The trade deadline is upon us, and when it comes to Boston we already know the news cycle will be never-ending. The Celtics have the best record in the conference to go along with the best defense in the league all while still quietly nursing their superstar forward back to health. But they are still loaded with assets which makes them target for reports either leaked by them or other teams trying to drive up the price of their assets. However, that’s not to say the Celtics won’t be interesting in looking for upgrades.
Boston desperately needs scoring. Via nba.com, the Celtics have a -0.5 net rating with Irving off the court, highlighted by a putrid 96.7 offensive rating. When the starters are on the floor, the Celtics post numbers that are equivalent to the number 6 offense and number one defense with a 15.4 net rating. The team’s second unit has been able to just survive because it’s able to turn it up a notch defensively, but there’s no denying that the potential of this team is held back without a proven way to consistently score without Irving on the floor. Boston is in a weird spot where their books are filled with either star players that they’re building with or young players that they’re trying to develop, so in a perfect world they probably wouldn’t want to move any of them. But due to the Hayward injury, the Disabled Player Exception will allow them to take on a guy on an expiring deal who makes slightly over 8.4 million.
This exception can also be used in the buyout market meaning the Celtics can virtually outbid anyone in the event a veteran who they believe can help the team is released. With that being said, I think the Celtics will have to go through a two-step process before determining if making a move is right for them. Let’s begin with step one.
- Is making a trade worth it?
We began this piece by talking about the Celtics complete inability to score the basketball without Kyrie Irving on the floor and there’s no denying that it’s a real problem that’s not going to fix itself. But on the flip side, does it really matter? Boston is in a rare space where they’re giving young players who they probably could never find the minutes for in other circumstances a ton of minutes while fielding a competitive team that many feel will rival the Cavaliers in a way we haven’t seen since Paul Pierce was a member of the team. If that’s already a realistic ceiling with the roster as is, why trade for a veteran that may muck up the rotations only to get where you already had a good chance to reaching prior to the deal?
Let’s say your rebuttal is they can sign a young player that they can maybe develop. If they’re using that DPE that young player is going to be a Restricted Free Agent at the end of the year. But with Irving, Rozier, Brown, and Smart set to be paid in upcoming years can the Celtics afford to pay a young prospect hoping the upside that the team who drafted him no longer saw will come into fruition?
The alternative is that you don’t believe in the formula of this team when it comes to the postseason. Yeah, the defense is elite and the players have performed above expectations, but in a playoff setting where teams are consistently crafting a gameplan to stop you that’s tweaked game after game, maybe those promising rookies start to look a little funny in the light. That’s no shame to them. The playoffs aren’t really a place where most young players are expected to be in their first few years in the league and it really wouldn’t be completely surprising to see players like Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, Daniel Theis, and co. look like a shell of themselves.
By that line of logic getting a reliable vet who can help ease the burden off of Kyrie and Horford would be essential. It’s important to remember that when the Celtics put this roster together it was for Kyrie, Hayward, and Horford to do all the creating while guys like Brown, Tatum, Morris, Rozier, Smart, etc. just kind of got plugged in and filled little roles as needed. Irving and Horford have been great this season, but when teams start blitzing any PnR action between them, it would be nice for Irving to have a man he can throw it to and rely on to create offense for himself and others. That’s when using the DPE looks pretty good.
This isn’t meant to sway you one or another, but it is something worth considering because I'm sure it’s a conversation the Celtics have had. The team does have areas it can improve, but it needs to make sure that the move doesn’t hamper their ability to develop guys that they may have not gotten the opportunity to.
2. So who’s available?
Let’s get into the fun part. Though it has been reported that the trade market is still quiet I have a sneaking suspicion that as it draws closer and teams become more realistic with where they’re as a franchise the news will start heating up. Boston doesn’t necessarily have a position of need, but they do have a role that needs to be addressed: second-unit scoring. Whoever they choose needs to have the versatility to fit in the many different lineups that Stevens will try to use them in. Here are some intriguing options:
Tyreke Evans (19.4ppg, 5.1rpg, 5apg, 38.8 3P%)
No other player has done more for his stock than Tyreke Evans. The ex-ROY came to Memphis on a minimum deal with minimum interest around the league. In just half a season he has played so well that the Grizzles are reportedly asking for a first round pick for him and they just might get it. Evans is a do-it-all wing who can create out of the PnR, play off-ball, or go one-on-one if the situation calls for it.
There’s already been a rumor by one Memphis beat writer that Boston may be the favorite to land the wing, but the validity of that report is still in question. Boston has the picks and the space with the DPE to bring Evans in without losing a player, but there is an Achilles heel. In his last 10 games, Evans has shot 26.4% from three on 6.6 attempts and it’s not out of the question that he could regress to the mean as a shooter in the second half of the season and leave Boston out of a pick and stuck with an another version of Evan Turner.
Lou Williams (23.5ppg, 5.2apg, 2.5rpg)
After the events of last night, Williams was a late addition to the list. The veteran guard has had an explosive year in LA and has been the teams most reliable offensive weapon. You know what you’re getting out of him every night, 20-25 minutes of high-level scoring and a reliable ball-handler who can run a unit. Boston loves 3-guard lineups and the prospect of combining Williams-Smart-Rozier would be deadly 2nd unit with a good balance of defense to back-up Williams shortcomings. This is by far my favorite target and Ainge would be smart to pull the trigger if the price isn’t outrageous.
Julius Randle (13.7ppg, 7.3rpg, 2.1apg)
The Lakers have made no secret that Randle is available and interestingly enough, they’ve already had talks with Boston this summer about potentially landing Avery Bradley for Randle and 2nd pick, but Boston instead preferred Larry Nance Jr. who wasn’t set to expire. It’s unclear how Boston sees him now after getting more game film on him and with the power to bring him on without giving up an asset. Randle has been in and out of the Lakers rotation, showing flashes as a strong versatile defender capable of rebounding and leading breaks, but he also hasn’t improved on his shooting and isn’t much of a rim protector. Maybe Randle could come in and be a strong 2nd unit scorer who attacks the rim relentlessly, grabs boards that create more possessions, and show off some of his hidden passing abilities. I just wouldn’t bet on it.
Ersan Ilyasova (10.9ppg, 5.7rpg, 1.3apg)
This is more of a safe pick. Illyasova has been a consistent second unit big who won’t put up points in bunches, but is more than capable of hitting open shots and playing passable second-unit defense. Boston probably could get him in the buyout market and could use him on an as needed basis. Boston 5th in three-point frequency, 5th in attempts, and top 5 in amount of wide open three-pointers taken. Illyasova shots 39.8% on catch and shoot three’s. This could be a partnership that ends up being better than it appears.
Marco Belinelli (11.2ppg, 2.0rpg, 2.1apg)
Belinelli is another Hawk that would provide the Celtics with a much needed shooter. Belinelli isn’t going to give you a thing in terms of defense or play-making, but he’ll shoot the ball often and well. He’s only averaging a career-low 1.2 3PA per game and hasn’t been a big part of the Hawks rotation, but asked to come on a team and do the one thing he’s in the league for could give his career and the Celtics second unit a big lift.
Honorable Mentions: Nerlens Noel, Rodney Hood, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Joe Harris, Arron Afflalo