The Celtics have the talent to win an NBA Championship but the chemistry is off. Can a deal before the trade deadline set things right for Boston?
Coming into the season, quite a few NBA observers were convinced the Boston Celtics were the class of the Eastern Conference. Things haven’t gone that smoothly for Brad Stevens and company this season though. It’s very possible a shakeup ahead of the trade deadline might be just what this team needs to do to get things back on track.
Unfortunately for Danny Ainge, he isn’t blessed with a ton of flexibility. The Celtics are operating well over the salary cap with a payroll of over $126 million this season. That means any transaction they make will need to reduce their salary or be within 20 percent of what they take back. That greatly reduces the options available to Boston.
The good news for Ainge is that he has one of the deepest, most talented rosters in the NBA at his disposal. There’s no shortage of players on his payroll that would interest other teams if he made them available. The real question that Boston’s front office must answer is what players are they actually willing to part with before they take another run at making the NBA Finals.
The first player who absolutely could be dealt is Terry Rozier. He was a key player for the Celtics last season but he hasn’t been nearly as good this year. The mercurial point guard will hit restricted free agency this summer as well. He will almost certainly receive an offer that Boston isn’t going to match. This may be Ainge’s last chance to get a meaningful asset in return for Rozier.
Projecting what the Celtics might get back in exchange for Rozier is quite difficult. He’s still got a lot of fans throughout the league, but teams are going to be hesitant to give up a big-time asset for a player that might get a silly offer in restricted free agency.
Even so, a team in desperate need of help at the point guard position might be willing to give up a valuable draft pick in exchange for Rozier. The Celtics, at the very least, should place calls to teams like the Suns and Magic to gauge their potential interest. It would be a classic Ainge-style deal to get a first-rounder in exchange for Rozier just before the last moment he can make a move.
The other player who could realistically move is Marcus Smart. He’s also a point guard of sorts but approaches the games much differently than Rozier. Smart may never be able to shoot, but he does everything else at an above average NBA level. Playoff teams looking to add toughness to their roster should call Boston about his availability.
Unlike Rozier, Smart’s cost is fixed for the next several seasons. That could make him easier for Ainge to move. He’ll make approximately $40 million over the next three seasons, but that’s just average money for a quality NBA starter. The former Oklahoma State star isn’t a perfect fit for every team, but he’ll have suitors if he hits the open market. Boston might elect to retain him due to his defensive value in the playoffs, but they will at least consider moving him for a first round pick or a talented young player who is a better fit for the modern game.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t at least acknowledge the Celtics dream scenario of landing Anthony Davis. They certainly have the young talent and draft assets to make an enticing offer to the Pelicans, but all indications are that New Orleans is going to hang on to their franchise big as long as possible. Any deal for Davis will almost certainly need to wait until the summer.
Celtics fans looking for a big shakeup ahead of the playoffs will likely be disappointed. Any moves the front office chooses to make will likely be around the edges of the roster. Stevens has the coaching ability to turn a seemingly small move into a playoff altering transaction, but don’t look for Boston to dominate the trade deadline.