The Boston Celtics are off to a red hot start this year. Their record stands at 8-1 after a Monday night victory over the Dallas Mavericks, placing them atop the league leader board. Boston’s early-season success has been boosted a bit by a relatively soft schedule, but its effectiveness remains impressive nonetheless.
That Boston has been competitive isn’t surprising. The Celtics’ roster is loaded with talent. Most assumed Boston would be good, but not great. That prognostication might ultimately prove true once they’ve encountered more of the NBA’s top-tier teams.
Smart money is against the Celtics being able to hang with the likes of the Lakers and Clippers out west or even the 76ers or Bucks in a seven game series. They appear closer to doing so than many originally anticipated though (yours truly admittedly among that group), so much so that it’s fair to wonder if the right trade might push them up into the stratosphere of contention reserved for the NBA’s truly elite.
So let’s explore a few potential options. Before we start, let’s also acknowledge that Boston’s hands are tied a bit by their financial realities. Moving Jaylen Brown is exceedingly difficult after his recent extension. Any team acquiring him would need to have cap space equivalent to the difference between Brown’s current salary and the average annual salary of his extended number, making a deal including him next to impossible.
That leaves the Celtics with limited options in terms of players that could be included in a trade, two of whom - Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum - Boston seems particularly keen on keeping. We’ll kick around a few possibilities regardless, with a focus on landing a big man.
The Celtics have thrived thus far with a rotating cast of centers with varied abilities, but to compete at the game’s very highest level they need someone who works regardless of context. That requires more size than either Daniel Theis or Grant Williams can offer and fewer mental lapses than Robert Williams bring to the table. Potential solutions come in all shapes and sizes, and with a variety of accompanying price tags.
We’ve outlined general strategies and highlighted specific players to consider within them. Let’s dive in.
Options included here have proven capable in the postseason crucible before. They tend to be more established players. Pursuing a proven winner would require the Celtics to perceive their best shot at a championship to be the present rather than the twentysomething timeline of players like Brown and Tatum.
Trade #1: Draymond Green for Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter, and two 1st-round picks (BOS and MIL 2020’s)
There may need to be another bit player involved to make this work - Golden State is hard capped - but the principle pieces of this theoretical are as outlined. Boston would essentially be swapping one all-world defender for another at a position of greater need.
Green, when healthy and fully engaged, is among the best defenders in the history of the sport. He’s coasted through recent regular seasons just enough to make the Warriors wonder if he might be losing a step or two.
Add in the fact that Golden State appears to be in something of a lost year due to injury, and there’s just enough reason to think they might entertain this deal. Why not fully punt the season, add a few late first-rounders to refill the coffers, and bring in the closest thing they’ll find to fill the Andre Iguodala role that isn’t Iguodala himself?
Ultimately, this is a trade both teams balk at. Smart and Green are the emotional heartbeats of their respective squads. Green’s not eligible to be traded until days before the Trade Deadline anyway, which only further complicates matters.
Trade #2: Marc Gasol and OG Anunoby for Gordon Hayward
Marc Gasol is off to a very slow (and apparently out-of-shape) start to the year in Toronto, and his contract is a significant one. Those two facts should be plenty to cause hesitancy on the part of anyone thinking of acquiring him.
Gasol has had dips in conditioning before though, and he’s proven as recently as last year he can help a team get over the hump into Finals contention, and ultimately victory. If Boston thinks he could do the same for them then its worth looking into.
The trouble comes in the form of Gasol’s contract ($25M). Hayward is the only option on Boston’s roster that can make the math of a deal work. He’s currently injured, and also a good deal more talented than the present-day version of Gasol (assuming he continues his stellar play upon returning from injury).
Hayward is duplicative of his many teammates that like to spend time on the wing, but it’s not clear the Celtics would be substantially better after trading him, even if the Raptors were willing to sweeten the pot with Anonuby, particularly given his ability to function as a facilitator for others.
Trade #3: Marcus Smart for Clint Capela
Capela is a stretch as a member of the proven winner category. Houston has relied on small ball lineups with P.J. Tucker at center when games are on the line, opting to keep Capela tethered to the bench.
He’s had moments of postseason success though, and flashed an ability to function as a switchable rim protector, a role that would be of plenty value in Boston. Capela has a lot of regular season utility in Houston. He can bang with the league’s biggest bodies consistently, allowing Tucker to preserve himself until the playoffs. The allure of adding Smart to the Rockets’ smaller lineups has to have some appeal to Houston. He and Tucker may provide enough strength, versatility, and insane competitiveness to prop up some spottier defensive options.
Honorable Mentions: Tristan Thompson, Steven Adams, Kevon Looney
Up and Comers
The Celtics could also explore the possibility of landing a younger, less-established big man. Trading for someone in their prime or pre-prime may mean ponying up in a deal, but if the Celtics were able to find a player that can fill a void in the present AND maintain that role in the future, that’s worth paying a premium for.
Trade #1: Myles Turner for Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter, and the Memphis pick
Myles Turner make great sense for the Celtics. He’s a huge body with great shot blocking instincts, and proved to be on the league’s more impactful defenders last year. Offensively he can shoot the ball well enough to maintain spacing for Boston’s bevy of slashing wings.
It’s not clear that the Celtics have the right assets to pry Turner away from the Pacers. Jaylen Brown is roughly the right level of value, but his contract makes a swap functionally impossible. Jayson Tatum is too much, and a Smart-centric deal probably isn’t enough. The juicy Memphis pick - top-5 protected this year and unprotected the next - may be enough to move the needle.
Indiana doesn’t necessarily have a real need for Smart after signing Malcolm Brogdon this summer, though the two could make for an interesting back court pairing before Victor Oladipo returns from injury. Moving Turner would enable Indiana to make Domantas Sabonis their unquestioned number one big man. Whether or not that is appealing to them is another question entirely.
Trade #2: Jaren Jackson Jr. for Jayson Tatum
This one would take some pretty serious onions from both sides. Dealing Tatum for Jackson would be abet that the latter’s defensive ceiling is higher than the former’s offensive ceiling. Both will grow into substantial two-way talents, but whoever maxes out their primary strengths will be the better player.
This deal isn’t happening, but it’s fun to think about.
Trade #3: Mitchell Robinson for Robert Williams and a 1st Round Pick (Boston 2020)
Ever wondered what a faster, springier version of Robert Williams might look like? The answer might be Mitchell Robinson. Acquiring the Knicks’ pogo stick rim protector for Williams and a late first-rounder likely amounts to something of a lateral move, but Robinson is just far enough ahead of Williams in his feel for the game that it qualifies as an upgrade. It also suggests his long-term ceiling might be above that of Williams as well.
Trade #4: Bam Adebayo and Dion Waiters for Marcus Smart and Grant Williams
The Heat are always looking for smart, versatile players that love to grind. Smart and Grant Williams fit that bill perfectly. Unfortunately for Boston, Adebayo does as well. Taking on Waiters’ contract would at least be intriguing to Miami, but it’s probably not enough to convince them to consummate a trade, which is unfortunate for the Celtics.
Adebayo is strong and incredibly mobile. He’d fit right into switch-heavy schemes, but has the chops to function in other approaches as well. He may be the most realistic target to pursue of the players highlighted here, but Miami is likely to hold onto him pretty tight.
Honorable Mention: Domantas Sabonis, Jerami Grant, Jarrett Allen
There’s an argument to be made that Boston doesn’t need a star level big to jump a level in contention, but rather one that’s just a slightly better fit. The reasoning behind such logic is a touch on the tenuous side, but it’s sound enough to at least kick around a few ideas.
Trade #1: Maxi Kleber for Daniel Theis and Romeo Langford
The rarely seen German for German swap! Kleber does most of the things Theis does well - defend, block shots, shoot threes - he just does them with a little more oomph. The little bit of extra strength and athletic pop might be enough to keep him on the floor in the minutes Boston has to turn to alternative options aside from Theis.
For Dallas the deal would provide an easy replacement for Kleber, while simultaneously landing a potential future offensive creator in Langford, the kind of player that would complement Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis nicely should he blossom.
Trade #2: Khem Birch for Carsen Edwards and Semi Ojeleye
I’ll admit, we’re grasping at straws a bit here. Orlando needs shot creation, which Edwards could provide. Boston would get another big to test out without sacrificing any of its current options, should Birch prove imperfect. The Celtics probably shouldn’t give up on Edwards unless it’s for a relatively sure thing, but sometimes winning it all requires a roll of the dice.
Honorable Mention: Alex Len, Cody Zeller, JaVale McGee,