Celtics

Celtics Mailbag: Why trade proposals for Kevin Love, others probably won't work

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Celtics Mailbag: Why trade proposals for Kevin Love, others probably won't work

Sunday is widely regarded as the start of NBA trade season. Most of the players signed by teams this summer — and there were a LOT of them — are eligible to be traded on December 15, which will open the floodgates for teams to start roster maneuvering.

You can always sense trade season is approaching when the Celtics Mailbag begins to brim with questions about potential swaps that Boston could make. Most are just pipe dreams that lack any financial reality, but some do make you think.

With that in mind, we figured we’d open this week’s ‘bag with a quick reminder on a few key points:

1. RESTRICTIONS

On December 15, the trade restrictions lift on Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter, Vincent Poirier, and Javonte Green. Daniel Theis, also signed this summer, can’t be traded until January 15.

The Celtics are hard-capped after landing Walker via sign-and-trade but are unlikely to trade anywhere close to that mark, with no desire to wade into the luxury tax, which they are steamrolling towards in future seasons.

2. DRAFT ASSETS

The Celtics have as many as six potential picks in the 2020 draft. Alas, half of those could be eliminated due to restrictions, and the ones they do end up with won’t be anywhere near as glitzy as recent seasons.

Boston currently projects at picks 28 (its own), 30 (Milwaukee’s first), and 49 (via the Nets). Memphis owns the sixth-worst record in basketball and the new lottery format could add some intrigue to whether that pick conveys this season (Boston might be just as content for it to roll over to unprotected next year despite the young talent on Memphis’ roster). The Atlanta second is floatsam and Boston’s own second should end up in Charlotte if the team finishes among the East’s elite.

After watching the 2019 Kings pick plummet in value, should Boston aggressively shop that Grizzlies pick? Should the Celtics move their late first-round picks or save them for swings of the bat on low-cost talent that will be needed to fill out a very costly top half of the roster? These are the tough decisions ahead for Boston’s front office.

3. MOVABLE SALARIES

Here’s the biggest hitch in any Boston maneuvering: They don’t have a lot of mid-tier salaries. They’ve got really expensive contracts — Walker and Hayward are both at $32.7 million — but then it drops to Marcus Smart at $12.5 million. It’s hard to piece together deals that make sense for Boston given the price it would have to pay to acquire established talent. And it’s the reason we think that, outside of a minor splash, the more likely play is for Boston to scour the waiver wire later in the year.

But we’re in for a lot of questions about any and every available big. For instance: 

Do you think Danny kicks the tires on a Kevin Love trade? — @jfesgreen

Sub out “Kevin Love” for whatever 6-foot-9 and taller player becomes available next. But, since Love is in the headlines for his desire to get out of Cleveland, let’s run down why his next destination won’t be Boston:

  1. Love makes $28.9 million in the first year of a long-term deal. The Celtics would have to give up Hayward — or Smart and a whole bunch of assets — to make the money work. Neither is happening.
  2. Love’s long-term deal (and his injury history) makes his pact prohibitive for many teams, but especially a Boston team that’s already got $95 million in guaranteed salary next season, and that’s while prepping for Jayson Tatum to ink what will almost assuredly be a max-salary extension next summer. If Hayward comes back, that number really balloons.
  3. Love is an excellent rebounder, but he’s not the Joel Embiid/Giannis Antetokounmpo stopper that everyone seems to think this team needs come playoff time. Yes, Love is a great outlet passer and offensive talent, but Boston ranks seventh in offensive rating already despite rarely having its full complement of players.

CONCLUSION

All of this is to highlight that, if Boston makes a move, we’re assuming it’d be one with smaller salaries and picks to try to upgrade their bench or big-man depth. We don’t see a big-splash move that doesn’t come without the pain point of sending out one of the team’s top five players.

With all that in mind, let’s rip through some letters:

Who do you think the Celtics are most likely to trade for? — @_smurph22

The name you’ll hear ad nauseam is Wizards backup big man Davis Bertans. It’s a digestible salary ($7 million expiring) for a team that should desire to fetch future assets. The Latvian Laser gives you another floor-stretcher with a penchant for 3s. But we’re not sure he offers much of an upgrade, defensively, over someone like Daniel Theis when it comes to the bigs the Celtics will be tasked with defending in the playoffs. But if there’s a move made, our guess it would be someone akin to Bertans who could fill a role off the bench or provide a scoring burst if bench scoring doesn’t improve when the Celtics are at full health.

You gotta think the Celtics can pry someone like Cauley-Stein from Golden State. Low salary, team's going nowhere, why not throw a first-round pick in a deal? — @PGliddy85

A first-round pick might be a steep price for a playoff rental who can move on after the season and, yet, these are the sort of moves the team will have to consider. The question again: Is this player enough of an upgrade over what you have to warrant moving a pick for him?

Give me Tristan Thompson. — @Wsutt

Now there’s a Cavalier big that makes sense in green. Alas, the Celtics would have to hope he reaches the buyout market to have any realistic shot at acquiring him. Boston could make a strong playing-time pitch to a quality big man with the hope that that player would be intrigued by a playoff run.

How will the Celtics manage the roster for next year with upcoming picks?  —  @theonlyssg

The Celtics have only nine guaranteed players for next season, but that number could jump up in a hurry if Hayward and Kanter opt into the final years of their deals and if the team elects to hang onto players like Theis, Semi Ojeleye, and Javonte Green (and their two-way players — Tacko Fall and Tremont Waters — are seemingly ticketed for the parent club next year). Still, Boston would probably want to keep a pick or two to maintain a steady flow of young, cost-controlled talent as the price of the roster balloons.

Is it humanly possible to trade Marcus Smart if you’re the Celtics? —  @brycesburner

Danny Ainge would trade one of his kids for a future pick. But there would be riots if they traded Smart. Let’s move on. And fast.

Thoughts on which rookie earns the most minutes by season's end? — @jwaks

It’s gotta be Grant Williams, assuming good health for Boston’s perimeter players. Even when Romeo Langford gets a solid stretch of decent health, it will be tough for him or Javonte Green to crack the wing rotation regularly. Carsen Edwards could make a push if he starts to consistently knock down shots. Even though he’s struggled with his own shot, Williams can impact the game positively in other ways, particularly his screening. The Celtics don’t have a lot of minutes at the big-man spots given their penchant for small ball, but Williams is the only rookie who’s been trusted in crunch time so that speaks volumes about Stevens’ trust in him.

Yes or no on the Green Goblin nickname for JB? I still like Trouble 07 for JB and JT. — @BostonsportZ

Green Goblin is terrible. Just awful. I’ll listen to the idea of calling him the Green Lob-lin when he throws down and/or delivers an alley-oop. Downtown Jaylen Brown is perfectly acceptable after 3s. I would also be OK with green-lighting an NBC Sports Boston series where we follow Brown around as he babysits Tatum’s son in the new series, “Deuce and Juice."

What pieces still do the Celtics need to be legitimate championship contenders? Who we do trade for? — @trepDbest

There’s a case to be made that the formula to title contention might be as simple as health, chemistry, and development. The Celtics, with the progress made by players like Tatum and Brown, and the return to health of Hayward, have a lot more pure talent than maybe we gave them credit for entering the season. If some of the young pieces develop consistency, this team might be ready to compete with what they’ve got.

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What to make of the Celtics amid their midseason tailspin

What to make of the Celtics amid their midseason tailspin

MILWAUKEE — The Boston Celtics will arrive at the midway point of the 2019-20 season this weekend trying to pull themselves out of a tailspin that’s seen them drop five of their last seven games, including a pair of Eastern Conference showdowns with chief rivals Philadelphia and Milwaukee a week apart.

The Celtics have vacillated somewhere between enjoyable overachiever capable of pushing the East’s best to a maddening squad with fatal flaws that might prevent it from truly emerging in the conference. Sometimes they look like both in the same night.

Like on Thursday in Milwaukee when Boston dug itself a 27-point hole as the NBA-leading Bucks hit an absurd barrage of first-half 3-pointers. Just when it seemed fair to suggest that Boston’s early season success might have been the product on feasting on inferior competition, a Jaylen Brown-less Boston squad jumped on Kemba Walker’s back and nearly roared all the way back.

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As coach Brad Stevens likes to remind his team, you’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from either. The Celtics’ inability to field a fully healthy roster has clouded their overall potential and we’re left making bold proclamations off small samples of good and bad play.

Are the Celtics true contenders? Maybe, but the past couple weeks hasn’t helped their case. Boston is now 7-8 against teams over .500 and only two of those wins came on the road (both when an opponent was missing a key player). They whiffed with a chance to pounce on an Embiid-less Philly last week and then couldn’t capitalize on Giannis-less minutes after getting within single digits in the second half on Thursday night.

Do the Celtics need to make a move? Maybe, but it’d be a lot easier to judge if we could ever see all their puzzle pieces together. Boston’s bench play has been woeful at times and, for all the consternation about their lack of pure size, it sure feels like shooting is what they should be targeting. And yet it’s fair to wonder, if Brown plays on Thursday, and Marcus Smart shifts to his typical bench role, then maybe the bench production doesn’t look as meager.

Ultimately, bench pieces aren’t going to tip this thing one way or another. The Celtics are going to go as far as their five best players can carry them, as Stevens made clear after Thursday’s loss.

"We’re going to ride our best five, as we’ve talked about quite a bit, and then we just need everybody else to play a role around them,” said Stevens. "But we need those five to be awfully good.”

On this night, Walker was exceptional. On the same night that Kyrie Irving delivered one of his patented rants about roster flaws in Brooklyn, Walker challenged himself to be better after a disheartening loss to the Pistons. He responded with a 40-point, 11-rebound outburst in Milwaukee. As Stevens abridged, "Only reason we had a chance.”

The coach added, “It's not [Walker’s] responsibility to be responsible for everybody else’s energy but I’m glad that he accepts it. I’m glad that he wants that. He certainly brought it tonight. He was awfully special tonight.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Gordon Hayward, who has been on a bit of a roller coaster since returning from nerve pain in his foot on Christmas Day. Hayward missed nine of the 10 shots he took — including eight 3-pointers — while finishing with 7 points over 32:15.

“I thought we had some good looks, especially personally, I had some good looks. But we just didn’t make them,” said Hayward. “Have to be better next time.”

But that only accentuates Boston’s rather thin margin for error against the elite (and maybe the not-so elite, too). The team had been undefeated this season when playing without Brown but they really missed him on Thursday. The Celtics don’t have the sort of top-end talent that can win a game individually (though Walker sure as hell tried on Thursday).

A February 6 trade deadline looms. It’s hard to imagine the Celtics making a big-splash move but adding a bench piece — if for no other reason than the run of injuries this team continues to endure — remains something the team must consider. Maybe that’s using picks to help fetch a shooter, or maybe it’s just thumbing through the scrap heap for someone who can be a more steady eighth or ninth man. The youngsters on this team have had their moments but they’re also being asked to do a lot at young ages.

It was telling, though, Thursday when Boston cut its deficit to 8 and Antetokounmpo headed to the bench with just under five minutes to play in the third quarter. Boston should have capitalized but its sub lineups floundered and Milwaukee pushed its lead back up to 20 before Antetokounmpo returned at the end of the quarter. A second Boston run came up just short at the end of the game.

Stevens glowed about how the second half looked more like “Celtics basketball.” Smart insisted the team wouldn’t overreact to this rough patch.

"It’s the NBA. You can’t get discouraged off that,” said Smart. "We’ve played two back-to-back nights and stuff like that. You can’t let that discourage you. That’s part of it. We’re at the 40-game mark. It happens.”

Maybe he’s right. Still, watching this team on a daily basis, we yearn for a glimpse of this team when whole. But who knows if it’ll ever happen. Robert Williams could be a nice jolt for the center rotation if he’s able to come back after the All-Star break but that’s unlikely to alter the path of this team much.

No, the success of this team more likely hinges on Smart, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Walker.

“I think we’re still pretty good,” said Hayward. "I don’t think the team is down or anything like that. I think we realize we’ve got work to do and we get right back to it.”

The quest to figure out exactly what these Celtics are continues. They’re not as good as we though they were, they’re not as bad as some will make it seem now. But they’re never quite far from either.

Celtics-Bucks Overreactions: Are C's unable to contend with beasts of the East?

Celtics-Bucks Overreactions: Are C's unable to contend with beasts of the East?

The Boston Celtics now have lost five of their last seven games as they fell to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, 128-123.

Kemba Walker (40 points) stepped up big-time with Jaylen Brown out due to a thumb injury, but he could only take the C's so far. Marcus Smart, who replaced Brown in the starting lineup, contributed 24 points of his own.

Here are three instant overreactions from the C's loss, which brings them to 27-13 on the year.

1. The Celtics can't contend with the beasts in the East.

Verdict: Overreaction

To say the C's looked sluggish on the second night of their back-to-back vs. the NBA's best team would be an understatement.

Outside of Walker and Smart, the offense couldn't get anything going until the fourth quarter when it was too late. Defensively, it was more of the same.

This loss, combined with the C's 0-3 record against the Philadelphia 76ers this year, isn't going to inspire much confidence in their ability to go toe-to-toe with the beasts of the Eastern Conference. But it's far too premature to declare Boston wouldn't be able to compete with them in a seven-game series.

The Celtics did manage to beat the Bucks in Boston earlier in the season. They just happened to meet up again during a time in which the C's are going through their biggest slump of the year and most grueling part in their schedule while dealing with injuries to key players.

Long story short, do not make the mistake of counting this team out in January.

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2. Celtics defense has some serious issues to work out.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

Defending the 3-ball has been a real problem for Boston all season long, and it was glaring again in Thursday's loss.

The Bucks shot the lights out through the first three quarters before scuffling in the fourth. They finished with a 51.6 shooting percentage beyond the arc and 49.4 percentage altogether. The Celtics let Donte DiVenchezno go 6-for-11 from the field and 4-of-6 from 3.

Needless to say, there's plenty for this struggling defense to clean up.

3. C's need a bench scorer, not a center.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

The Celtics needed much more from their bench throughout the contest.

Enes Kanter has been the spark off the bench all season long and tallied nine points on Thursday night, but other than his contributions and Semi Ojeleye's two 3-pointers, this was an area of concern.

If you're going to beg Boston to make a deal before the Feb. 6 trade deadline, it should be for a consistent bench scorer. Not Andre Drummond or another big man. This is an adequate rebounding team, but down the road, a lack of scoring depth could come back to bite them.

Forsberg: Green's journey to NBA a 'dream come true'

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Suns-Celtics, which begin Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.