The NBA shopping season is approaching this December and the Boston Celtics are one of the teams likely to be looking for a few new toys to add their roster. An uneven start to the year has magnified a glaring area of need on the roster: rebounding. The Celtics rank among the five worst rebounding teams in the NBA a quarter of the way through the season, despite the fact that some of the team’s wings (Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder) are putting up career numbers while trying to chip in.
With no clear internal solutions to address the problem, Danny Ainge will likely have to look outside of the organization for alternatives. Trade chatter is expected to pick up once Dec. 15 hits and more than 100 players who signed contracts in the offseason become eligible for inclusion in trades. In preparation for next week, here are a look at five potential trade targets that could help the Celtics address their rebounding woes.
Andrew Bogut: The Mavericks’ big man was one of the NBA’s best rebounders before going down with a right knee injury earlier this week. He is expected to miss anywhere from two to four weeks, making him a prime candidate to be dealt upon his return to a floundering 4-17 Mavericks team.
Bogut, 32, has grabbed more than 38 percent of all defensive rebounds when he’s been on the floor in Dallas, a number that ranks at the very top of the league a quarter of the way into the season. He’s a little expensive for his production, but his $11 million expiring contract would not demand a lavish return from potential suitors, especially when you factor in his offensive warts (high turnover rate, 3.8 ppg, 27 percent FT).
On nights when the Celtics are battling seven-footers in the trenches, Bogut would be an ideal option for Brad Stevens to have at this disposal.
Hypothetical offer: Tyler Zeller and a second-round pick
Jeff Withey: The Utah Jazz are dealing with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to big men. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors are a starting frontline with All-Star potential, while Boris Diaw and Trey Lyles make up a pair of capable reserves. That has left the seven-foot Withey as the odd man out of the Jazz rotation most nights, despite some solid production when he does see the floor.
The 26-year-old hasn’t played more than 13 minutes per game in his four-year NBA career, but he’s an above-average rebounder on both ends and a stellar rim protector (2.9 blocks per 36 minutes). Withey’s shooting range is limited to the paint, but he’s been efficient in that area, shooting 58.3 percent from the field.
With the Jazz invested in Gobert for their future, Withey will probably be looking for a new destination when he becomes a free agent this summer. The Celtics could try to entice the Jazz to move on now with a young player under contract and/or a draft pick.
Hypothetical offer: Jordan Mickey and a second-round pick
P.J. Tucker: A true big man would be an ideal option to help fix the Celtics’ rebounding issues, but the reality is that Stevens is opting for a lot of small-ball lineups anyway. The head coach wants to spread the floor with capable shooters as much as possible, so we turn our attention to a different kind of trade candidate: a forward who can rebound.
Tucker, 31, is a prime candidate on that front. Despite an imposing 6-foot-6 frame, he’s been one of the best defensive rebounders for the Suns for years now, grabbing 18 percent of defensive boards when’s on the floor. He’s also playing 24 minutes a night for a bad Suns team that would probably be better off giving playing time to its younger prospects (Dragan Bender, Marquise Chriss, T.J. Warren).
Tucker’s shooting numbers are on the decline as well, making him an ideal buy-low candidate for Boston. His $5.3 million salary is relatively easy to match, and as a savvy vet, he could help anchor the second unit’s rebounding while allowing Stevens to go small at other spots on the floor.
Hypothetical offer: Jordan Mickey and second round pick or heavily protected first-round pick.
Ersan Ilyasova: The 76ers are another team with a sizable logjam in their frontcourt. They have been able to manage the situation due to injuries to this point, but with Nerlens Noel nearing his return, Joel Embiid playing more lately and the eventual recovery of No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons, moves will need to be made.
That’s where Ilyasova comes into play. He’s been impressive for the Sixers since he was acquired in November, posting 18.7 ppg and 8.3 rpg with 37.9 percent shooting from 3-point range. At 6-foot-9, he’s an ideal stretch four in today’s NBA, but his age (29) and expiring contract don’t make him part of the long-term plan in Philly.
As long as the cost is not too high, the Celtics couldn’t find much of a better fit for their roster than Ilyasova. He’ll spread the floor, particularly in the pick-and-pop, while cleaning up the defensive glass (6.9 drpg) at an above-average rate for his size. Adding him to the mix might make a player like Jonas Jerebko or Kelly Olynyk expendable, but it would be a net positive for Boston for the season.
Hypothetical offer: Tyler Zeller, heavily protected 1st-round pick.
Jusuf Nurkic: Nearly every player on this list has been a hypothetical rental for the Celtics. Relatively low-cost and low-risk transactions will generally provide limited returns though. A player like Nurkic would be a different kind of trade target for Boston.
The 22-year-old is a starting center for a Nuggets team with mix of big men that simply haven’t been working together during a 8-15 start to the season. The seven-footer is a bit of a throwback with an impressive low post game and the bulk to battle with anyone in the paint and pull down boards. He’s also still on his rookie deal, making him more of a long-term investment for Boston.
Nurkic wouldn’t cost Danny Ainge any top-level assets, but a late first-round pick probably isn’t going to be able to get it done either. The question for the Celtics’ brass is whether they see enough potential in the Bosnian big man to view him as a long-term answer in the middle.
Hypothetical offer: Terry Rozier or a future first-round pick (unprotected)