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Two Sides of One Brow

Celtics fans are sweating out an Anthony Davis trade deadline they can’t be part of.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most exciting big men in the NBA has demanded a trade and set NBA Twitter ablaze on January 28th. Many armchair GMs took to the Trade Machine and tried to hash out the best way to get the hyper athletic PF/C on their roster and everyone is very excited about the prospect of acquiring him.

But enough about Marquese Chriss, let’s talk about Anthony Davis.

Davis deciding to part ways with the Pelicans and make himself available in trades is something that Danny Ainge has been preparing for literally since the Celtics made their deal with the Nets. I personally believe it even played a part in the Celtics deciding to trade back for Jayson Tatum so they’d have assets that lined up better with the timeline for a possible trade. Now that the time is here, how did those preparations go and where do the Celtics stand now in the asset arms race?

What’s the Asset Situation?

The Celtics would be in the driver’s seat of talks, able to offer a projected All-Star in Jayson Tatum as well as having juicier sweeteners than many of the other teams could possible offer. Those include assets like Jaylen Brown, a 2019 Kings pick likely to fall in the late lottery, and an increasingly valuable pick from the Memphis Grizzlies which currently has an 86% chance of rolling over to next year when the protections on the pick will loosen. By 2021, it’s unprotected.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

On top of that, because of the league’s trade rules on salary matching, it is very likely that one of Gordon Hayward, Al Horford (assuming he opts into his player option), or Marcus Smart would need to go out in a trade for Davis. Hayward’s contract likely does not a positive value at this point, so dealing him would likely require additional sweeteners and possibly a third team.

The Celtics could also possibly use draft pick salary, as the Cavaliers did with Andrew Wiggins when they traded for Kevin Love. This simply entails agreeing to the trade with the Pelicans on Draft Night, drafting the players they want signing them to contracts, waiting a month and consummating the deal before the preseason. However it’s looking unlikely, barring, extreme lottery luck, that the the picks will be high enough to command a high salary.

Many Celtics fans will include Terry Rozier on the Celtics list of young assets, perhaps with the idea of solving the salary problem by facilitating a sign-and-trade with Pelicans a part of the deal. While that is technically possible, since the Celtics are over the cap, signing and trading Rozier triggers a little know provision of the CBA that was formerly known as “Base Year Compensation.” Essentially, what this provision does is ensures Rozier’s salary in a S&T transaction will only count for 50% of what his contract is worth for salary matching purposes. For example, if Terry Rozier was signed-and-traded on a contract that starts a $16 million a year, his salary would only count for $8 million dollars for the purpose of salary matching.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The way the Celtics team contracts are structured, it would certainly behoove the Celtics to utilize Rozier in a sign-and-trade. However, that’s just simply not likely. A sign-and-trade requires three parties to agree on something and it’s often hard enough just to get two into agreement. Rozier needs to think the deal is fair to him and his restricted free agent rights, the Pelicans have to agree that Rozier is worth the money, and it’s got be enough money to be worth Boston’s time.

What’s the Competition?

No matter what package armchair GMs will come up with, it’s pretty clear the Celtics will have the best package available that doesn’t involve Zion Williamson or perhaps one of the young Sixers stars, should they change course. Barring a massive jump from one of the Lakers’ players, Lebron’s new Lake Show likely doesn’t have the ammo to put together a package compelling enough for it not to be worth the Pelicans time to wait.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

As has been detailed ad nauseum, the Celtics can’t trade for Anthony Davis until this summer due to both he and Kyrie Irving being “Rose Rule” players. Because the Lakers don’t have the asset firepower to compete with the Celtics, they are under a tremendous amount of pressure to get the deal done before the trade deadline.

Speaking in plain terms, this probably has a lot to do with the timing of Davis’ request via his agent and LeBron James’s childhood friend, Rich Paul. Because the Lakers don’t have the assets to be competitive with the Celtics’ offer, they need to chase off any suitors and grandstand as though LA is Davis’ (and by extension, the Pelicans) only true option. The thinking here is that if the Pelicans believe that no one with cough up assets for an AD rental (they will) they will have no choice but to take the Lakers offer to get something instead of nothing.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans-Press Conference Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

For now, it seems that gambit is not working. Dell Demps has taken the interesting strategy of “not picking up the phone.” I say interesting, not because I don’t understand where Dell is coming from (I employ the same strategy when someone I’ve been seeing finds my Twitter) or that it’s the wrong move, but more that it seems the Pelicans have made a firm decision to not make any hard decisions until they know exactly where the picks fall and what Boston is offering.

I don’t think it’s likely, given all these moving parts, that Danny Ainge lets Anthony Davis slip through his fingers. That said, what if the worst comes to pass between now and the deadline? What if the best laid plans of Danny and Company are scuttled? What do the Celtics face going forward?

We’ll have more on that in Part Two coming soon.

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