Nothing. There’s your answer (way to bury the lede, Matt.)
Well, it is not as easy as that.
Over the past few weeks, Celtics fans have not just been on an emotional rollercoaster, they have rented out the damn amusement park. It’s like Cs fans everywhere are stuck as a character in Rollercoaster Tycoon, experiencing highs just as the lows approach an unbearable point.
Since Marcus Smart has become a starter, the Celtics are 16-8 with a 9.4 points differential. Compare that to their first 20 games when the Cs went 10-10 and owned a measly 2.1 points differential. Their team shooting percentages have risen across the board and the defense has come to form, as they are 4th in opponents points per game and 5th in defensive rating. Not all bad, right?
During this 16-8 stretch, they have beaten teams like Toronto, Philadelphia and Indiana, but also lost to Phoenix before dropping three in row to the likes of Miami, Orlando and Brooklyn.
The Cs latest win over Toronto was a glimpse of their ceiling. They proved they can overcome large deficits, build a lead, and then close out a game when a great team claws their way back. Yet, their inconsistency and fit concerns are real and leaves fans wondering if general manager Danny Ainge will made a move by February 7th, the trade deadline. After all, it is a guarantee that after the Cs next bad loss, fans will be tweeting #TradeTerry or #BailinonJaylen.
I am here to tell you not to expect any major moves. Moving Terry Rozier, who is most likely not returning to Boston next year, could be a smart route to go down, sure. Testing the trade market for other stars and role players could prove wise as well; doing this could possibly ease some fit and/or chemistry issues.
I have, however, looked at tons of potential deals (courtesy of ESPN’s Trade Machine) and concluded that the trades out there just don’t make sense. At all. Let’s run through the Celtics stars and role players to see if they could be moved and if it makes sense to.
Kyrie is an elite point guard in this league. I could go on about his efficient shooting numbers, or let them speak for themselves.
What’s more, Kyrie is averaging a career high in assists this year and is making the offense tick. Not only is his scoring as lethal as ever, but his facilitating, a skill he could not fully display while in Cleveland, is remarkable as well.
Despite the Bill Simmons panic-stricken trade ideas on his podcast, trading Kyrie is not an option.
Although he is on a coveted contract, Smart isn’t going anywhere, and nor should he. He has been the catalyst for this Celtic turnaround and may finally earn his All-Defensive Team accolades this season.
Smart is also showing signs of (finally) becoming a capable 3-point shooter. His passing is also getting the credit it deserves. I could go on about why Smart isn’t going anywhere, but I’ll let this video from Hoops House do the talking for me.
Good luck finding someone ballsy enough to take on Hayward and his contract at this stage of his NBA recovery. Cancel this one out. He’ll be better in time, Cs fans. Be patient, the dude’s ankle was basically off of his body only a year ago.
In these past few seasons, Celtics fans and smart hoops pundits have fallen in love with Horford’s defensive acumen and offensive playmaking, not to mention his evolution as a stretch big.
Horford could be a free agent at year’s end as he owns a $30 million player option. Yet, conventional wisdom suggests Horford may find it hard to be a then 33-year-old big man and to turn down that kind of money.
Is Horford expendable? Not really. During last year’s playoff he demonstrated how integral he was to the team, using his perimeter shooting and passing to limit Joel Embiid’s ability to protect the rim. He also showed his defensive versatility, often guarding Ben Simmons and stymying him.
Still, I perused possible trade scenarios. Rebuilding teams have no need for him. The Cs won’t trade him to an Eastern Conference competitor, and shouldn’t. The best trade I came across was a swap of Steven Adams and Horford. Oklahoma City needs more shooting and Horford could anchor their already stellar defense. But Adams has never been better, is integral to his team’s culture, and not a great fit with the Cs offense. If that is the best trade out there, that means there is no trade out there.
After bursting onto the scene during his rookie campaign, Jayson Tatum has experienced a slight sophomore slump. This was to be expected, however. After all, the guy shot 43 percent from deep as a rookie and 47 percent from the floor. Some regression is expected.
What was not expected, however, was for Tatum to turn into a midrange monster. Cs fans everywhere are calling for Tatum to stop jacking 17-footers 15 seconds into the shot clock and get to the hoop more. Maybe Tatum heard them, because over his last five games he has taken 4.8 free throws per game, an notable increase from his season average of 3.2 per game.
Tatum seemed to back up my claim that he is more determined to get to the line. Watch him take one dribble then drive into plus defender Danny Green and athletically make an and-one layup during the late stages of Wednesday night’s game. Perhaps this will be his new mentality going forward.
Still, let’s say you want to sell Tatum while he has tons of value from being a star prospect on a rookie contract. Pretend you are in win-now-or-die mode. Who’s out there?
Nobody. Which team has a better forward than Tatum they are willing to surrender? Where can the Cs get an upgrade for Tatum and make the salaries work? Moving on.
Marcus Morris Sr.
I don’t know why, but I love how he added the “Sr” part to his name.
It makes sense, however, because Morris has been balling like a grown up. Here is the list of players who are hitting 49 percent of their field goals on at least 10 attempts per game and 44 percent of their 3-pointers on at least 2 attempts per game.
Four guys, that is it. One of them is a two time MVP as well.
Nevertheless, Morris is going to be a free agent and the Celtics will most likely not be able to afford him this summer. Moving Morris during his best season would make little sense but, taking calls about him in an attempt to sell high would not be the worst idea in the world.
The issue when exploring any trades for Morris is his contract. The combo forward makes only $5.3 million this season. Where can the Cs find a matching contract to bring back and, one that maintains their current competitiveness while upgrading the team now or in the near future?
Ainge and company will also be weary about bringing in any long term contract unless that player is of All-Star or All-NBA caliber. They need to retain cap space in order to bring back guys like Kyrie and maybe even Daniel Theis.
I flirted with the idea of packaging Rozier and Morris for T.J Warren and perhaps Milwaukee’s first rounder owed to the Suns. Warren’s contract is too long, however, and he doesn’t play defense like Morris. Plus, Phoenix parting with a first would be unlikely, given how Morris has bad history in Phoenix and they could out-offer Boston for Rozier this offseason.
It’s going to be tough to find an upgrade or promising long-term prospect for a Morris swap while maintaining current competitiveness. The same goes for Rozier as well, as we will see.
If there is a Celtic who would be moved this deadline, it would be Rozier. The fourth year guard and pending restricted free agent has had an up and down year for the Cs. His shooting numbers have dropped a bit and he looks rushed when making decisions, as if he is trying to score as much as possible during his minutes.
Yet, when Rozier buckles down and uses his energy to his advantage, he can be a big time difference maker. Ask Brad Stevens and Al Horford, they will tell you what Rozier meant to their promising Wednesday night victory.
My guess is that GMs around the Association are still high on Rozier, especially when they watch his film as a starter in both the regular season and postseason. In 21 career starts, Rozier is putting up some interesting numbers, as seen below.
His field goal percentage could use a bump, sure. But it may be a sign that Rozier has to carry an offensive load when sliding in for someone like Kyrie Irving. Regardless, Rozier is a two way prospect who could shine if given the reins to his own squad.
Where could Rozier go? Which teams would be interested? The Chicago Bulls are someone to watch. They may not be in love with the idea of Kris Dunn as their point guard of the future. If so, they could obtain Rozier and therefore the rights to match any RFA offer sheet.
Rozier for Bobby Portis is a possible trade that has grown on me. Although day-to-day right now, Portis could be of use to the Celtics. Horford will monitor a knee issue throughout the season and both Baynes and Theis have had injury history lately. Portis is a rebounding big with good touch and a growing ability to stretch the floor.
Additionally, Portis is an expiring contract. Cs fans won’t be happy about this trade, thinking that Rozier has more value, which he does. The Bulls could throw in a second rounder from Memphis, but that still may not be enough. Table this idea for now.
There is another somewhat less dismal option, however. The Knicks will surely be looking for a point guard this summer. If Kemba Walker never returns home, Rozier would be a nice edition. Let’s consider a Trey Burke & Noah Vonleh for Rozier swap.
The Knicks would have the rights to Rozier; a dude who was born to play at Madison Square Garden and fits in with their new culture. The Celtics get Burke strictly for 3rd guard insurance. Vonleh is the best asset here. If you haven’t been watching, the former lottery pick turned journey man turned revival success story has been hooping.
Out of nowhere, Vonleh has become a stretch big (41 percent on 2.1 3PA per game), dominant rebounder (8.6 boards in 26 MPG) and an adequate defender (7th in ESPN’s Defensive RPM.) Again, Cs fans will dislike this trade, as Rozier is perceived to have higher value.
You may be fooling yourself if you think Rozier can currently fetch a first rounder. Burke and Vonleh are both expirings and Vonleh fits a need. With Rozier gone, more minutes open up for Hayward or Brown to initiate the offense in second units, something they each can and want to do, especially Hayward.
At the end of the day, however, hanging onto Rozier seems like the best option. The same goes for Jaylen Brown.
Despite the slow start to the year, Brown has been slowly returning to his 2017-18 form. Since moving to the bench, Brown has averaged 13.2, 4.2 and 1.6 per game. Furthermore he has improved his shooting numbers, hitting 48.8 percent of his field goals and 36.4 percent of his triples.
The man seems to be back on track, and the Cs are winning games although, it is fair to question fit issues. Brown emerged as a star in the making last season and may have desired (and earned) a bigger role this year. Fair enough. But moving Brown now makes little sense.
His potential is still exceptionally high and he’s on a great contract. More importantly, moving Brown now precludes any chance to offer him for Anthony Davis this offseason. Why should Ainge ship away Brown now just to clear up some possible fit issues when AD is the real prize? This would be a shortsighted and therefore uncharacteristic move from Ainge.
Think Brown’s trade value isn’t high enough to land Davis? I hear you. But teams are aware of the Cs current fit issues. The Cs can pair Brown with another contract or two and throw in a bevy of solid draft picks as well. If you are feeling that you are too low on Brown’s value, just take a look at his playoff per game numbers from last season.
Where does this leave us?
If the Celtics are to make a move, there are 3 specific criterion is has to meet.
- No bad salary
- Ease the fit issue
- Worthwhile talent upgrade
Having as much space as possible to resign Kyrie and others is a must, as Celtics Blog has so eloquently explained. This limits Ainge to looking for expiring deals, unless he could land someone like Bradley Beal, who would be worth the salary.
The on-court chemistry issues seem to be something the Cs are working through, but they are real. Different players have had varying expectations for their season, and not everyone can get their wish.
The talent they bring back must also be worth it. I understand, that is a subjective phrase and different for everyone. Here’s a scenario. The Cs could offer Brown, Morris and Jabari Bird’s contract for Tobias Harris. Harris is having an All-Star type season, putting up 20.7 and 8 with wild shooting percentages. Plus, he’s an expiring deal.
Firstly, the Clippers probably say no to this deal, as they plan to resign Harris, and rightfully so. Yet, the Cs would be sacrificing the future of Jaylen Brown (and a possible AD offer) for a year of Harris. It hits two check marks by clearing fit issues and being an expiring deal but, it puts the Cs all in for a title this year while limiting the future.
See why this is so complicated?
Expect a whole bunch of nothin’ from the Cs, which would be a good thing! Their roster has all the talent necessary to come out of the East. Now, they must continue to work out the chemistry kinks. Perhaps this latest win over Toronto will be the turning point in their season. If so, enjoy the ride and forget about February 7th.