An intriguing young big man is reportedly available on the trade market and, given the question marks in the Celtics’ frontcourt entering the 2019-20 season, it begs the question whether Boston should be intrigued.
The Athletic reported Friday that the Pacers have engaged in trade talks involving 23-year-old big man Domantas Sabonis with the sides far apart in negotiations on a rookie extension in advance of Monday’s deadline.
Sabonis’ name was one that Celtics fans repeatedly invoked this summer after the departures of Al Horford and Aron Baynes. The Pacers last season struggled to find ways for Sabonis and center Myles Turner to coexist. Given Boston’s glut of wings, the two sides seemed like potential trade partners.
Now, it appears the Pacers are motivated and Boston still has an obvious need for a frontcourt upgrade entering the season. The trouble in finding a deal: Indiana’s asking price might simply be more than Boston is willing to pay, especially knowing they will have to pay a high price tag to retain the player after the season.
If the Pacers are simply not committed to try and make the Sabonis/Turner combination work then their leverage in the trade market is weakened. The Athletic’s report noted the Pacers’ asking price, however, has been too high.
The Celtics would not be immediately interested in putting Jaylen Brown into a potential package. The team has been engaged in extension negotiations with Brown and is intrigued to see the strides that he makes this season when Brown’s role won’t be as muddy as it was last season.
Maybe their willingness to move Brown — or another wing — will elevate as the season progresses but the team is eager to see how its youngest stars like Brown and Jayson Tatum perform outside the shadows of Kyrie Irving.
Trying to build a trade package that might interest the Pacers without Brown is a bit more daunting. Celtics first-round pick Romeo Langford, an Indiana native who played at Indiana University and was the state’s Mr. Basketball in 2018, would seemingly intrigue the Pacers and makes the money work in a deal. Still, the Pacers would seemingly be seeking an immediate impact player and/or some of Boston’s future first-round picks, which might be more than Boston is willing to pay given the commitment it would take to maintain Sabonis.
Sabonis has no shortage of potential in a bigger role. He averaged 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists over just 24.8 minutes per game last season while utilized almost exclusively as a reserve (five starts in 74 appearances). Sabonis is an excellent rebounder, ranking 10th in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage (26.9) and 12th in total rebound percentage (18.4).
Defensively, he’s not quite the Joel Embiid/Giannis Antetokounmpo stopper that the Celtics so clearly need to truly contend in the Eas,t but Indiana’s defensive numbers with Sabonis on the court last season were encouraging. The Pacers limited opponents to 103.8 points per 100 possessions with Sabonis on the floor over 1,811 minutes and that number spiked to 106.1 in the 2,082 minutes that Sabonis was on the bench.
Sabonis’ defensive stats were aided by Turner’s presence as Indiana’s defensive rating dropping to 99.2 in the 434 minutes the duo shared the court. And the more noticeable spike with Sabonis on the court without Turner was on the offensive end as Indiana’s offensive rating shot to 109.4 but it was negated slightly by the defensive rating spiking to 104.
Ultimately, the Pacers might simply be gauging Sabonis’ trade value in advance of the tough decision about how to proceed with their bigs. The Celtics should be intrigued but also do not need to rush into a deal before getting a glimpse of how all their new bigs look at the start of the season.
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