Their wins have felt like the peak of the mountain. Jayson Tatum’s 51-point performance against the Washington Wizards was the Celtics climbing Mt. Everest. Their fourth-quarter performances against the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Pelicans were them scaling K2.
But the opposite can be said about their losses.
Boston’s blowout loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was them taking a plunge into the Grand Canyon. The 11-point collapse against the Portland Trail Blazers was them sinking to the bottom of the Dead Sea.
Each of their great wins can be attached to an awful loss. That’s the definition of a .500 basketball team - something the Celtics have been for almost two years now. For that reason, Brad Stevens has two real options at the trade deadline - buy into the highs, or sell because of the lows.
Option one would see the Celtics become buyers at the deadline. Tatum might be turning a corner after his 51-point night points, Jaylen Brown has been solid since returning from his hamstring injury, and Robert Williams looks phenomenal this season. There’s obviously talent on this roster.
But something is missing. Whether that’s a playmaker, more shooting, or a third star is irrelevant and up for Stevens to decide. The point of this option is that Stevens would be adding to the current team.
This doesn’t necessarily mean a blockbuster trade. Players like Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox might be nice in theory, but a trade for those guys could be out of reach. However, adding starting-quality players isn’t out of the question.
Duncan Robinson is rumored to be available. The same can be said for players like Jalen Brunson, Robert Covington, and Harrison Barnes. There are plenty of quality players that could be moved by the deadline. If Stevens feels as though this team is ready to turn the corner, adding one of these players would help move the needle.
Option two is the less fun, more realistic option. And at this point, it might be what’s best for the team. Rather than trading for assets, Stevens would sell all the veteran assets he currently has on the team.
These players include Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, Al Horford, Enes Freedom, and any other veterans who aren’t a part of Boston’s long-term future. In the end, it might even mean Marcus Smart, who’s looked solid as the Celtics’ point guard this season.
Obviously, not all of these players would be traded for draft capital, but that would certainly be a big part of the deal. The point of selling wouldn’t be to get a lot in return, though. It would be so the Celtics can properly evaluate the young talent they have on the roster.
Right now, Romeo Langford is only averaging 18.1 minutes, Payton Pritchard is averaging 13.6, and Aaron Nesmith is only averaging 10.7 minutes. How are the Celtics supposed to know which players they want to keep around long-term if they don’t give the youngsters a chance to play?
By trading away most of their vets, Boston could allow Nesmith and Langford to play regular minutes, and Pritchard could be the full-time backup point guard. In addition, Grant Williams could be inserted into the starting lineup and given an even bigger role than he has now. He’s been a revelation this year.
Boston could even give Sam Hauser some extended run on the main roster. He’s looked sharp with the Maine Celtics and currently leads the G-League in three-pointers. If the Celtics develop him well, he could be a great shooter for them down the line.
Then, after all that is done, Stevens would be able to decide which players to keep and which players to trade this offseason. Plus, he’d still have TPEs to work with, including the roughly $17 million Evan Fournier TPE. There’s plenty of time to make big moves using that, and taking a look at the young guys first would be extremely beneficial.
The third, unspoken option is that the Celtics make no moves at the trade deadline. But with how the season has gone so far, it’s hard to believe that’s an actual option for Stevens.
The Celtics aren’t winning an NBA championship this season. They may struggle to make the playoffs in general. It’s might be time to start thinking about the future rather than the now.
All that’s left to do now is sit and wait for February 10 to arrive. Will the Celtics buy? Or will they sell? That’s the million-dollar question.