Exploring a potential Celtics trade for Clint Capela

What would it take for the Celtics to get Capela, and would it be worth it?

Houston Rockets center Clint Capela is tangled with the Celtics at the heart of the trade deadline rumor mill.
Houston Rockets center Clint Capela is tangled with the Celtics at the heart of the trade deadline rumor mill. –AP Photo/David Zalubowski

COMMENTARY

Trade deadline week is off to a busy start, and the Boston Celtics suddenly find themselves in the thick of the rumor mill. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday night that the Houston Rockets were “engaged with several Eastern Conference teams” regarding a deal for center Clint Capela. Wojnarowski then revealed Monday afternoon that the Celtics and Atlanta Hawks were two of the teams in trade talks with the Rockets. 

 

So what would it take for the Celtics to get Capela, and would it be worth it? 

Let’s start with this: He’d certainly be an appealing addition to Boston’s roster. At 25-years-old, Capela has become one of the league’s more consistent big men. He’s averaging 13.9 points and 13.8 rebounds through 39 games this season and has averaged a double-double in each of the prior two campaigns. At 6-foot-10, he’d provide Boston with a nice touch around the rim and consistency on the glass. That’s not something the Celtics necessarily need, but it would only improve the current state of their frontcourt. Any team would be foolish to not express interest in a walking double-double. 

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Capela is under contract through 2023, another positive that’s drawing teams to the Geneva, Switzerland native. He’s set to make $14.9 this season, meaning Boston could get a deal done without parting ways with any of its core players. The Celtics would have to send roughly $10 million back in salary, plus whatever picks are needed to get the deal done. 

There are a few ways Boston could go about this, but the first names that come to mind are Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis. It would be shocking if the Celtics dealt Marcus Smart or Gordon Hayward, so we won’t even entertain either as trade pieces. 

Outside of the core five (Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Smart and Hayward), the two big men have the largest cap hits on the roster. Theis is set to make $5 million in each of the next two seasons, while Kanter will make about $4.8 million and $5 million, respectively. For salary-matching purposes, you’d need one of those two in the deal, with some combination of depth pieces to round out the rest of the deal. From a roster standpoint, it also makes sense to get rid of a center if you’re acquiring one who would take up a good chunk of minutes. 

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Kanter and, say, Vincent Poirier gets you north of $7 million. Adding Romeo Langford and one of the three first-round picks might get a trade done, but would Boston be willing to part with Langford in a deal where he’s essentially filler? If they are, that might be the perfect equation for Danny Ainge. Any trade where they’re able to keep Theis, in addition to the core five, is an ideal scenario for Boston. 

Theis quickly has become invaluable for the Celtics. The 27-year-old spaces the floor well and has been great defensively, especially at the rim. He’s very good in pick-and-roll sets and has shown to be an effective passer inside and along the perimeter. Defensively, he’s probably a bit more versatile than Capela and a better fit within Boston’s schemes. When it comes down to it, I’m not sure I consider Capela an upgrade over Theis. 

All of this is on top of Theis’s $5 million cap hit. That’s a ridiculous value for Boston given the versatility he provides. If Hayward opts into his $34 million option next season, Theis’s contract becomes even more appealing compared to Capela’s deal from a salary cap standpoint. If the Celtics stick with Theis as their main big, though, they’re reliant on him staying out of foul trouble, which has popped up as a concern at times this season. 

It’s definitely worth noting that Capela is dealing with a lingering heel injury. The Athletic’s Kelly Iko reported that the ailment could be plantar fasciitis, adding that it does not seem to be a day-to-day situation. With fewer than three days until the trade deadline, it’s likely this injury will play some sort of role in negotiations, especially if they advance into deeper stages. 

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Bottom line: Boston can make the money work for Capela without trading Smart or Hayward. If they can manage to get a deal done while keeping Theis, Ainge might want to pull the trigger. The Celtics would suddenly be pretty long while remaining very athletic. Having a frontcourt led by Capela and Theis would really set Boston up nicely.