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Holiday shopping for the Celtics

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With the league nearing the quarter mark for the season, teams will start determining whether they should be planning for the near future and a potential playoff run or look to the summer for rebuilding opportunities. The Celtics have options to do both.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s a fun exercise for you armchair GM’s. Check out the league’s current standings and find some tanking candidates. It’s early, but this summer’s draft is hyped to be one of the best classes in recent history and bad teams could start jockeying for position before the February trade deadline. Now, look at those teams’ salaries (courtesy of CelticsBlog’s Keith Smith). What parts can they sell off? Who fits a team’s needs? And if you’re a Celtics fan, should Danny Ainge start making calls? Ainge has several expiring deals—Amir Johnson ($12M), Jonas Jerebko ($5M), Tyler Zeller ($8M with a non-guaranteed year), James Young (~$2M), and Gerald Green (~$1M)—to help match salaries and a handful of second round picks and future firsts to deal. The caveat to any potential trade is finding players that won’t dramatically affect the Celtics’ cap space next summer. That means finding vets on expiring deals or possibly gambling on a young player that he can re-sign with their Bird Rights.

In Marc Stein’s recent rumor column, he mentions two players that have been recently linked to the Celtics: Nerlens Noel and Omri Casspi. Boston could use another (younger) rim protector and shot maker in the front court. Noel fits that bill and he’s only 22. He’ll be a restricted free agent and if Danny makes that deal, he’ll do it with some certainty that the hometown kid is willing to make a commitment.

Casspi, on the other hand, would be a rental and could slide into a bench scoring role that neither Gerald Green nor Jaylen Brown has consistently filled yet. Casspi is expiring too, so the price would presumably be low. For example, James Young and a Minnesota’s 2017 2nd round pick could do the trick.

New Orleans could be a trade partner, too. They’ve been playing well since the return of Jrue Holiday, but it’s unlikely they’ll catch Utah and Portland for the #8 spot out west. Holiday will be a 27-year-old free agent heading into his prime next summer and while his Pelicans career has been marred by injury, when he’s been healthy like last season, he’s been a perfect complement to Anthony Davis. I’d imagine he’s off the table for Dell Demps.

NBA: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

However, Tyreke Evans has had a similar stint in NO with three knee surgeries in nine months, but when he has been on the floor, he’s been effective. Like Holiday, he’ll be a free agent this summer, too. The Pelicans have shopped Evans before and with long term commitments to combo guard E’Twaun Moore and small forward Solomon Hill in place, they could be looking to get something for Evans before he hits free agency. Evans is red-flagged because of his knee, but he’s a nifty player that could serve as a back up wing in an Evan Turner role for 20-25 minutes a night.

The Ringer’s Bill Simmons tweeted an interesting target for the C’s: Andrew Bogut. With the Mavericks 2-14 and headed for the lottery, the former Warrior becomes expendable. Bogut won’t score much, but he’s a much better passer than Amir and an equally solid post defender. Opponents’ offensive rebounds have been the bane of the Celtics and Bogut was one of Golden State’s best defensive rebounders and a catalyst for their transition game. The Globe’s Gary Washburn reports that Aron Baynes will likely not pick up his player’s option for another season with the Pistons and test the free agent market. Baynes isn’t a very dynamic player, but like Bogut, he could solve some of Boston’s issues on the boards. He’s a high energy, heady player born out of the Spurs system and could fit right in with the Boston’s young bench mob.

Here’s a wild idea: bring back Jeff Green. If the Magic keep losing, they could be open to moving Green’s one-year $15M contract. Green’s time in Boston was frustrating, but a return under different circumstances could work. In his year and a half with Brad Stevens, he was looked at as a #1 or #2 option. Jeff Green just isn’t built that way. But now, with alpha dogs Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Marcus Smart in place, the pressure to be The Man wouldn’t be there anymore and Green just could fill in. There’s also this idea I floated out in August about getting Nick Young. He’s been on fire for the Lakers and become a reliable defender. The price might be higher now than it was this summer, but LA is in full rebuild mode. There’s also our favorite rebuild candidate in Brooklyn. Forget about #NetsPick. That chip will be saved, but the Celtics could pick off Bojan Bogdanovic. The 6’8 small forward is a 37% career shooter from behind the arc and is a restricted free agent this summer.

Or maybe Ainge goes big. Per The Herald’s Steve Bulpett, Danny is still/always prepping for fireworks:

From all indications speaking to team sources around the league, Danny Ainge is still after the major trades he knows are needed. And no doubt he’s loving each story calling the 2017 draft one of the deepest and most talent-laden in many years, understanding that such talk could raise the value of the Nets’ pick that can be theirs.

Next season’s salary cap is projected to be $102M and the Celtics could have $40M+ in cap space to spend, but if he can land a big fish sooner rather than later, Trader Danny is ready. It’s a tough line to toe because Ainge could stand pat, retain all his assets, and look to add via free agency in July without losing players. But here’s an ominous line from Bulpett’s article: “...while you know changes have to be coming, it might be helpful to begin preparing yourself to part with one or more players to whom you’re growing attached these days.” An in-season trade could gut a very good young team, but is it worth it if it means that the team is great in the future?