NEW ORLEANS – All-Star weekend is winding down and the Boston Celtics once again are seemingly at the epicenter of most trade discussions.
That’s in part because they have the pieces to help pull off a blockbuster deal for themselves, or become the third team to help facilitate a trade coming to fruition.
But in talking with league executives and scouts this weekend in New Orleans, all agree that the Celtics are focused more on making a blockbuster-type move, rather than a deal that could make them slightly better than they are now.
“Anything is possible as you know,” said one Eastern Conference executive. “But they’re not Toronto which is basically 'all in' this year to try and get past Cleveland. Boston’s in the thick of it all, but not pressed to do anything unless it makes them a lot better and to be frank, there aren’t a lot of those potential deals out there for them.”
That’s because the Celtics (37-20) have the second-best record in the East despite their preferred starting five (Isaiah Thomas; Avery Bradley; Jae Crowder; Al Horford and Amir Johnson) having played a very limited number of games (21) together thus far this season.
Even when everyone’s healthy, Boston understands that they still may not be enough to get past the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. So the addition of a likely role player at the cost of one or more of their major assets (this year’s right to swap picks with Brooklyn or next year’s Brooklyn pick outright), is reason enough for Boston to pause and assess whether the benefit outweighs the cost of what they will have to give up.
Boston can make a push for Denver’s Danilo Gallinari or his teammate Kenneth Faried who are both available and would help Boston’s overall talent base. They could also revisit Jahlil Okafor discussions or Nerlens Noel with Philadelphia, too.
But for what they need to significantly improve upon where they are now, they have to add a game-changing difference-maker to the mix.
Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, Indiana’s Paul George are players who on paper at least, would meet that criteria.
Multiple league sources this weekend confirmed that each of their respective teams isn’t making a push to trade them. But like every team in the league, they will certainly listen to any and all offers. Only Indiana and Sacramento have come out publicly to say they are not planning to trade their players, with the Pacers indicating they’re willing to give up their first-round pick in order to add a stable, proven talent to the mix in order to help George going forward.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have been somewhat indifferent to potentially moving Butler, who is playing his third all-star game tonight.
That’s why several teams, the Celtics included, have inquired about Butler’s availability. While the Bulls haven’t set any specific parameters, league executives believe they are seeking some combination of high draft picks and young veterans (players with experience who are either near the end of their rookie deals or have team-friendly contracts) just to consider moving Butler.
Boston has exactly what the Bulls are looking for if they decide they are going to move on from Butler and rebuild, but how much are the Celtics willing to give up?
That more than anything else, is what will ultimately determine if a deal between the Bulls and the Celtics comes to pass. Boston loves Butler, and believes he could be part of their continued surge towards becoming an elite team that can bring home Banner 18. But the Celtics are not convinced that the addition of Butler would necessarily catapult Boston to the same level of Cleveland or ahead of them.
Even if the Celtics decide to stand pat with its team as they are now and let the Feb. 23 trade deadline pass without making a move, the Celtics are still working from a vantage point that few teams in the NBA can work from – a team near the top of their conference with relatively young players all with good team-friendly contracts, and draft picks in the next two years that are each likely to be high lottery (top-14) picks.
"They’re well positioned for the future,” said Steve Kerr, head coach of the Golden State Warriors and the West all-star team. “Because of the young talent, because of the coach (Brad Stevens) and because of the draft picks that they have coming up. They could end up with the number one pick in the draft which is remarkable.”
Kerr added, “That doesn’t happen often when you’re talking about a team that’s one of the best in the league already. Boston’s in a great place.”