Celtics would get the expiring contract of Andrei Kirilenko - a versatile player who does a lot of things well, but is in the decline phase of his career and is rarely seeing action in Brooklyn's rotation this season. Boston also would get to dump Gerald Wallace's contract back on the Nets, which would save them about $10.1 million for next season.
Giving up a talented young asset in Olynyk in addition to a draft pick is a steep price to pay for a player that could walk after this season, but it's a risk the Celtics may have to take in order to find an All-Star caliber center. We also have to consider that Lopez may be willing to opt in to his player option for next season in order to cash in as a free agent the following summer, when the salary cap is expected to rise to unprecedented levels. Worst case scenario - Lopez leaves as a free agent after the season, in which case the Celtics could find themselves with cap space for a max contract, while still being able to re-sign Rajon Rondo to one.
The Celtics may consider Lopez too much of a health risk to gamble on, given that he's missed the majority of the season in two of the past three years. Perhaps he wouldn't fit in well enough with the system Brad Stevens is trying to implement. Or they may just be a lot higher on Olynyk's star potential than I am. The reasons to be hesitant about pulling the trigger on this hypothetical trade are plentiful.
On the other hand, it's not often that talented big men like Lopez can be acquired. There's no doubting that Lopez is one of the best centers in the East, with the skills to improve this Celtics team in some of their biggest areas of weakness. If the Nets can be convinced to make a deal, it's something Boston has to consider.