The current Boston Celtics roster is almost certainly not the one that will take the floor for the start of the season in late October. Though Celtics fans have largely lived in a catatonic daze since the reality of the Nets trade set in, general manager Danny Ainge does not have the luxury of settling in.
Even with Shavlik Randolph's release, the Celtics still have roughly $72.5 million committed to 15 players, according to Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston. That leaves them slightly over the $71.75 luxury tax line, which the team has until the end of the season to get under.
Boston has no incentive to pay a tax for a team that, in all likelihood, will not fare well next year. Thus, gaining salary flexibility is as important a consideration in any trade as young talent and draft picks are. After all, assets and picks were the catalysts that turned the Celtics into contenders in the first place.
With that long-term vision in mind, here are three potential trades that, at least on paper, could make sense.
Trade 1: Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and Courtney Lee for Gordon Hayward and Marvin Williams' expiring contract
In this scenario, the Celtics would have to utilize about $1.8 million of the $10.27 million trade exception they acquired during the Nets trade. But there's been some speculation about Hayward since the Celtics' hire of Brad Stevens, who also added ex-Butler guard and Hayward teammate Ronald Nored to his coaching staff.
As much as C's fans love Bradley's stifling on-ball defense and Sullinger's post offense, Hayward is undoubtedly the best player in this deal. Consequently, it would probably cost Boston both players to nab Hayward, who the Jazz likely consider a long-term building block.
However, there is little doubt that Hayward would fit beautifully in the Boston offense. Some may think of Hayward as purely a shooter, which his 50.1 percent eFG percentage certainly belies. But what separates Hayward from typical spot-up shooters is his sneaky athleticism, especially when driving to the hoop.
When watching some of his highlights from last season, the upside of his offensive arsenal becomes tantalizing.
Last season, Hayward's 16.81 PER was eighth among shooting guards, according to John Hollinger's metrics. However, every single player ahead of Hayward was over the age of 30 except James Harden and J.R. Smith, reflecting the impending league-wide scarcity at the position. As such, Hayward holds a little extra value for positional scarcity, almost like a baseball shortstop who can hit for power.
Any Hayward trade will not happen this offseason, as the Jazz are reportedly discussing contract extensions for him and Derrick Favors, per Jody Genessy of the Deseret News. However, if neither are signed, both would enter restricted free agency. If that happens, it opens the door for a possible sign-and-trade, like what occurred with Brandon Jennings and the Pistons.
Either way, nine restricted free agents have already left this summer, so while there exists a perception that they are difficult to pry away, it is certainly not impossible. Some Celtics fans might balk at the notion of giving up their two best young players, but Hayward is the type of budding star who would be worth such a price tag.
Trade 2: Brandon Bass for Ed Davis and a second-round pick
Of all the Celtics' mid-level contracts, Bass seems most likely to move. He has a defined useful skill set, namely is ability to consistently hit mid-range jumpers at an elite level. Moreover, his competitive one-on-one defense against Carmelo Anthony this past postseason proved that Bass is not simply an all-offense forward, despite his height disadvantage against most fours.
Of all the teams in the NBA, the Grizzlies are the perfect fit for Bass. Last season, the Grizzlies' offensive rating of 101.7 points per 100 possessions was worse than all but two Western Conference teams. Much of their struggles stemmed from their lack of spacing, as detailed wonderfully by Beckley Mason of ESPN's True Hoop blog. Though Memphis signed Mike Miller, they could still use some more shooting.
Even disregarding the important salary savings, Davis is the type of young, high-upside player the Celtics should seek to acquire, given Stevens' sterling reputation in player development. After coming over in the Rudy Gay trade, Davis only saw about 15 minutes per game as the fourth big man. Nonetheless, there are still some enticing skills that show why Davis was a lottery pick back in 2010.
For instance, with Davis on the court, Memphis' already excellent defensive rating improved from 98.7 to 94.8 points per 100 possessions. Indeed, of the Grizzlies' 25 most common lineup combinations last season, Davis was present in two of the three best defensive ones. Davis has demonstrated consistent rebounding and blocking skills throughout his career, as evidenced by his career per-36 minute totals.
Offensively, Davis is much less effective. While not a terrible mid-range shooter, checking in at 39.6 percent on 111 attempts last season, he has virtually no post game. Looking at his shot chart from last year, it appears Davis was reluctant to shoot unless he was right around the hoop:
To account for the salary differences, Memphis has over $12 million in trade exceptions, which do not expire until January of next season. Adding Bass' extra $3.3 million would actually take the Grizz a smidgen over the dreaded luxury tax line, so they might ship out a small contract in such a deal.
Bass' contract is also for two seasons, and the Grizzlies' books are crowded with already $61.8 million owed next season, albeit to 12 players.
As for a potential pick, the Grizzlies do not own a second-rounder until 2016, according to Pro Sports Transactions.com, and it seems doubtful they'd agree to sacrifice a first. That's a secondary concern, and Memphis could probably acquire one easily if the Celtics so insisted. But if the Grizzlies can figure out their cap concerns, this seems like the simplest and most mutually beneficial deal for both teams.
Trade 3: Rajon Rondo and Gerald Wallace for Ben McLemore, Greivis Vasquez, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, and 2016 first-round pick
First off, this is not a deal Ainge should consider this offseason. All signs are that Rondo will stay in Boston and start the season a Celtic, leading the team into the post-Big Three era.
But it is not hard to imagine Rondo's mercurial personality taking a turn for the worse (what if the team insisted that he slow down his return from ACL rehab?), so Ainge should be prepared in case he needs to flip his greatest asset. If it ever comes to that, Boston could not do much better than this.
This deal might look familiar, as it's essentially a modified form of the one Bill Simmons has suggested. McLemore is the obvious prize of the package, arguably the surest future All-Star from this year's lamentable draft class. If the Celtics were to tank completely, he is exactly the type of building block that could allow Boston to replicate the Thunder model of rebuilding.
There was a lot of hubbub over McLemore's poor summer league performance, in which he shot a grisly 33 percent and somehow played 150 minutes without recording a single assist. But McLemore was playing out of his zone, attempting to create shots for himself to shed the perception that he can be a bit passive.
In reality, McLemore is an efficient scorer who produces within the flow of the offense. That has never really been a bad thing, and McLemore may still become a shot creator if he improves his ball-handling. Still, McLemore's shooting splits were 49/42/87 in his lone college season, just a smidgen below the hallowed 50/40/90 club.
Besides acquiring McLemore, dumping Gerald Wallace's albatross would be nearly as important a victory. The C's cannot trade Wallace (or any of the ex-Nets) in deals involving multiple players until September 12, but you can bet that the 31-year-old would be a poison pill attachment to any potential Rondo deal.
Depending on how the Celtics manage options, Wallace could account for up to a quarter of Boston's salary commitments over the next two seasons, a truly depressing fact when you see this:
As for the other components of this deal, Vasquez would be a nice secondary prize. Vasquez had the fifth-highest assist rate last season, according to HoopData, illustrating his ascent as one of the league's better passing point guards. His presence on the Kings' roster would be redundant, and his ability to create shots for others dovetails nicely with McLemore's game.
Salmons and Thornton have somewhat onerous contracts, but neither is a long-term commitment. Only $1 million of Salmons' salary is guaranteed after next season, according to Basketball-Reference, so he's effectively an expiring contract. Thornton has about $16.6 million guaranteed over the next two years, but that's a considerable improvement from Wallace.
Ultimately, this would be the rare type of trade that is equally debilitating and rejuvenating. No Celtics fan really wants to lose Rondo, but if necessary, this would provide the best potential for championship contention in the reasonably near future.
*Unless otherwise cited, all stats courtesy NBA.com, and all salary data courtesy ShamSports.com
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