Should the Celtics Make a Move?


John Leighton

Isaiah Thomas battles Harrison Barnes in a 2015 game against the Warriors

Joe Clark, Sports


With the NBA Trade Deadline coming up, one of the most speculated about teams is the Boston Celtics. With their treasure trove of assets (Thanks, Brooklyn) the Celtics are in the midst of any and all trade chatter. However, sitting at 29-18 and at second place in the Eastern Conference, do the Celtics really need to make a move? With the Cavaliers and Warriors likely to meet in the finals again, what piece(s) could the Celtics realistically acquire to make them better now, and in the future? Below, we’ll take a look at potential moves the Celtics could make at the deadline.


The Stars

Despite the fact that Isaiah Thomas is playing like an MVP candidate right now, the fact of the matter is the Celtics can’t rely on him to be “the guy” night in and night out if they expect to win a championship. They need somebody to take a load off of Isaiah, and getting another star would be a perfect way to do so. The most obvious fit for the Celtics going off their needs-interior defense and rebounding-would be DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins is rumored to be signing a massive $200+ million extension with the Kings, but since that rumor surfaced in early January, there has been no news on whether or not he actually signed it. While Cousins is a stud (20.9 PPG and 10.9 RPG for his career) he comes with a lot of baggage (fights with coaches, teammates, reporters), which can be attributed to the lack of a winning culture in Sacramento. But here’s my problem with that-Shouldn’t Cousins, as the face of the franchise, be the one to change that? The most wins Cousins has gotten in a season is 33, just last year.
Anthony Davis, while the eye test says is probably the better player, has similar stats to Cousins (21.8 PPG, 10 RPG for his career), and has a similarly weak supporting cast, dragged the Pelicans to a 45-37 record in 2014-15 with a playoff berth. Looking at win shares, Cousins, who’s career high total is 7.9, is most similar to Andrew Bynum and Emeka Okafor, and Andrew Bogut. For comparison, Jae Crowder accumulated 7.3 WS last season, and Celtics nation’s favorite whipping boy Amir Johnson had 5.9. I wouldn’t trade what right now could be the 1st overall pick from Brooklyn, plus other key assets, both current and future, for any of these guys in their prime, and that’s why i’d be hesitant to trade for Cousins. Other stars the Celtics could conceivably try to acquire are Paul George (the Pacers won’t move him), Gordon Hayward (Intriguing but unlikely Jazz move him in midst of playoff season, Celtics would be better off pursuing him in free agency), and Jimmy Butler, who three weeks ago I would’ve said is unavailable, but suddenly, the turmoil within the Bulls organization could make Butler somewhat available.

Let’s get this straight first, though. It would take a TON to get Jimmy Butler. If he’s at all available, it would probably take three to five current players and at least two Brooklyn picks and then maybe some more filler. The Celtics aren’t going to want to trade Avery Bradley and Crowder in the same trade, so think something like this: Amir Johnson (salary reasons),  Crowder, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Brooklyn’s 2017 pick swap, Brooklyn’s 2018 pick, and probably another future pick for Butler and Nikola Mirotic, a stretch big who has fallen out of favor in Chicago can help the Celtics’ spacing and shooting. Still, if i’m Danny Ainge, i’m not making this move. While there is a tangible difference between Butler and Crowder, Crowder is still one of the league’s better wings, and taking into account Crowder’s contract, he might be a better value than Butler is. Now, i’m not at all saying I wouldn’t trade Crowder for Butler straight up because that would be pure stupidity, but trading Crowder and then key bench pieces in Smart and Brown, especially when Brown could end up blossoming into a player similar to Butler in the future, and on top of that the potential #1 overall pick which would likely be Markelle Fultz, who could become a superstar, and then what could be a top five, if not top three pick the next year, all for a guy who, once you take away the parts going to Chicago, wouldn’t be a huge upgrade. ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine, which is largely based off of PER (which can be explained here) has the Celtics at +7 wins after making this trade. While Butler is having a career best year, take in natural progression from Brown, Rozier, and Smart, and then whoever ends up being used with those picks, those +7 wins in a year where there are two clear super teams won’t mean a lot. I would much rather hold onto Crowder, Brown, Smart, and both Brooklyn picks and built a team that in two to three years can compete with Golden State or Cleveland, instead of playing for what would likely just end up being a loss in the Eastern Conference Finals. Now, I still want the Celtics to get to the Conference Finals, if not the Finals, and they still need help. So who can they get without paying a king’s ransom?


The Role Players

This area is where the Celtics can definitely find a player that fits a role that they need to help them fix their main issues, which are rebounding and finding the defensive intensity that made them so successful last year. In this category, you can find plenty of logical trade targets for the Celtics to pursue. Andrew Bogut, Kenneth Faried, Jusuf Nurkic, and Nikola Vucevic are all logical fits to help these two needs.
My personal favorite of that group is Faried, and he’s implied that he wants out of Denver after being involved in trade rumors for the last few seasons, but he’s stayed put. Faried specializes as a high energy rebounder with elite end to end speed, and could fill in nicely as the Celtics starting power forward or coming off the bench. Faried’s having a great year for the Nuggets (9.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG in 22.5 MPG). The Nuggets frontcourt is crowded, though, featuring the aforementioned Nurkic, who it now seems unlikely to be moved after the injury to second year big
Nikola Jokic, who is emerging as a star for Denver (21.4 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 5.5 APG per 36 minutes). Denver’s a young team, and with no aspirations to win immediately I think Faried could be available on the cheap. A deal like Rozier, Jordan Mickey, and Tyler Zeller could get the deal done, and if the Nuggets push for more, the Celtics could offer the Clippers heavily protected 2019 1st to get the deal done. The knock against Faried, however, is that, despite his rebounding prowess, he isn’t very big, standing at “just” 6’8. He won’t solve the Celtics’ problems protecting the rim, but someone who could is Andrew Bogut. Let’s not forget that Bogut was starting on a team that broke the NBA’s regular season wins record last season, but after getting traded to Dallas so the Warriors could create cap space for Kevin Durant this offseason, he hasn’t really been talked about much besides in trade talks. Bogut’s blocks per game have decreased this season, but he’s still at one block per game playing for the 18-30 Mavericks, and while only at 3 PPG, he’s averaging 8.4 RPG (13.3 RPG per 36), and he would fit in well as the Celtics starting center, To get Bogut, there are a couple of possibilities-Boston can probably trade Amir Johnson and their 2019 heavily protected Grizzlies pick for Bogut, but as much as everybody wants to bash Johnson he could be useful as a bench big, plus with an expiring contract he’ll provide cap flexibility if they decide not to retain him at the end of the season. Bogut is older than Faried, so he can probably be had for less, so what about Zeller, Mickey, and the 2019 Grizzlies 1st for Bogut? If they plan on acquiring both Faried and Bogut, they could end up making the Johnson and the Grizzlies first for Bogut, but they really only need one of these guys, and while I prefer the Faried deal because I love his high energy style and tenacity on the glass, i’d be happy making either of these trades. Assuming Nurkic won’t get moved because of the Jokic injury, that leaves one more guy in this category that would be a logical fit, in addition to rumors that the Celtics want him, in Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic is a talented center stuck on a team that inexplicably signed Bismack Biyombo and traded for Serge Ibaka (who they now want to move again) despite a glut of frontcourt options, and to clear that logjam Vucevic could be had, and had on the cheap. This is a guy who’s averaged double-digit rebounds for three of his five seasons in the league, and whose per 36 number this year are quietly among the best of his career (17.9 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 1.3 BPG). He fills the Celtics biggest need, which is for a rebounding center, and his soft touch around the rim makes him a quality offense threat as well. He might be a little bit costly thanks to his rather impressive track record and decent season, but he’s still not going to cost a Brooklyn pick.
The Celtics can offer Amir Johnson (Vucevic and Amir are pretty similar and as much as I like Amir it would make sense to move him in this), in addition to Mickey, Rozier, and the Celtics’ own 2018 pick. Giving up Rozier, Johnson, and a 1st is a lot, but Vucevic fills all the Celtics needs without costing a Nets pick, and someone like that is hard to find nowadays in the NBA.

In essence, what i’m saying here is the Celtics should make a move, but if they don’t they’ll be fine. While they do need a rebounder, a rim protector, and help defensively, they’re still the #2 seed in the East as it stands right now (as of January 31st), and are still a very talented team. While I think they should look to make a move, I don’t think it should be for a star, as i’d rather them keep the Brooklyn picks and take on a player with a smaller contract (IT and Bradley are due for extensions soon) that is still productive and can help them improve this year and in the future. Keeping the Brooklyn picks gives Boston a very bright future, and don’t be surprised if this team is on the level Cleveland is now in 2-3 years.