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:
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.
With December 15 and trade season around the corner, a quick inventory of the Celtics’ future draft picks: pic.twitter.com/3ckBFNX1Hc— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) December 10, 2019
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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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