The NBA trade deadline is less than a month away on February 10 at 3:00 PM ET. It’s the last chance for teams to remake their rosters in a meaningful way for the 2021-22 season.
For the Boston Celtics, we don’t yet know what the deadline might bring. Are they going to be buyers looking to beef up for a playoff run? Will they be sellers looking to reposition for offseason moves?
We can say with some confidence (heavy emphasis on some) that Boston won’t be blowing up their roster at the deadline. This summer? Maybe. But making massive changes to a roster generally is very hard to swing in-season.
With all that said, here’s where the Celtics stand as the trade deadline approaches, who they might target and what Brad Stevens is working with to make trades happen.
· Jayson Tatum
· Jaylen Brown
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are as close to untouchable as any Celtics. They aren’t truly untouchable, because Brad Stevens wouldn’t hang up the phone if asked about either player. But Stevens would demand a pretty massive haul for either guy. We’re not going to spend a lot of time here, because gallons of virtual ink have been spilt about splitting up Trouble-0-7 and Boston continues to signal they have no real interest in sending either packing.
(But check back this summer, pending how this season finishes!)
The Hard to Moves
· Marcus Smart
· Robert Williams
· Josh Richardson
Marcus Smart is hard to move because he’s probably worth more to Boston than anyone else. Four years and $77 million also could be tricky to work around, because not every team will view that deal as positive value. Ultimately, Smart isn’t off the table, but unless something gets built into a bigger package, he’s probably not going anywhere.
(Note: Due to when he signed his extension, Smart is not trade-eligible until January 25)
Robert Williams is hard to move for a CBA-related reason, but more for the fact that he looks like a steal on a four-year, $48 million extension starting in 2022-23. Williams has played really well and looks like a big part of Boston’s core going forward. He’s a defensive anchor, a vertical threat and continues to round out his offensive game.
The reality is, even if Brad Stevens wanted to move Williams, he’s hard to trade. Williams is Poison Pill-restricted due to his extension. That means on the Celtics side of a deal, Williams counts at his current $3.7 million salary. For the acquiring team, Williams counts as the average of this season and his extension at $10.3 million. That $6.6 million difference can be tricky to work around when putting together a trade.
Josh Richardson is in an odd spot. Despite information to the contrary elsewhere, Richardson is trade-eligible and always has been. His one-year, $12.2 million extension didn’t trigger any sort of restriction. The bigger issue is placing value on Richardson. He’s played well with Boston, but that’s after a couple of poor seasons with Philadelphia and Dallas. Because of his contract size and role, Richardson probably sticks unless Stevens is building some sort of major trade package.
The Hard to Trade Vet
· Al Horford
It’s not that Boston would be reluctant to trade Al Horford. It’s the nature of his contract where things get tricky. $27 million is a big number to move, but not impossible. It would just mean it being a fairly large deal for the Celtics to get involved in. In 2022-23, Horford is only partially guaranteed at $14.5 million. That’s still too big of a chunk of change to be considered even a pseudo-expiring deal.
On the court, Horford’s game is like listening to someone speak live when you’ve been listening to them on 2x speed on a podcast: It’s sort of the same, but feels a whole lot slower. Horford can still defend, but it’s more about banging with bigs than switching out on guards and wings now. He can still pass and handle it, but the scoring isn’t what it once was.
Horford probably sticks until at least the offseason, because there just isn’t likely to be a deal that makes sense at the deadline.
The Very Tradeable Vets
· Dennis Schroder
· Enes Freedom
· Juancho Hernangomez
Each one of these players is tradable for a different reason. Dennis Schroder is clearly the best player of this group, by a good margin too. He’s a productive bench scorer and he’s on a good contract. The challenge? It’s a one-year deal and the Celtics can give Schroder only a slight raise if they were to re-sign him. That makes it highly likely Brad Stevens looks at moving him. If Boston turns it around record-wise over the next four weeks, and looks like they’ve figured things out for a real playoff run, and Schroder is a big part of that, he probably stays. If any of those things doesn’t materialize, Schroder probably needs to go.
Enes Freedom is a pretty simple case. He’s on a minimum contract. Any team in the league can acquire Freedom without sending back a real asset. He’s probably not going anywhere, because there isn’t a large market for backup centers that can’t defend. If Stevens needs to throw him into a deal to make math or roster numbers work, he will.
The bet here is that Juancho Hernangomez is the most likely to be traded Celtic at the deadline. Hernangomez has minimal trade value for his play, but his $7 million deal is a really nice piece of salary-matching in a potential deal. And his $7.5 million contract for 2022-23 is fully non-guaranteed, making Hernangomez a pseudo-expiring deal. If nothing else, Boston will pay a second-round pick to a rebuilding team to salary-dump Hernangomez in a tax-avoidance move.
· Romeo Langford
· Aaron Nesmith
· Payton Pritchard
· Grant Williams
This is where it gets really complicated for Brad Stevens. None of these former first-rounders have played well enough to have great trade value. Yet, all remain intriguing enough that Boston shouldn’t be looking to dump them. A third complicating factor: Other than Grant Williams, none of the other three have been able to consistently crack the rotation.
Romeo Langford is probably the most likely to be traded of this group. He’s extension-eligible in the offseason, but he’s been unable to string together more than a few good games in a row. It’s usually injuries that have kept that from happening, but this season it’s been inconsistent play. Because his trade value is very neutral, Langford is probably best served as a throw-in to make a deal work. That’s especially true if the Celtics don’t want to deal with extension talks this summer.
Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard both have two more years left on their rookie scale deals. Neither is extension-eligible until 2023. There’s still lots of time to figure out what exactly what Boston has in both. There have been flashes for sure, but nothing sustained enough to earn them rotation spots. Neither probably goes anywhere, because giving up team control of former first-rounders isn’t something you do until their future really comes in question.
After his mess of a sophomore season, it’s hard to believe Grant Williams has the most consistent role and most trade value of this quartet. But, after slimming down to be more versatile, Williams has been very good. He’s a rotation player and the primary backup big behind Al Horford and Robert Williams. Some even think Grant Williams should take Horford’s starting spot. It’s hard to imagine any trade coming along where Williams moves the needle enough to send him on his way.
· Bruno Fernando
· Sam Hauser
· Brodric Thomas
This one is short and simple: None of these guys are getting traded. Fernando could be a throw-in to make math work or to solve a roster issue, but that’s about it. To this point, a Two-Way player has yet to be traded and it’s highly unlikely Hauser or Thomas will the first.
· Draft Picks
· Traded Player Exceptions
· Open Roster Spot
The Celtics own all of their own first-round picks. In what still seems like it’s impossible after years of “bonus” picks, Boston does not own any additional first-round picks. Still, owning all of your own picks is valuable, because that allows you to juice a trade proposal beyond just the players involved.
In the second round, the picture is a lot murkier. Without getting into the complicated details, the Celtics have five future second round picks. None are from rebuilding teams in either of the upcoming two seasons. Essentially: Boston can give away a pick or two if they need to dump salary. But none of these picks are bringing back anything of value directly.
After a year of holding the largest Traded Player Exception (TPE) in NBA history after the Gordon Hayward sign-and-trade, Boston remains rich in TPEs once again. They have a $17.1 million TPE from the Evan Fournier sign-and-trade, a $9.7 million TPE from the Tristan Thompson trade and a $5.1 million TPE from the Kemba Walker trade. The Celtics also have two small TPEs that are virtually unusable that aren’t worth worrying about.
Important things to remember about TPEs: They can’t be aggregated together or with player salary. They have to be used by themselves. A TPE can be split up to acquire multiple players. A TPE can also be used to claim a player off waivers.
The last “asset” the Celtics have is that they are sitting on an open roster spot. That may not seem like much, but when you start talking unbalanced trades of 2-for-1 or 3-for-2, that can help move things along far easier than when a deal involves having to waive a player to complete the transaction.
· Going for it
Picking a direction, or being forced into a direction, is paramount over the next few weeks. If the Celtics finally start playing well, Brad Stevens may see this team worth investing in for a playoff run.
2020-21 at the halfway point is nothing to get excited about, but Boston has started winning at a slightly better rate recently. The schedule remains very favorable the rest of the year. And the roster is in the best health it’s been in for some time.
On the flip side, if the Celtics are scuffling along at the trade deadline, then it’s time to start moving in a different direction. No, this isn’t a “blow it up” situation. That would have to wait until the offseason for maximum efficacy. But removing some vets is effective for a few reasons.
First, if they aren’t a playoff team, whatever Boston can get for Dennis Schroder would be a bonus. He’s probably gone anyway, so a minor asset in return is fine. If Al Horford could return anything of value, that’d be great too.
Second, removing those vets frees up times for the kids to play. If a playoff run isn’t in the cards, start the process of figuring out what you have in the kids.
Lastly, no matter the direction, Juancho Hernangomez has to go. He’s either salary-matching in a trade to bring help or dumping his contract to avoid, or lessen, the tax is of paramount importance.
· Harrison Barnes
· Jerami Grant
· De’Aaron Fox
· Terrence Ross
· Robin Lopez
· The Pacers
· Eric Gordon
· The Trail Blazers
· John Collins
· Jeff Green
· Jalen Smith
In the coming days, we’ll have a whole separate article diving in on the players listed above and why they might, or might not, make sense for the Celtics. The main thing to note is that none of these players makes much sense unless Boston is going for it and making a playoff push. If the Celtics are pivoting towards a reset, then the big trades can wait until this summer.