Celtics Insider

Forsberg: Forget Zion; here's who Celtics fans should be watching in New Orleans

Celtics Insider

The Boston Celtics are in New Orleans on Sunday for a national TV showdown with Zion Williamson and the Pelicans. But it’s just about everyone not named Zion that Boston fans should be focused on.

The Pelicans could be one of the few surefire sellers before the late-March trade deadline. New Orleans sits 5 games under .500 and, while they’re only 1.5 games back of the final play-in spot in the Western Conference, general manager David Griffin will likely prioritize a longer-term vision of building around Williamson.

All of which could leave players like J.J. Redick, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart as potential trade options. Should Boston be interested?

When reports of Redick’s availability first bubbled up late last month, we bristled at the idea that Boston should pursue him. The 36-year-old was shooting 29.8 percent from beyond the 3-point arc through 16 games and it was fair to wonder if Father Time was creeping up on him.

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Redick has bounced back a bit this month. He’s made 54.8 percent of his 3-pointers over his last 10 games. Alas, we’re still not convinced he’s an ideal target, particularly given his defensive deficiencies, and because he isn’t under contract beyond this season. What’s more, his $13 million salary would take a rather substantial bite out of the $28.5 million Gordon Hayward trade exception that might be better utilized on a more surefire target with long-term viability.

The somewhat more intriguing names, from this perspective, would be Hart and Ball.

 

Hart is a 25-year-old wing whose defensive versatility and rebounding could aid Boston’s wing-thin bench. He gobbles up 7.5 rebounds per game while playing bigger than his height around the glass. He’s a competent 3-point shooter who can attack and finish near the rim (shooting nearly 70 percent on all shots inside 3 feet, where 26.8 percent of his shots come from). Hart also comes cheap making only $3.5 million this season.

The downside with Hart? He’s a restricted free agent after the season. Boston would have to be ready to pay him market rate to retain his services. He’s also not the sort of game-changing talent that elevates Boston to surefire title contender. Like Reddick, he’s someone that could bolster the bench but doesn’t push the ceiling much higher.

Then there’s Ball. The former No. 2 overall pick has steadily improved his 3-point shot and is connecting on 38.8 percent on 7.7 attempts per game this season. He’s an excellent playmaker and versatile defender, who would add good size to Boston’s point guard depth chart. The problem is the price would likely be high and, like Hart, Ball is set to hit restricted free agency next season with a somewhat cumbersome $14.4 million qualifying offer due this summer.

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New Orleans is an intriguing trade partner because their desires — draft capital, young talent, cap relief — matches well with what Boston can offer. Alas, it’s hard to see a deal that greatly improves the Celtics’ title odds both now and into the future. Ainge would be better off paying a higher price to nab more impactful talent than settling for players that only slightly improve the team on the margins.

Remember, Boston has to hit a home run with the TPE to not only recoup value on Hayward’s departure but infuse talent that can aid the core of this team. The Pelicans should be a fall-back option at best as Ainge assesses his options on a market where sellers might not emerge until closer to the deadline.