The Celtics are in a position that we don’t see all too often in the NBA. The team has won its last five games and sits in a fourth-place tie with the Atlanta Hawks, as of Jan. 30. With Brad Stevens at the helm, the team filled with youth and depth can compete with any team in the Eastern Conference Playoff, not named Cleveland of course.
But why is that so rare?
Thanks to the deal that sent Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn, the Celtics are also a team contending for the top overall pick. If Brooklyn fails to land a star through free agency next summer, Boston could find itself with another top-five pick in 2017. One could make a case that the Celtics are a rebuilding team with as much young talent and future draft picks as the Philadelphia 76ers. Except there is one HUGE difference between the two teams. One sits in fourth place in its conference, while the other has been called a “disgrace” by Pardon The Interruption’s Tony Kornheiser and an “embarrassment” by Stan Van Gundy, in 2014.
In fact, one can make an argument that the only team in a better rebuilding situation than Boston is Minnesota, thanks to their recent NBA Draft Lottery success that has yielded Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony Towns. But again, they hold the fourth-worst record in the NBA — coincidentally placing them one draft pick after the Celtics’ Brooklyn pick.
With an already crowded roster and an abundance of drafts picks in the future there is no way the Celtics can keep all of their players.
So the question becomes, what should they do?
Should they trade their veterans like Amir Johnson, Evan Turner or even Isaiah Thomas for more draft picks, or better quality picks?
Should they make a package worthy of capturing Demarcus Cousins?
Truth be told there is no definite answer. But there is possibility that shines most bright.
Assuming the Celtics were to keep all of their draft picks, and considering Jordan Mickey, R.J. Hunter, James Young and Terry Rozier are all in the future conversation as well, there is no way they can keep everybody. But the value of a top draft pick is unlimited.
Therefore the Celtics should look to trade a mix of players and draft picks, but NOT Brooklyn’s first rounder.
If Boston trades the Nets’ pick for Cousins, it will be a mistake.
First of all, Cousins does not make the Celtics the favorites to come out of the east. There is also no guarantee that it brings in another player. If the Celtics risk the future to gain Cousins and fail, and can then look back knowing they could have kept the draft pick, what if will start surrounding the franchise.
The possibility of having a Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram grow up in Brad Stevens’ system, with the likes of Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, James Young and etc. to the aide, is enough to lock in championships 18, 19, 20 and 21 by the time they all retire. That’s not even mentioning the possibility of improving through free agency and future draft picks.
Though they shouldn’t trade Brooklyn’s pick, they should look to trade the Mavericks or their own. As stated earlier, there is just no room on the roster. And with some select pending free agents, the Celtics could use one of those picks to improve on this year without sacrificing the future.
Next week we will divulge into realistic trade targets the Celtics should pursue that wouldn’t require Brooklyn’s pick. Until then, here is a sneak peak at the first possibility:
Celtics trade: Jonas Jerebko, David Lee and the Mavericks/Boston first round pick (trading the better of the two picks)
Celtics receive: Joe Johnson.
Why Celtics win trade: As we discussed, the one draft pick won’t have room on the team, and Lee and Jerebko are most likely not going to be key pieces on a future championship team. So they practically give up nothing. In return, they receive a closer, which the team has lacked this season. And as an additional small bonus, the trade makes this year’s Nets team a little worse, and therefore the Celtics chances at Simmons or Ingram, that much higher.
Why Nets win trade: The Joe Johnson project has been an absolute failure, as far as Brooklyn is concerned. He is an unrestricted free agent and will most likely be leaving the team this summer. To make the trade work for salaries, Lee must be traded in return. As a pending free agent, this does no harm to Brooklyn. In addition, they receive Jerebko, not a great piece but a solid player compared to their current roster. And the Nets also receive a first round draft pick, which they desperately need. And to those who say “the Nets won’t trade with Boston unless it’s for their own pick back.” I laugh at you. No franchise in sports would ever hurt their own chances to improve their roster just because of a grudge.
Read next week for more trade possibilities.
You can follow Brendan Feeney on Twitter at @feeney42.