The trade deadline is getting close now, as Thursday at 3:00 PM ET approaches. For the Boston Celtics, it’s been a busy trade season already.
Brad Stevens made the sixth trade of his relatively short tenure as Boston’s President of Basketball Operations when he moved Juancho Hernangomez in a salary-clearing deal. That trade netted the Celtics Bol Bol and P.J. Dozier, both of whom are in the final years of their deals.
That swap also put Boston within striking distance of getting out of the luxury tax entirely for this season. Yet, that goal seems to have somewhat less importance, per those with knowledge of the Celtics thinking.
With Jaylen Brown likely to miss the All-Star Game, after not being named as an initial injury replacement, the Celtics are currently between $800,000 and $900,000 (pending non-All-Star bonuses for Brown) over the tax. Previously, Boston was approximately $2.8 million over the tax.
That’s a big enough difference that shedding one small deal can get the Celtics where they need to be. But it appears Stevens may be thinking bigger, and the team’s recent run of good play is the reason why.
All season long, the Celtics have preached patience. They felt they were playing better than their record showed and that health and roster changes were leading to some growing pains. Boston approaches the trade deadline as winners of five straight, with a chance to get out of the Play-In Tournament and into a top-six seed and an assured playoff spot.
That push has Stevens examining how he can add to the roster, as opposed to making a small salary-clearing deal to dodge the tax.
One rumored trade is Dennis Schroder for Donte DiVincenzo of the Milwaukee Bucks. This trade would not only net the Celtics $1.2 million in salary savings, but Boston and Milwaukee both see it as a roster-balancing trade.
The Bucks are looking for another offensive creator, which is a role Schroder would play for them on their second unit. His history with Mike Budenholzer makes Milwaukee believe Schroder would be a fairly easy fit, per a source familiar with the trade talks.
For the Celtics, they’ve moved further and further away from Schroder as an on-ball creator this season. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart have assumed those duties, with the Celtics facilitating offense through their bigs quite often, as well. Boston sees DiVincenzo as an upgrade over Schroder as a defender, and the hope is that DiVincenzo will rediscover his shot.
The sticking point in a deal has been the Bucks have asked for Grant Williams in addition to Schroder, per multiple sources. That’s a non-starter for the Celtics, as Williams has been their third big in a three-big rotation. He’s also been Boston’s most consistent outside shooter this season. The Celtics have no intention of parting with Williams, especially not as a throw-in to make a deal like this one work.
The other player teams are calling about is Josh Richardson. He’s had a bounce-back year for the Celtics and is shooting 40% on three-pointers this season. In recent weeks, the Minnesota Timberwolves have called Boston about a trade centered on Richardson for Malik Beasley. This was after the Wolves tries for Marcus Smart were rebuffed. A source familiar with the Smart talks said “That got nowhere. Smart isn’t untouchable, but he’s not getting traded for players who aren’t clear upgrades.”
The Celtics have asked the Wolves for more than Beasley in a Richardson deal, because they would be taking on some risk. Beasley has battled off-court issues in recent years, and his contract carries significantly more salary than Richardson’s does. Minnesota is unwilling to add a draft pick at this point, so those talks appear to be tabled for now.
The Los Angeles Lakers recently called Boston about Richardson and a source says those talks went nowhere. The Celtics have little interest in Talen Horton-Tucker, and LA doesn’t care to add a draft pick to their offer for Richardson.
The other spot where the Celtics have been engaged is in using Al Horford’s $27 million salary as part of a bigger trade. Several teams have had interest, but are looking for the Celtics to add to their offer by attaching draft capital. Thus far, Boston is unwilling to do so. One source said the Celtics see Horford’s contract as a flexible part of salary-matching in a bigger trade this summer. Horford is only guaranteed for $14.5 million of his $26.5 salary in 2022-23. That number could be increased up to the full amount, if necessary to match salary in a trade.
As for the Celtics stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, a source was emphatic that neither are being traded: “Teams don’t even ask about Tatum. They know that’s a no-go. A few teams asked about Brown, including Philadelphia in a Ben Simmons trade and were told they’d have to increase their offer. And that means multiple picks and players for Brown.”
Opposing teams have also seen Robert Williams has an attractive player, but Boston has shut down all comers. A source said that Williams will either be with the Celtics long-term or “part of a much bigger trade to net a third star around Tatum and Brown.” Other rival teams say the Celtics view Williams as part of their long-term core with Tatum and Brown.
Boston is open to moving recent draftees Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith or Payton Pritchard. They’d prefer to move only one of the young trio, as the team still has hopes for development for all three players. Most opposing teams say the Celtics have offered one of the youngsters in place of attaching a draft pick to a bigger contract like Schroder, Richardson or Horford.
While it’s still unclear what this week will bring for Boston, it is clear that Brad Stevens first trade deadline has been an active one. The Celtics have made calls and are also taking plenty. Most expect a salary-clearing deal at the very minimum.
But the team’s good play in 2022 has them thinking bigger. A source said, “A month ago, they were going to be selling off the vets to rebuild around Tatum, Brown and the kids. But Brad and Ime (Udoka) kept urging patience and they were right. The East is wide open now. Maybe it’s an addition to the roster now, we’ll see. If not, they feel really good about doing something big this summer, because they know they’ve got their core in place in Tatum, Brown, Smart and Rob Williams, and they’ll have the salary-matching to get another major player too.”