With the NBA trade deadline just a few weeks away, it’s time for Brad Stevens to make a decision on the direction of this team for the rest of the year. Despite sitting around .500 in the play-in tournament mix at the moment, the Boston Celtics have won seven of their last 10 games, showcasing dominant play at times with their starting lineup finally healthy.
This gives fans reason for optimism that Stevens could actually become a buyer at the trade deadline this year, opening the door for discussions about guys like CJ McCollum and Jerami Grant.
Let’s be realistic, that’s not happening. The big swing from Stevens is coming, make no mistake about that. However, there are a plethora of reasons why it will happen this offseason, not during the 2021-22 campaign.
All of that said, there’s a decent chance that Boston will be moving on from at least one guard by the February deadline. We’ve all heard the rumors about Dennis Schroder and Marcus Smart being available, with Schroder very likely to be dealt considering the Celtics’ financial restrictions when it comes to retaining him this offseason.
Assuming Stevens moves on from one of those two this season, let’s look at a couple realistic candidates he could bring in to replace them and bolster the backcourt:
Brunson is one of the hot names on the market right now at point guard, and for good reason. The fourth-year Villanova product is averaging a career-high 15.7 points and 5.5 assists per game this year for the Mavericks, stepping up for a Dallas team in desperate need of help around Luka Doncic. Brunson is set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, which makes the Mavericks’ desire to test his trade market understandable. Dallas’ interest in Marcus Smart has been well-documented, with Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus specifically mentioning it in an article just a few days ago.
A new wrinkle was thrown into this equation on Tuesday, with Mavericks wing Tim Hardaway Jr. suffering a fractured fifth metatarsal on his left foot in Dallas’ road loss to the Golden State Warriors. Hardaway will be out indefinitely, with more updates coming soon. How this affects the Mavs’ willingness to trade Brunson is unclear, but if they see Smart as an obvious upgrade it could make them more inclined to get a deal done.
From Boston’s standpoint, Brunson matches the Jays’ timeline well (he’s two years younger than Smart) and his offensive game is certainly more polished. That being said, Brunson is nowhere near the defensive player that Smart is, and he also can’t shoot the three effectively (33.1% on 2.9 attempts per game this season). If Stevens sees Brunson as a long-term upgrade over Smart and is confident in his ability to lock him up this offseason, a Smart-for-Brunson swap with other pieces attached could make sense for both parties.
It’s important to note right off the bat that McConnell is expected to miss some time after undergoing surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right hand in early December. If Stevens decides that building for the future is his top priority — which he should — this deal makes plenty of sense.
From a team fit perspective, McConnell would embrace the ball movement that Ime Udoka is emphasizing. The 6’1 guard is averaging 4.8 assists in just 24.2 minutes per game this season for the Indiana Pacers and is the definition of a pass-first point guard. McConnell’s notorious defensive intensity would also easily win over Celtics fans.
Normally, trading for an injured player is considered a negative. However, in this case there are a few ways it could benefit Boston. Assuming Schroder is either heading to Indiana in this deal or elsewhere via another trade, McConnell’s initial absence would open up minutes for Payton Pritchard and the other young guys.
From a contract standpoint, McConnell is due to make less than $10 million for three more seasons. Bringing him in locks up the backup point guard spot for the Celtics while creating opportunities for other players, which seems like a win-win scenario.
The bottom line: is bringing in another guard worth it?
When I take a look at potential wings and bigs that the Celtics could target before the trade deadline, there will be more than two players on those lists. By only focusing on Brunson and McConnell here, I wanted to emphasize the most realistic possibility of them all, which is Stevens moving Schroder and not bringing in another guard to replace him.
After a slow start to the season, Pritchard has flashed immense potential in spot minutes with Schroder or Smart out. While Aaron Nesmith’s shooting isn’t necessarily there right now, you can always count on him to give 100% on every. single. play. Romeo Langford has demonstrated signs of growth as a shooter, defender and playmaker at times. Right now, the presence of Dennis Schroder (and Josh Richardson to a lesser extent) is clearly slowing the growth of those three young guys.
While a potential move to bring in players like Brunson or McConnell makes sense, freeing up time for the kids to play makes just as much sense, if not more.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this series, where I’ll take a look at realistic wings that Boston could target ahead of the trade deadline.