Nearly two years later, the blockbuster trade Danny Ainge made with the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2013 remains the gift that keeps giving. In fact, that deal directly led to the Celtics’ acquisition of Isaiah Thomas on Thursday.
How so? It’s merely a case of connecting the dots.
Let’s start from the top. Here’s a summary of the pieces exchanged in the original swap between the Celtics and Nets two summers ago.
Nets received: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and an overpaid Jason Terry
Celtics received: Keith Bogans, Gerald Wallace, Marshon Brooks, Kris Humphries, $10.4 million trade exception, three unprotected first round picks (2014, 2016, 2018) and the right to swap first round picks with the Nets in 2017.
As a reminder, a traded player exception allows a team to absorb that salary figure in a future trade without including any outgoing players or salary in the deal. The Celtics used the $10.4 million trade exception acquired in the Nets deal in July 2013 to gain multiple assets in a separate three-team trade with the Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers last summer.
At the time of that three-team deal, the Cavaliers were looking to dump salary in order to clear the necessary salary-cap room to sign LeBron James. The Celtics served as a facilitator in that transaction by agreeing to take on the hefty salary of Marcus Thornton ($8.6 million) without sending any salary back to the Nets or Cavs in the trade. As payment for taking on an overpaid Thornton, the Celtics also received a promising young center in Tyler Zeller, as well as a 2016 first-round pick from the Cavs.
On Thursday, the Celtics flipped two of the assets acquired from the Cavaliers trade last summer in order to deal for Thomas. Thornton was used for salary matching purposes in the latest deal, but he has been playing well enough for Boston (41 percent from 3-point range) this season to be a useful short-term rental for a team like Phoenix. The Celtics added the Cavs’ 2016 first-round pick (which is top-10 protected) as a sweetener and the deal was done.
If we trace back our steps and add the Thomas trade to Boston’s haul for Pierce and Garnett, here’s the updated breakdown of notable assets Ainge received via the blockbuster deal:
—James Young (2014 first-round Nets pick)
—Isaiah Thomas (acquired via 2016 CLE first-round pick and Marcus Thornton. Both of those acquired via $10.4 million Nets trade exception)
—Tyler Zeller (acquired via $10.4 million trade exception)
—2016 unprotected Nets first-round pick
—2017 option to swap first-round pick with Nets
—2018 unprotected Nets first-round pick
It’s also important to note that the Celtics are still dealing with a couple hefty salaries (i.e. Gerald Wallace’s contract) they had to take on in the original Nets deal. As the years go by though, the payoff for the Celtics just keeps looking better and better.