After falling to the Mavericks on Tuesday night to drop their record below .500, it’s evident at something has to change with the Celtics.
There are several ways to make a change for the slumping Celtics. Outside discussions have heated up on whether Brad Stevens is the right man to be the head coach of the team, or if Danny Ainge is the best man to run the team. Changes to the rotation could be made or you could be patient and wait for Marcus Smart to return.
Or they could make a trade.
Trading may be the easiest change to make, and it may be the most logical, too. As the Celtics have struggled, the finger-pointing hasn’t gone towards Stevens, Jayson Tatum, or Jaylen Brown. Many national and local NBA analysts believe that Tatum and Brown are playing at the All-Star level in which they were recently honored while Stevens is doing what he can with the players he has.
Much of the blame so far has gone to Ainge due to the lack of talent outside of Tatum and Brown on this current Celtics squad. As the March 25 trade deadline approaches, several analysts believe the Celtics can resolve some of their issues with a trade.
Boston does have some trade assets at its disposal. Arguably its biggest trade chip is the $28.5 million trade exception (TPE), which allows them to acquire any player making that salary or less without having to match it with its own players’ salaries. The Celtics also have several young players, including five players selected in the first round over the last three years, and tradeable contracts in Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis.
Here are some players NBA analysts believe the Celtics should target.
If the Celtics’ are getting All-Star level production from their best players, then they likely don’t need to trade for a star player. So, a lot of the names being suggested won’t necessarily be the flashiest.
Thaddeus Young is a prime example. The veteran forward is averaging 11.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game coming off the bench for the Bulls this season.
Acquiring “an older veteran” like Young makes the most sense for the Celtics, according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor.
“He’d cost the Celtics only part of their massive traded player exception, plus less assets than other higher-value targets would,” O’Connor wrote. “Young is a 32-year-old veteran who could serve as a small-ball center and add toughness, playmaking, and size. But he wouldn’t make them a Finals team, which is precisely why Ainge and the front office are asking themselves: “What can we do and what should we do?”
As O’Connor mentioned, Young is making $13.5 million this season, which is the second year of his three-year, $43 million deal, which not only fits in with the exception but would still give them roughly $15 million to work with.
In recent interviews, Ainge has stated that what he’s looking for the most in a trade right now is “shooting with size.”
Kings forward Harrison Barnes fits the bill. Barnes is averaging 15.9 points per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from 3.
With the Kings holding a 12-19 record with a squad that’s relatively young, some analysts have suggested that the Kings could move the vet to help rebuild and if they do, the Celtics should be calling the Kings for him.
“Barnes is 28. He’s playing some of his most efficient basketball of his career,” NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Fosberg wrote in a column arguing for the Celtics to trade for Barnes. “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.”
There are a couple of caveats with trading for Barnes. While his $22.2 million salary fits in the TPE, the Celtics would have to move salary as they’re only $19.5 million below the hard salary cap.
The other big question is whether the Kings would want to trade him. O’Connor reported that the Kings aren’t looking to move Branes as they try to make a push for the playoffs.
Al Horford and George Hill
If the Kings aren’t sellers, there’s one team that likely is.
This past offseason, the Thunder made six trades in which they swapped out veteran players for first-round draft picks. With the team sitting at 12-19 and putting the moves they made just months ago into consideration, the Thunder are probably willing to part with any veterans on their roster for the right price.
A couple of those veteran players that could help any team are center Al Horford and guard George Hill. Celtics fans, of course, are familiar with Horford, who spent three seasons in Boston. After a disappointing year in Philadelphia, Horford’s shown signs of playing like he did when he was in Boston. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 38.1 percent from 3.
Hill arrived in Oklahoma City just this season, too. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from 3. Hill hasn’t played since Jan. 25 due to a thumb injury, but is expected to return prior to the trade deadline.
The Athletic’s John Hollinger believes the Celtics should target both Horford and Hill.
“Horford, of course, knows this team well,” Hollinger wrote. “His salary fits into the exception, and including Thompson and a couple of small contracts would keep Boston below the tax line this year. The issue is that he makes $27 million a year from now, when Tatum’s supermax kicks in, and that could leave the Celtics with a staggering luxury-tax bill.
“Hill, on the other hand, could be a more reasonable option because he makes almost the same amount as Thompson and is under contract next season. While ideally, the Celtics would acquire a perimeter player with more size, Hill would nonetheless be a giant upgrade on what’s there now.”
As Hollinger mentioned, neither play the forward spot Ainge is looking for, but that might not matter. The Celtics have had issues at point guard for much of the season. Walker’s been load-managed due to his knee injury and hasn’t looked like his usual self for much of the season. Smart will likely miss at least 19 games due to a calf injury and Jeff Teague isn’t part of the Celtics’ regular rotation anymore.
If the Celtics brought in Horford, they would have to move at least $8 million in salary due to Horford’s $27.5 salary this season.
Magic forward Aaron Gordon hits both of Ainge’s shooting with size checkmarks. Standing at 6-foot-9, Gordon’s shooting 42.7 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from 3-point range this season.
Celtics radio play-by-play announcer Sean Grande called Gordon his “irrational” trade target, saying he’s a “sexier choice” than the other options out there.
“My only thing about Aaron Gordon, because we see what he could be and what for the most part has been, I want to see him without [Nikola] Vucevic,” Grande said on the “Celtics Talk” podcast. I think he’s a different player with him, and that’s not a knock on anybody. This game is about players fitting together in some combination. I don’t think Aaron Gordon with Vucevic — there’s too much replication there.
“Aaron Gordon as the small-ball five. That triggers something in the irrational side of my brain that says — that’s a sexier choice. There’s more upside there and more downside than Harrison Barnes or a Thaddeus Young.”
☘️ CELTICS TALK POD
👨✈️ @SeanGrandePBP in co-pilot chair
🕴 His irrational TPE guy: Aaron Gordon 📼⤵️
🤷🏻♂️ Mark Blount!? Jiri Welsch!? Robert Swift!?
Plus, Celtics rookie Aaron Nesmith on Chipotle runs + earning Brad's trust.
— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) February 22, 2021
Gordon’s $18.1 million salary makes it so that the Celtics don’t have to trade anything other than their TPE to get him. Of course, the Magic could want more than that in order to make a deal.
The other thing with Gordon is that he’s currently with a severe left ankle sprain, which has kept him out since Feb. 1 and is expected to sideline him from four-to-six weeks.
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