Thursday, December 15th marks the date in which players signed during the offseason become trade-eligible, or as its more traditionally known in basketball circles; the opening of NBA Trade Season.
While trade speculation and rumors far outnumber real, actual trades every year, it’s still probably the most unifying aspect of following the NBA in the age of social media; the communal eviscerating of proposed trade ideas, without or without “official” approval through ESPN’s vital NBA Trade Machine. (I could go through an explanation of what the Trade Machine is, but if you’re reading this article, you already know, so continue reading)
It’s become an art form in recent seasons to concoct complicated trade-scenarios that see your team net the best players in any hypothetical trade, while parting with the least valuable assets. Don’t believe me? Look at any NBA writer’s Twitter mentions.
Amin El Hassan (@aminESPN) has even gone as far as to declare he’ll never entertain anyone who poses him the hypothetical question “…Who says ‘No’?”.
…..But at the same time, it certainly is entertaining to think about the possible ways our teams could improve with a trade or two.
The Celtics seem like they are on the cusp of either acquiring an All-NBA level talent to take them into league’s elite, or poised to pivot to a slower rebuild with their youth (Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey) and forthcoming Brooklyn draft picks.
Using the picks might be the correct, longer-term play, but it’s also more boring. For the sake of this article, we’re going to look at who the Celtics should trade for, from every team in the association, to help catapult them into true title contention.
For this exercise, we’re going to focus on one main player of each team (often times adding marginal players to make the salaries work). And as always, the trade needs to be approved by the trade machine in order for the trade to work, and make some sense from the opposing team’s aspect as well.
Please feel free to disagree in the comments.
Without further ado, let chaos reign:
Celtics Acquire: Paul Millsap
Hawks Acquire: Jaylen Brown, Amir Johnson (Salary matching purposes), 2018 Celtics 1st round pick ( NON-Brooklyn)
Trade Machine Results: Boston ( +3 wins) | Atlanta ( -4 wins)
The interest from Boston here is obvious: Paul Millsap is their best player, fits a need, is a super efficient three-time All-Star that is a plus defender, and together with Al Horford, led the Hawks to a surprising 60-win season 2 years ago. Millsap and Horford know how to play together, and they would be doing so with an arguably deeper team and better coach. He would immediately become the team’s best, or second-best big man next to Al Horford, and form one of the league’s best starting five: Thomas, Bradley, Crowder, Millsap, Horford.
The only downside is the Celtics would now have a frontline consisting of two over-thirty year-olds, and the pressure would be on to make a deep playoff/Finals run.
Losing Jaylen Brown and his potential would hurt. When Millsap will be ready to hang them up, Brown will be entering his prime, and that trade could look disastrous if it doesn’t yield a ring. He has tremendous upside, but that’s also why Atlanta would likely consider this trade.
Millsap will be 32 in February, and after a hot start, Atlanta is just 2-8 in their last 10 (as of this writing). All the good vibes that surrounded Dwight Howard are fading fast, and Atlanta has to seriously consider what this team should be in the near future. Pairing their recently resigned point guard Dennis Schroder with the number three pick in the 2016 draft, Jaylen Brown, is nice place to start. The Celtics own 2018 first round pick sweetens the pot.
Celtics Acquire: Brook Lopez
Nets acquire: Kelly Olynyk, Jordan Mickey, Amir Johnson (Salary matching purposes), 2018 Celtics 1st round pick ( NON-Brooklyn)
Trade Machine Results: Boston ( +8 wins) | Brooklyn ( -8 wins)
For Boston, acquiring Brook Lopez would allow Al Horford to permanently slide into his preferred position at power forward, while Lopez would be to immediately help the Celtics in rebounding, rim-intimidation (did I just create a new stat?), and give Boston another pick-and-roll partner for Isaiah Thomas. Although not a defensive, rim-protecting big man by reputation, he would upgrade the Celtics low-post defense simply by being there, altering shots, or providing just enough intimidation to hopefully get players to settle for jumpers rather than driving into the paint.
As we all know, trading for Brook Lopez is an enormous gamble because of all the health issues that have caused him to miss extended time throughout his career. The Celtics wouldn’t be willing to part with too many assets for someone as brittle as Brook, but with Horford assuming the power forward mantle, Kelly Olynyk might be the most valuable asset that would be suddenly expendable. He becomes a restricted free-agent at the end of the year, and it may be a better move by the Celtics to keep their options open. With Lopez in tow, Jordan Mickey, although much younger and healthier, becomes expendable.
Brooklyn’s new front office would love nothing more than to move on from Billy King and a Series of Unfortunate Events, and Brook Lopez is the last, real remaining artifact from an era better left forgotten. Getting a young, pre-prime player like Olynyk that fits the modern NBA-mold would be a coup. Brooklyn’s cap sheet is clean, and they could afford to pay to keep Kelly Olynyk long-term, effectively attaining a past lottery-pick for a team that completely depleted of them until 2019.
Jordan Mickey give them another young prospect that can grow with Hollis-Jefferson and Olynyk long-term, while the Celtics own 2018 first round pick would absolutely make this a trade Brooklyn would be hard to pass up.
(As an aside, the general thinking is Brooklyn would be foolish to trade Lopez for anything short of a pair for first rounders. The only problem with that line of thinking, is any team that is serious about obtaining Lopez and his health issues are also not lottery bound teams—these are teams contending, playoff teams, so those picks aren’t as attractive as, say, a first rounder from Philly or Phoenix, two teams with zero interest anyway.
Celtics Acquire: No one
Hornets acquire: No one
Trade Machine Results: None
There doesn’t seem to be any logical trade here between these teams. They have similar strengths at similar positions, and both teams are trying to get better for deep playoff runs. After the failed attempt by the Celtics to trade a bucket of picks to the Hornets a couple of years ago for their #9 pick, to take Justise Winslow (Charlotte ended up drafting Frank Kaminsky III), Charlotte doesn’t seem to value future picks over known commodities. They’re in a good spot, relative to the franchise’s history, and will probably look to make smaller moves to improve their roster.
Celtics Acquire: Jimmy Butler
Bulls acquire: Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, 2017 1st round Brooklyn pick + 2018 1st round Brooklyn pick
Trade Machine Results: Boston ( +11 wins) | Chicago ( -9 wins)
Jimmy Butler is player that has been linked to Celtics even before he was drafted. Over the summer, there were multiple reports that the Celtics were pursuing Butler, to no avail. Who could blame them? He’s currently ranked 8th in PER at 26.9, and absolutely looks like he has taken a leap this year. Acquiring a player like Jimmy Butler is a game changer. He would instantly become the Celtics #1, one-on-one, two-way player they’ve so desperately craved.
And by God, they’d have to pay for him.
Immediately gone would be the two incoming Brooklyn picks. This is exactly what Danny Ainge had in mind when he traded for them, and to value them higher than Jimmy Butler at this point would be foolish. The likelihood either of those picks would produce a player better than Butler is a longshot. Butler is also signed to a team-friendly, pre-TV money deal, making him an even more tantalizing target.
Chicago would also receive Brooklyn’s 2016 first round pick in the form of #3 pick Jaylen Brown. Previously stated, Brown as tremendous potential, and his inclusion would give Chicago a tangible young prospect off-the-bat. Playing alongside Dwyane Wade, and for coach Fred Hoiberg could only help his development.
The Bulls would also receive starting shooting guard Avery Bradley, along with his ALL NBA defense and 20 points per game, they would be receiving a player on a bargain contract until 2018, that they could ultimately re-sign.
Ditto could be said of Marcus Smart. Rajon Rondo and even Michael Carter-Williams are not the long-term solution at point for Chicago, and putting themselves into the position of being able to re-sign Marcus Smart long-term may be their best bet.
On paper, it might seem that Boston is giving up a lot to get Jimmy Butler, but players of his caliber are the hardest type of player to acquire when attempting to built a championship caliber team. They could still roll out a starting 5 of Thomas, Rozier, Butler, Crowder, and Horford that would instantly catapult them into contending status, and would need to simply plug role players around that core going forward.
Celtics Acquire: No one
Cavs acquire: No one
Trade Machine Results: None
Just as with Charlotte, there isn’t a trade to be made between the Celtic and Cavs. Dan Gilbert has put his money where his mouth is, and is all-in on getting Cleveland as many championships as possible. Right now, that’s in the form of keeping the band together for another run, so players like Kevin Love and Kyrie are off the table, and don’t even breathe the words LeBron James.
Alternately, Boston would probably prefer not to help Cleveland extend their title window, and Danny wouldn’t be (and shouldn’t be) interested in any pieces outside of the Cavs top 4 players anyway.
Celtics Acquire: Andrew Bogut
Mavericks acquire: Amir Johnson (Salary matching purposes), 2018 Celtics 1st round pick ( NON-Brooklyn)
Trade Machine Results: Boston ( -3 wins) | Dallas (no change)
The Celtics desperately need help rebounding and protecting the rim. Although Al Horford is blocking an amazing 2.6 shots per game (that mark would be the highest of his career), adding Bogut would be interesting.
Sure, he comes with health issues, but when healthy, he would be a key acquisition for a deep playoff run, which he has helped Golden State achieve the last 4 season. He would allow Horford to slide to power forward, while providing big-game experience, and rim-protecting intimidation.
Being on an expiring deal makes him even more desirable, as the Celtics would clear his salary for a run at a longer-term solution free agent this summer.
Dallas, whose season appears to be going nowhere fast, would simply get better odds at landing near the top of the lottery by dealing a “good” player, and receive a valuable 2018 first round pick. Amir Johnson would only be included for salary-matching purposes, and would ultimately be waived, free to sign with a contender (most likely a return to Toronto).
I think this trade is an interesting, all-in this season move, that has no long-term ramifications, short of the Celtic’s 2018 pick, which won’t be in the lottery (which of course, the Brooklyn pick will be).
Celtics Acquire: Kenneth Faried
Nuggets acquire: Amir Johnson (Salary matching purposes), 2018 Celtics 1st round pick ( NON-Brooklyn)
Trade Machine Results: Boston (+3 wins) | Denver (-6 wins)
Same in the reasoning for the Bogut trade, the Celtics desperately need help rebounding and protecting the rim. The advantage with Faried over Bogut, is Faried is only 27 (versus Bogut’s 32) and has always displayed a tenacity for grabbed a high rate of rebounds, and providing a junkyard dog-like mentality. He does all the dirty work the Celtics need, without demanding any of the offensive touches. In other words, an ideal fit next to Al Horford.
Kenneth Faried is also signed to a below-market contract for the next two seasons (after this one).
Denver has been actively shopping Faried for a number of seasons, and his playing time has dwindled since the progress made by Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets probably missed out on getting peak value for Faried a couple of seasons ago, but by simply moving him for a pick will open up playing time for their higher-ceiling prospects, and a first rounder is probably good value at this point.
Personally, I’ve always been an admirer of Kenneth Faried, and think this is a very Celtics-y move, buying low on a another team’s cast-off. It would fit in the vein of the Evan Turner signs, and the Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder acquisitions. Low-risk, high-reward.
Celtics Acquire: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Pistons acquire: Kelly Olynyk, James Young, 2018 Celtics 1st round pick ( NON-Brooklyn)
Trade Machine Results: Boston (+2 wins) | Detroit (-4 wins)
KCP is the ideal, prototypical 3 & D guy that teams so longingly lust for. Although the Celtics already have their own version in Avery Bradley, whose break-out season is real, not just a figment of Celtic fan’s imagination, there may be a starting role for him on Boston. Although he has exclusively played shooting guard up to this point, perhaps an argument could be made his ideal position in today’s small lineups would be that of a small forward.
Imagine this lineup: Thomas, Bradley, KCP, Crowder, Horford.
Defensively, that 2-5 is a potentially devastating defensive lineup, especially against small-ball lineups. Although Caldwell-Pope does nothing to improve the Celtic rebounding, it ultimately makes them a super-athletic team, capable of running teams out of the building, while locking them down on the defensive end.
Detroit, on the other hand, would finally get their stretch-four. Stan Van Gundy was a huge fan of Ryan Anderson, and once it became apparent he wasn’t signing with Detroit, and after the Montejunas failed physical, the Pistons were basically in a holding pattern until someone turned up. Olynyk would instantly give them the perfect frontcourt partner for Drummond, creating a 2009 Orlando Magic-lite, with Kelly assuming the Rashard Lewis role, to Drummond’s D12.
James Young is a throw in as a prospect that may need a change of scenery at this point, and the pot would be sweetened with the 2018 Celtics first rounder.
Ultimately, I believe KCP is better, long-term NBA player than Olynyk, and Detroit probably wouldn’t make this deal. They’re finally beginning to build something there, and moving a core-piece now in anything short of a “no-brainer” might be too much to stomach. But from the Celtics side of this, I think Caldwell-Pope could give Boston 60% of what Jimmy Butler would (think of him as a poor man’s Khris Middleton), for a much lower cost (although he’ll be a restricted free-agent this summer, like Olynyk, so choices would need to be made).
Stay tuned for the next installment of teams (Golden State – Minnesota Timberwolves)