The Boston Celtics needed to add depth in the frontcourt before Al Horford reportedly opted out of his contract this week, and with rumors suggesting the veteran center could take his talents elsewhere, interior defense should be a top priority for the C's as they build next season's roster.
Who could the Celtics target on the trade market if Horford leaves in NBA free agency in July? One name to consider is Houston Rockets center Clint Capela. A report last week said the Celtics were "intrigued" by Capela, and SNY's Ian Begley reported Tuesday the Celtics have "checked in" with the Rockets regarding the talented big man.
Something worth noting regarding the Celtics: Boston and Houston had checked in recently about a potential trade involving Clint Capela, per SNY sources. ESPN reported recently that the Rockets had made much of their roster available via trade.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) June 19, 2019
Capela averaged 16.6 points, 12.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game for Houston last season. He's also just 25 years old, so he'd fit in well on the Celtics if they want to go young and build around Jayson Tatum (age 21) and Jaylen Brown (age 22).
Horford and Capela do have one big difference in their skill sets. Horford is a very good 3-point shooter, while Capela didn't take a single shot from beyond the arc last season. Capela won't stretch the floor like Horford, but like the veteran center, the Rockets star is a very good interior defender. Capela's contract has four years and $72 million remaining, which isn't burdensome, but also not cheap for a player who doesn't shoot from 3-point range.
Another concern with Capela is if the Rockets' system made him look better than he would be on another team. Capela got a lot of alley-oops and open shots near the rim as a result of James Harden and Chris Paul often drawing multiple defenders on pick-and-rolls or simple drives to the basket. The Celtics don't have a guard like Harden, but they do run plenty of pick-and-rolls, and Brad Stevens is as good as any head coach when it comes to putting players in a position to maximize their talent.
Why would the Rockets want to trade Capela? Well, Houston needs to make some changes after failing to reach the NBA Finals in each of the last two seasons, and the reported drama surrounding the Harden/Paul duo sounds problematic as well.
What would the Celtics have to give up for Capela? Trading Tatum or Brown obviously would be a foolish move. The Rockets haven't made a first-round pick since 2015, and the Celtics have three first-rounders in the 2019 draft. The Rockets reportedly are expected to be aggressive in pursuing star free agent Jimmy Butler, and clearing Capela's salary from their books without taking on a large contract in return would aid in that process.
The Celtics should pursue Capela, but having to give up Tatum, Brown or even Marcus Smart would be reason to walk away from any negotiations. If that's a deal-breaker for Houston, so be it. Capela is really talented, but he's not a superstar player, and the Celtics shouldn't part with their best assets to acquire him. Those assets should be a saved for a franchise cornerstone-type star.
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