The Boston Celtics visit the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night so allow us again to make the pitch for why Harrison Barnes ought to be near the top of Danny Ainge’s traded player exception wish list.
Barnes is 28. He’s playing some of his most efficient basketball of his career (shooting career bests at 50.4 percent from the floor and 43.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc). He brings size and defensive versatility. He has championship experience and knows how to contribute to winning as a fourth option on a talent-filled roster. He’s making a hefty but not prohibitive $22.2 million this season and is under contract for two additional years at descending money.
So, new Kings general manager Monte McNair, what’s it going to take to get him in green?
We’d guess the conversation starts at both an intriguing young talent (Aaron Nesmith? Romeo Langford?) and a first-round pick. Celtics fans might scoff, but if the C's believe they are championship contenders for the foreseeable future, there shouldn’t be hesitation in moving future picks that are likely to slot in spots 25-30. Especially not when pursuing the sort of talent who could bolster a roster that has some obvious holes.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has treaded cautiously in trade waters in recent seasons, unwilling to splurge on depth options at a steep price. But with limited means to upgrade this roster moving forward and a time-sensitive asset in the Hayward trade exception, Ainge ought to operate aggressively if a particularly desirable asset is available.
And Barnes checks a whole lot of this team’s boxes.
Spare us the suggestion that the Kings need Barnes’ leadership for a playoff push. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives Sacramento an 11 percent chance at earning one of the Western Conference’s top eight spots and only a 25.8 percent chance at a play-in spot.
Yes, we know the Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, so even making the play-in round might mean something to a rabid fan base that came tantalizingly close to sneaking in a couple years ago. That was the same year the Celtics owned the Kings’ first-round pick and settled for the final lottery spot. (Thanks, Sacramento).
But McNair needs to look at the big picture here. The Kings have an exciting young core including De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. Moving Barnes now would be a sell-high scenario that would deliver both draft capital (the Kings already have a stockpile of future second-rounders from other teams) and financial flexibility that could make the Kings players in pursuit of star talent that might better align with their timeline to compete. Moving Barnes’ salary could help position the Kings to chase a big-name free agent this offseason.
Barnes might be a smidge older than Boston may prefer but the two years remaining on his contract position the Celtics well for a transitional summer in 2023 when both Barnes and Kemba Walker (if he picks up his $37.6 million final-year option) would come off the books. Tatum and Brown are currently the only guaranteed money on Boston’s ledger for the 2023-24 season, which would put the team in position to add top talent around them (if they hadn’t already pursued such in trades before that).
Depending on outgoing assets, acquiring Barnes would push the Celtics close to, or over, the luxury tax line but there would be means to shimmy below it in the team’s quest to limit repeater penalties further down the road. Boston would still have $6.3 million remaining on the traded player exception, which could be handy before it vaporizes.
So, do we have a deal? (And, if not, maybe Boston can consider a flyer on Nemanja Bjelica as he wastes away on the Kings’ bench?)