Could the Celtics find a trade with the Houston Rockets?

Could the Celtics find a trade with the Houston Rockets?

The Houston Rockets essentially declared themselves open for trade business earlier this week, but is there any sort of deal to be made with the Boston Celtics?

ESPN reported that Houston general manager Daryl Morey has made his entire roster available in trade talks with hopes of reshaping a Rockets team that hasn’t been able to get over the hump out west.

Despite the minuscule chance that the Rockets would actually move James Harden, the Celtics will call about him, even if just for due diligence. Danny Ainge has a longstanding lust for Chris Paul, but probably not the one who’s set to make more than $1 million for each of his 34 years of age next season (Paul will earn a staggering $38.5 million in 2019-20). 

Players like P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon are intriguing, particularly on manageable money, but unless the Rockets decide to embrace a youth movement, the Celtics don’t have the win-now assets to necessarily find that sort of deal.

Here, however, is one intriguing scenario in which the teams could potentially do business. If Kyrie Irving elects to sign elsewhere this summer, the Celtics might be more willing to embrace their own youth movement. That doesn’t necessarily mean a rebuild, but it’s a longer path to Finals contention if you throw the keys to the car to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Under that scenario, Al Horford might be more intrigued by win-now possibilities than sticking around to see if Boston’s 2018 playoff core — albeit with a now-healthy Gordon Hayward — could find that old Kyrie-less magic. He might alert Boston that he’d prefer to play for a more surefire contender, but is willing to help the team recoup assets in that process.

Horford could either opt into the $30.1 million final year of his contract and be dealt to Houston in a deal that could bring back, say, Clint Capela and assets. Or Horford could opt out and the teams could try to find a workable sign-and-trade in which Horford still gets longer-term security and a chance to chase a ring.

It’s still a long shot, but remember that Horford was mighty intrigued by the Rockets before he elected to sign with Boston in the summer of 2016. The Rockets brought Harden, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Clyde Drexler to their July sales pitch with Horford and made him strongly consider the team.

“It was a privilege,” Horford said in 2016. “[Olajuwon] and Clyde were there, and my dad went to high school here in Houston, and he was pushing Houston hard. Hakeem, to him, was a big deal, and for me to be able to talk with him and spend some time. At the end of the day, just looking at the future and everything, I felt like here in Boston was going to be a better fit for me in the long run.”

If Irving departs and Horford’s future gets murkier, the Rockets might just be a team that’s worth talking to more.

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Kawhi Leonard injury: Clippers star reportedly expected to play vs. Celtics

Kawhi Leonard injury: Clippers star reportedly expected to play vs. Celtics

All signs are pointing toward one of the NBA's top-five players playing in Wednesday night's showdown between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has missed the last three games with a left knee injury, but ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk and Adrian Wojnarowski have reported the two-time NBA Finals MVP is expected to play versus the C's.

Leonard has played in nine of the Clippers' 14 games this season. Whether he's actually injured or just using load management to keep himself fresh for the playoffs, it's exciting that he's likely to play against a Celtics team with championship aspirations after a strong start to the campaign.

Boston leads the Eastern Conference standings with an 11-2 record and owns the sixth-best defensive rating in the league. Celtics guard Marcus Smart was named to the NBA's All-Defense first team last season, and he's making a compelling case in 2019-20 to be the Defensive Player of the Year award winner. Smart likely will be tasked with guarding Leonard, and that matchup will be awesome to watch. 

Leonard is averaging 26.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and six assists per game this season, and the Clippers are 7-2 with him in the lineup. He's not the only superstar forward the C's must stop, though. Paul George is back after missing the first few weeks of the season. He's averaging 29.3 points in 24.3 minutes over three games.

Marcus Smart reveals his pick for NBA's most unstoppable player>>>

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

NBA Rumors: These Celtics players are off-limits in trade deadline talks

NBA Rumors: These Celtics players are off-limits in trade deadline talks

The Boston Celtics may need to upgrade their frontcourt if they want to compete with the beasts of the NBA's Eastern Conference.

But to get something good, you need to give something good in return ... and the Celtics don't seem willing to do that at the moment.

Here's what ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported in his column Wednesday about the prospects of Boston trading for a big man before the Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline:

While one could have some fun with the Trade Machine, Boston has made it clear to anyone who has asked that their core players are absolutely not available. That includes, sources said, both (Gordon) Hayward and (Marcus) Smart, players who have been floated as possible trade chips in the past.

Windhorst didn't confirm who Boston's other "core players" are, but we can fill in the gaps: If Hayward and Smart are off the table, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown aren't going anywhere, either.

Can the Celtics really make an upgrade in the frontcourt without moving one of their five best players?

If they do, a trade almost certainly would need to include the Memphis Grizzlies' first-round pick, which is top-six protected for 2020 and is Danny Ainge's best trade chip. The C's also should get the Milwaukee Bucks' first-rounder in addition to their own.

But even if draft picks can lure a big man like Clint Capela, Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge, the Celtics still would have a hard time matching salaries: Outside the five "core players," only Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis (both big men) are making more than $4 million on Boston's roster.

Seven-footers like Joel Embiid and Brook Lopez could pose a problem for the Celtics in the playoffs, so expect Ainge to do his big man due diligence, even as the C's enter Wednesday as the East's No. 1 seed at 11-2. A major trade at the deadline may be easier said than done, though.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.