As the NBA trade deadline quickly approaches, Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge appears content on keeping his roster the same. However, the team’s recent play suggests that making a move is almost a necessity.
Otherwise, Ainge and the Celtics could be left watching the postseason from their couches for the first time since 2007.
Although Boston reeled off a season-high winning streak of six games, there was one issue that kept pestering the team: A glaring hole in their interior defense.
On Wednesday night, it finally caught up with them.
The New Orleans Hornets compiled 48 points in the paint and grabbed 48 rebounds on their way to a 90-78 victory. It marked the team’s sixth victory in their last seven games, while also throwing a wet towel on the Celtics’ hot streak.
But most importantly, it highlighted what has become a growing problem for Boston.
Over their last four games, the Celtics have allowed opponents 45 points in the paint per night. They have allowed 48 points or more in three of those games.
A lot of that has to do with their inability to protect the rim this season.
Boston currently ranks last in the league, averaging 38.7 rebounds per game. It also ranks No. 26 in the league in blocks, averaging just 4.1 per game.
Needless to say, the team needs to bring in a player who can step in and become a defensive force in the paint for them.
That player could be the Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith.
Why It Could Happen
Back in June, the rumor mill heated up about the possibility that Smith could be on his way to the Celtics. However, that news quickly fizzled out.
But due to recent events, a possible deal could just as quickly become a hot topic again.
After Smith was kicked out of the team’s Jan. 15 practice, the Hawks announced that they would be suspending the 27-year-old one game for “conduct detrimental to the team.”
— NBA (@NBA_TeamSNYD) January 16, 2013
In his initial reaction to the news, Smith seemed to understand where the team was coming from:
Clearly I am competitive and was frustrated by our recent losses. I understand and respect the team’s actions and just want to get back on the court to do whatever is necessary to help my teammates. I apologize for letting them down and apologize to our fans for not being available for tonight’s game.
However, Smith’s agent, Wallace Prather, flew in to speak with Atlanta GM Danny Ferry later that day.
According to CBS Sports’ Ken Berger, the discussion focused around Smith having “a lot of frustration” with the team’s recent lackluster form. The Hawks have lost six of their last eight games, including an embarrassing 97-58 defeat to the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 14.
Although Prather stopped short of making a trade request, he did note that “there are teams interested.”
With Smith in the final year of a five-year, $58 million deal—he’s owed $13.2 million this season—Atlanta will be inclined to deal their embattled superstar before the Feb. 21 deadline. The last thing Ferry wants is to watch Smith walk away during the offseason for nothing in return.
Several executives around the league have confirmed that the Hawks have engaged in trade talks regarding Smith. The Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are the likeliest landing spots.
But what about Boston?
Although Ainge does not see the need to make a change, ESPN’s Chad Ford reports that Celtics executives believe “everything is on the table.”
Besides, who could forget that Rajon Rondo and Smith are apparently “homeboys?"
All jokes aside, there’s a strong possibility that talks between Smith and Boston could pick back up again.
Reasons It Would Work
Through 35 games this season, Smith is averaging 16.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.3 blocks per game in 34.8 minutes a night. He is the definition of a player who can truly do it all.
Take for instance his performance against the Hornets on Jan. 1.
In 37 minutes, Smith netted 23 points, to go along with 13 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and four blocks. He shot 11-of-20 (55 percent) from the field and was an instrumental part of Atlanta’s 95-86 victory.
As of now, Rondo is the only player on the Celtics who possesses such all-around talent.
Not to mention, Smith’s prowess in both rebounding and blocking would provide a significant improvement to Boston. They currently rank near the bottom of the league in both categories.
Furthermore, the addition of Smith would take away some of the defensive burden that Kevin Garnett has been shouldering thus far this year.
Through 38 games this season, the Celtics have allowed an average of 100.8 points per 100 possessions while Garnett has been on the floor. That number inflates to 110.9 points per 100 possessions when he steps off the court.
That’s where Smith’s defensive talents would come into play.
Over his 35 games this year, opponents average a PER of just 7.6 against Smith. Furthermore, they have only shot 43.1 percent from the field.
It all adds up to Smith being the perfect player to bring into Boston’s system.
Trades to Consider
So which players could the Celtics offer up in return?
One possibility involves giving up Jeff Green, Courtney Lee and Chris Wilcox.
Green would provide the Hawks with another versatile forward. Much like Smith, Green also has proven to have a tendency for throwing down those momentum-building dunks. He would surely thrive in a environment that would likely see him named a starter.
Lee, who has significantly raised his level of play lately, gives Atlanta a defensive-minded guard who can also shoot the basketball. With Kyle Korver as their starting shooting guard—10.3 points per game on 43.3 percent shooting—it would not be too much of a stretch to think that Lee could work his way into the starting lineup.
Wilcox would simply provide the Hawks with another solid big man off the bench.
While losing Green hurts, gaining Smith in the process more than makes up for it.
With Bradley’s return, Boston’s depth at guard has grown, making Lee expendable. Not to mention, Leandro Barbosa would benefit from receiving more playing time. He’s displayed a nice little spark over the few minutes of action he’s seen lately.
Then of course, with Jared Sullinger emerging as a significant contributor at forward, getting rid of Wilcox should not effect the team at all.
Another option calls for a three-team deal including the Phoenix Suns.
The Celtics receive Smith and Diante Garett (filler), Atlanta receives Marcin Gortat and the Suns receive Lee, Brandon Bass and Fab Melo.
Gortat would provide the Hawks with essentially everything they were losing with Smith on the defensive end. It would also allow Al Horford to make the move to power forward, where he’s looked more comfortable and proven to be more productive.
Phoenix would get the relief of not having to lose for nothing Gortat via free agency. They also get two solid role players in Bass and Lee, as well as a promising young center in Melo. It could be a beneficial move for a team obviously in the midst of rebuilding.
Boston gets the man they want, while also getting to hold on to fan-favorite Green.
They will lose a starter in Bass, but it only opens the door for Sullinger to finally get his deserved spot in the starting lineup. With Wilcox back, depth at the position should not be a concern, either.
While Melo has shown progress in the D-League, his departure should not cause the Celtics to flinch. However, it might cost them a future draft pick or two to get the Suns to bite on such a deal.
Finally, another deal involves a controversial, straight-up swap between the two teams.
It would involve the Celtics parting ways with captain Paul Pierce.
Pierce would provide the Hawks with a consistent source of offense—19.4 points per game—while also giving them an experienced veteran presence inside the locker room. He could be just what the team needs to turn their fortunes around.
On the other hand, the move comes with its ups and downs for Boston.
The positive is that the deal would release the team from the $15.3 million they owe Pierce in 2013-14. Plus, how lethal would a starting five of Rondo, Avery Bradley, Smith, Sullinger and Garnett look?
However, on the negative side, the team loses their most loyal, hardworking player and essentially the face of their franchise. It’s a move that could send tremors throughout the locker room, possibly even upsetting Rondo and Garnett.
Not to mention, it would require the Celtics to rediscover the chemistry that took them just over 30 games to find.
Personally, I would not be a fan of the move, as it comes with too many downsides.
Summing It All Up
While it’s clear that Ainge needs to bring aboard a new addition before the upcoming deadline, it’s still unclear on just how much he should be willing to spend.
Should he pursue a low-cost, low-risk option such as Kenyon Martin or Greg Oden? Or is it vital that he chases a blockbuster deal to reignite Boston’s hopes for another championship?
If you ask me, if bringing in Smith would cost the Celtics too much (i.e. Pierce, future draft picks, etc.), I would much rather see Ainge take a gamble on the aforementioned Martin or Oden.
However, if Boston can swing a deal for Smith at a relatively decent price; I’m all for it.
Smith could be just the player who could take this team to the next level.
He could be the difference between banner No. 18 and yet another solid postseason run.
Your move, Ainge.
All stats used in this article are accurate as of January 17, 2013
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