The NBA trade deadline is just about two weeks away. The Boston Celtics hit the halfway point at fourth in the Eastern Conference (not a surprise) at 19-17 (a surprise). Because the East is relatively weak, there is little chance the Celtics won’t finish in one of the top-six seeds and lock in the guaranteed playoff berth.
But it’s not really about simply making the playoffs for Boston, is it? The goal, as it almost is, remains to hang Banner 18. To get there, no less a source than Danny Ainge himself has said the team needs help.
Outside of their starting wings of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Boston could upgrade at almost every other position. Ainge’s stated goal is to find some shooting with size. At times, it’s been hinted that Boston is looking to upgrade the wings that share the floor with, and play behind, Brown and Tatum.
With those parameters in mind, and noting that the Celtics view positions as bigs, wings and ballhandlers, we’re going to run through some of the best trade targets for Boston approaching the deadline.
A couple of notes before we dive into players:
· The Celtics best tool for making a trade is the $28.5 million traded player exception (TPE) they have from the Gordon Hayward sign and trade this past offseason. Boston also has smaller TPEs of $4.8 million (Enes Kanter) and $2.5 million (Vincent Poirier). For more on how a TPE can and can’t be used, we covered that here.
· Boston owns all of their own first round picks moving forward. For the first time in years, the Celtics do not have any future first round picks owed to them. Boston is well-stocked in second round picks also, despite owing a couple of their own to Charlotte.
· Boston has a full roster right now, after fully guarantee Javonte Green’s contract. That means any unbalanced trade would see Boston having to waive someone. Not the end of the world, but it’s more likely Boston would look for a balanced trade, or to send out more players than they bring back.
· We’ll likely focus on trade targets, but will also talk about a few players who might be buyout candidates as well.
Current bigs: Daniel Theis, Tristan Thompson, Robert Williams, Grant Williams
How big of a need: Moderate
The Pipedream Targets: Nikola Vucevic, Andre Drummond, John Collins, Myles Turner
· Vucevic – Vooch would be the single best player Boston could conceivably acquire at the deadline. The challenge is that Orlando won’t trade him unless they get blown away by an offer. That would mean Boston likely sends out Robert Williams and at least one of Aaron Nesmith or Romeo Langford, plus two or three first round picks. That doesn’t seem like a price Boston would pay.
· Drummond – Last year we covered why Boston should pass on a Drummond trade. Nothing has really changed since then, minus Drummond getting more expensive salary-wise. He doesn’t fit inside the Hayward TPE, so that means matching salary to get him. That probably means Marcus Smart would have to be traded. That’s a no-go, beyond all the other reasons to pass.
· Collins – This one is interesting, because Collins only makes $4.1 million this season. That means Boston could add him via straight salary-matching or by using the Kanter TPE. Collins is really good, but the Hawks balked at giving him a max extension. He’ll be a restricted free agent and some team is going to make him a max offer. IF Atlanta continues to fall in the standings, and IF they have reservations on re-signing Collins, Boston should make an offer. Sure, the team would get wildly expensive next season, but that’s likely coming anyway. Might as well do it with a 4/5 that complements Brown, Tatum and Kemba Walker really well.
· Turner – This one won’t go away, after the Celtics were linked to a Turner trade in the offseason. He’s one the NBA’s best shot-blockers, but not a great defender otherwise. Turner is a poor rebounder and his shooting has dipped considerably. The cost to add him would be relatively high, as the Pacers view him as part of their core group. This one just doesn’t add up at this time.
The Realistic Targets: Al Horford, PJ. Tucker, Nemanja Bjelica, Khem Birch, Aron Baynes
· Horford – Old friend Horford back in green? That’s been buzzing around for months now. Then, his sister Anna added some fuel to the fire by tweeting about how Horford could help the Celtics with leadership and consistency. The Thunder are willing to move Horford for little in return, as they already got paid a first rounder to eat his deal. He’s played pretty well for Oklahoma City this year, and has been rested regularly. The question is: Is Horford enough of upgrade up front to offset the cost of his contract and the luxury tax bill it would create? That’s probably a no. Maybe next year, when he becomes sort of an expiring contract (Horford is owed just over half his salary at $14.5 million in 2022-23). Right now, that’s a big multi-year expense.
· Tucker – The vultures are circling the Houston Rockets now. Tucker has an easily tradable salary and he fits everywhere as a role player. His defense isn’t quite what it once was, but he’s still better than most available options. For Boston, he could fit at the 4 and open up some super-small-ball lineups as a 5. The cost to acquire Tucker wouldn’t be all that high either, because he’s got an expiring deal and there seems to be little chance he’s returning to Houston.
· Bjelica – The backup forward for Sacramento fits the “shooting with size” mantra from Ainge. Bjelica’s three-point shot has dropped off, but that’s likely more about inconsistent playing time than it is his shot being truly gone. He’s an ok rebounder, but he offers next to nothing defensively. This is a move where you kind of shrug and say “Well, if there is nothing else!” and send it in. Bjelica won’t cost much, as he’s more or less out of the rotation for the Kings now.
· Birch – Birch is one of those guys who stands out the more you watch him play. If you catch the occasional game, he may not be someone you notice. Watch him nightly, and you appreciate his game. He’s a great screener, solid finisher and decent passer. He’s a great rebounder on both ends and his defense is generally good. He’s also on a very cheap contract and wouldn’t cost much to acquire. The question with Birch: Is he better than what Boston already has? The answer there is: probably not.
· Baynes – Baynes is mostly on this list because of how beloved he was in his first go-around in Boston. He’s looked pretty rough this season. Toronto wouldn’t want to help a division rival, but given Baynes is on a pseudo-expiring contract, the Raptors wouldn’t want much for him. He’s not an upgrade on anyone the Celtics roll out at center currently, so there isn’t really a match here, unless Boston trades one of their current bigs in another deal.
Next up: Wings