“Hello and welcome to the first annual Armchair GM Summit, where ordinary fans like us come together to fix the NBA! I’m your host, Rick Pitino!*”
(Polite applause, but with a smattering of boos)
“With our unrivaled intellect and rock-solid temperament, we nail all the decisions ordinary GMs always seem to screw up, proving that they should all just ask us what to do and everything would be dandy. Each fanbase has sent a representative, so get ready for a fun weekend of fake trades and self-aggrandizement!”
(applause, a few whoop-whoops, and one guy saying “yeah!”)
*Yes, I know Rick Pitino was an actual NBA GM, but since this intro is quite obviously an homage to Bill Simmons’ 2006 article “First Annual Atrocious GM Summit,” I thought I’d take a snipe at The Ricktator in Bill’s honor.
Due to a severely underfunded search committee, the Boston Celtics fanbase ended up selecting me as their first-ever delegate to the Armchair GM Summit. Local reaction to my appointment was mixed, and various media outlets questioned if my youth and inexperience would make me an easy target for the more experienced delegates. Rumors of Spike Lee and Jack Nicholson representing their respective fanbases didn’t help.
But after a weekend of work, I’m ready to unveil the new and improved roster. I’m confident that my revolutionary strategy has positioned the Celtics perfectly for the future, and will send Spike Lee and Jack Nicholson into emotional tailspins, existentially terrified of the second-coming of the Celtics dynasty on this earth. What was that strategy, you may ask?
Two words: Trade. Everyone.
Yep, it’s this part of the offseason. Training camp is about to begin, and Media Day is right around the corner. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn, and I’m getting as dark as humanly possible before actual basketball content returns.
So let’s take this beautiful, carefully constructed Fabergé egg of a basketball team—born of the genius of Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens—and Gronk-spike it on the parquet floor. I’m firing up the trade machine and using it for nefarious purposes, and for what? Because I can.
Oh, is Malcolm Brogdon mad? No problem, he’s gone. Are Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum a championship duo? Guess we’ll never know, because they’re gone, too. Oh, I wonder how Kristaps Porzingis will look on the Cel—nope. Shut up, stop wondering, because he’s gone.
Before anyone freaks out, I’m not implementing a full-blown tank. We’re going to try to build a contender out of the rubble of the once-promising 2023 Boston Celtics. It would be fairly simple to salary dump, trade for every bad contract on planet earth and stockpile more draft picks than Sam Presti, but where’s the fun in that? Maybe in a decade or so I’ll be back, ready to reach into my Sam Hinkie Process-bag, but right now we’re trying to contend.
But the trades also have to be as realistic as I can make them. The players I get back need to be reasonably pry-able from their current situations. As much as I want to, I can’t just flip Tatum for Nikola Jokic and call it an afternoon. I’ll use my highly scientific method of arbitrarily vibe-checking each situation to determine who is untouchable and who isn’t.
Other than those semantics, there’s only one rule: everyone must go. It doesn’t matter if you’re a superstar, Sixth Man of the Year, or two-way guy. No one is safe from the buzz saw of a fire-sale-instant-rebuild. Here goes nothing.
(Note: because of CBA rules, players who signed a contract this past summer cannot be traded until mid-December. That would technically make Queta, Brissett, Mykhailiuk, and Banton untradeable. Additionally, Jaylen Brown’s extension stipulates that he cannot be traded until July 25th, 2024. Because this is ridiculous enough already, let’s just say the ghost of David Stern inhabited Adam Silver for a day and voided all those restrictions)
Celtics Receive: Zion Williamson (PF), Jose Alvarado (PG) and Trey Murphy III (SF)
Pelicans Receive: Jaylen Brown (SG), Payton Pritchard (PG) and Dalano Banton (PG), Two Second Round Picks
We’re starting out HOT, fulfilling my favorite fake-trade from the “hey, should we trade Jaylen Brown?”* corner of Celtics fandom. I had never considered the possibility of Zion Williamson being available until my buddy Max texted me in June asking me what my reaction would be to a Jaylen-Zion trade.
My reaction was (ahem):
“No…yeah but… NO! No. Not a good idea… But he’s so talented. Maybe we could make it work….No. Stop. Don’t think about it. Don’t.”
Trading for Zion is a huge risk, especially considering that Jaylen is one of two elite-level assets we’re trading for this exercise. I considered pretty much every superstar-but-not-quite-generational-superstar tier player in the league when thinking about what to do here, but I landed on Zion as the best possible return.
There are definitely better players in this area, as well as more productive, less sanity-destroying guys. But I couldn’t find anyone more talented than Zion, and I think that’s more important than proportional return.
When trading an entire NBA franchise, the main problem one runs into is that not every team is trying to do that. Prying a super-duper star from their respective situation isn’t exactly easy, so you’re inherently going to get back less value than what you sent out.
Because of that, we simply have to bake upside into everything we do. Zion has unlimited potential, and is a member of a very short list of dudes who could conceivably be the best player in the league one day. This is the way.
Even so, Jaylen is undoubtedly more valuable than Zion as they currently stand, so I decided Trey Murphy III would be a viable addition if the Celtics threw in a couple second round picks. Murphy is an awesome 3&D player, so I was happy to get him in the deal.
*the answer was always no
Celtics Receive: Marcus Smart (PG), Steven Adams (C) and Xavier Tillman (PF)
Grizzlies Receive: Kristaps Porzingis (PF), Sam Hauser (SF), and Svi Mykhailiuk (SG), 2024 Unprotected First Round Pick
I mean, come on. This was a layup.
I am thrice on the record saying that the Marcus Smart trade was a good idea, and that has not changed. If the Grizzlies rolled up to my office in the Auerbach Center and offered me this deal, I would show them the door.
BUT if we’re trading Porzingis anyway, why not complete the most absurd poetic circle in the history of basketball? As of now, Smart drew the short straw in Brad Stevens’ efforts to push this team over the top.
But I am the captain now, and get this: all the other straws were actually shorter, so Smart is the only member of last year’s team returning to the squad. Isn’t this beautiful?
In all seriousness, I thought fleecing the Grizzlies out of Smart and any semblance of big-man depth they have would be a good move for the new look C’s. Steven Adams is a guy who has seen some real action on a lot of good teams, and I like Tillman’s defensive tenacity, especially what he showed against LeBron James in the playoffs.
But that’s all whatever. We got Smart back. (sheds a single tear) If only.
Celtics Receive: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (PG)
Thunder Receive: Jayson Tatum (SF), 2026 Lottery Protected First Round Pick
We’re going to discuss this trade in Q&A format.
Q: You really think the Thunder would part with Shai?
A: I do, though I think it would take some sort of sweetener to make it happen. Tatum is definitely a better player right now, but it remains to be seen who will take the belt of best current-25-year-old going forward. I added in a lottery protected pick to make the deal happen, because I simply couldn’t stomach trading Tatum for anything less than a mega-star.
Q: Tatum is a top-5 player in the league at the most premium position. Is Shai really the best we could do?
A: I agonized a great deal about this one. Shai and Devin Booker felt like the two realistic options, and I personally prefer the former because of his size and his seemingly limitless improvement.
Q: What about the real big dogs of the league? Surely Tatum could land one.
A: Perhaps on the right afternoon, but anyone above Shai felt a bit too unrealistic in a vacuum. Luka Doncic? Too rich. Nikola Jokic or Giannis Antetokounmpo? Out of control. How about Joel Embiid? Maybe, especially with how weird the 76ers seem to be. But imagine if I publicly advocated—in Boston, Massachusetts—for trading Jayson Tatum for Joel Embiid? Not interested.
Celtics Receive: Franz Wagner (SF), Evan Fournier (SG), Josh Hart (SG), Immanuel Quickly (PG), Knicks 2024 Unprotected First Round Pick
Knicks Receive: Markelle Fultz (PG), Wendell Carter Jr. (C), Al Horford (C), Jordan Walsh (SG), Three Second Round Picks
Magic Receive: Malcolm Brogdon (PG), Derrick White (PG), Quienten Grimes (SG), Celtics 2025 Unprotected First Round Pick, Warriors 2024 Top-4 Protected First Round Pick (via Celtics)
Take a deep breath. Now take three more, and then read this trade over a couple of times.
This trade-machine abomination may look incredibly complex, but equates to trading Al Horford, Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White, Jordan Walsh, and two low-value first round picks for Franz Wagner, Josh Hart, and an unprotected Knicks first round pick.
That may seem like a lot on paper, but Franz Wagner fills a massive hole on the new Celtics with a player poised to make a jump into real stardom. He is a 6’10” switchable wing with above-average shooting and lots of room to improve. I’m not saying he’s Jayson Tatum Jr., but he’s the small forward of the future and of the right now.
Josh Hart ain’t no slouch either, and plays like he was born to game-wreck in a playoff series. His three-point shooting numbers aren’t really what we’re looking for, but that’s something we can replace elsewhere. Immanuel Quickley is a nice add too, with some outrageous juice to energize the team if it’s getting sleepy.
You may also notice we ended up with Evan Fournier, who—get this—isn’t exactly my favorite player. The salaries didn’t match without him, but his contract will be bought out immediately as soon as he lands at Logan Airport. Immediately.
Celtics Receive: Caleb Martin (SF), Jaime Jacquez Jr. (PF), Kevin Love (C), Every Second Round Pick the Heat have to offer
Heat Receive: Damien Lillard (PG), Jusuf Nurkic (C), Oshae Brissett (SF)
Trail Blazers Receive: Tyler Herro (SG), Robert Williams III (C), Nikola Jovic (SF), Duncan Robinson (SG), Neemias Queta (C), Two Unprotected Heat First Round Picks and Three Pick Swaps
If we’re arbitrary trading people, I don’t see why we can’t solve the NBA’s current elephant in the room. Let’s get Damien Lillard to the Miami Heat.
It may seem ridiculous to help the Celtics’ conference rival add one of the best players of this generation, but I honestly believe this trade hurts the Heat more than it helps them. Talent wise, their roster is already abominably bad, but always seems to overperform. Imagine if they lose Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, and Michael Jord… I mean Caleb Martin. They’ll be in shambles.
I don’t actually know if Robert Williams III is what the Trail Blazers need to turn this relatively garbage offer into something they’d actually accept, but in this alternate universe, I say it does. Time Lord is a great player, and provides some serious rim protection for their relatively small young core.
Full disclosure: I had a couple bench players left to trade, and needed a place to put them. I hear Portland is a nice place to live.
Final Roster (after trading everyone):
PG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Franz Wagner
PF: Zion Williamson
C: Steven Adams
6th Man: Josh Hart
Rotation: Trey Murphy III
Rotation: Immanuel Quickly
Rotation: Caleb Martin
Reserve: Jose Alverado
Reserve: Xavier Tillman
Reserve: Jaime Jacquez Jr.
Reserve: Kevin Love
Buyout: Evan Fournier
No, this team is not as good as the current Celtics roster. I didn’t think it would be, but it’s a solid replacement unit if…uh…Pat Reilly became the emperor of the Universe? And ordered the Celtics be liquidated immediately? I don’t know, man.
A couple of observations: While I think all these trades could happen if the Celtics were mandated to trade their whole team, I don’t actually think any of these would or should happen in reality. Save for the recent Sabonis/Haliburton trade, it’s exceedingly rare to trade good players for other good players.
You’ll notice I made pretty sparse use of draft picks, which are today’s preferred currency for superstar trading. I do wonder if that’s really the best way to do things, though. The Celtics have seen firsthand how a lucky bunch of traded first round picks can make or break a decade, as they did with the Tatum and Brown picks from Brooklyn.
The receipts on the big pick-haul trades from the last few years are going to be fascinating, and I wonder how many collective All-Stars will come out of traded firsts? At the very least, this is an interesting thought exercise for how trades can and should be done in today’s NBA.
Lastly, yes, I am 120% sure there are many CBA restrictions and trade rules I completely neglected, ignored, or blatantly violated. I sincerely apologize for my transgressions and hope that one day, I may be forgiven.