Danny Ainge has spent the past few months sifting through the cooler at a Boston bait shop, trying to find the best choice for the Boston Celtics to stick on their hook and dangle to the sea of NBA traders.
Boston's recent run of eight wins in the past 12 games has tossed a small monkey wrench into Ainge's presumed plan of acquiring assets. The roster he put together, partially as an afterthought, is somehow winning games. Their 12-14 record would have them at the four or five seed in the Eastern Conference regardless of any division-winning shenanigans.
The monkey wrench has come to mean that Ainge may not know what his plan is. Previously, when the Celtics were predicted to be among the league's dregs, Ainge could work solely on selling off expiring contracts to teams looking for summer cap relief and role players to contenders needing depth.
However, with the Celtics rolling and an All-Star point guard on the verge of returning, could Ainge possibly change his tune? Instead of looking to sell off an asset or two to pick up another draft pick or make the team worse and increase their own odds of a high 2014 pick, Ainge could be a buyer. Is there a player out there Boston could acquire that would help Rajon Rondo and Co. make a playoff run?
Whether Ainge spends the next month trying to find a taker for one of his bad contracts or spinning the rotary to add an important piece, there are some great-looking worms in that Boston refrigerator.
With Jared Sullinger proving himself as an up-and-coming NBA player, with the potential to be very good down the line, Brandon Bass' season has been in the shadows.
The veteran power forward is having a very solid season in his own right, averaging 11.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. That is pretty close to the production he gave his first year in Boston, only now he isn't a defensive liability.
Bass has spent his time in Boston honing that part of his game. This year he has put forth that new skill with a renewed mid-range jumper, his longtime primary weapon. Those aspects have come together to form an excellent season.
However, when looking at the Celtics long-term, Bass may find his spot being squeezed out. He inked a three-year, $19.35 million contract prior to the 2012 season, when Boston was a contender and in a general place that is vastly different from where they are now. Sullinger is on his way to becoming a big-minute starter at power forward, and lottery pick Kelly Olynyk will get a fair shake backing him up for now, as Boston doesn't see the rookie as a full-time center.
Bass is a proven commodity, with 54 playoff games under his belt (31 starts) and has almost no negative baggage to his name. At under $7 million for this year and next, that is a desirable piece for a lot of contenders.
Has Jeff Green played well this season? Yes. Has he played well enough to become untouchable? No.
Green has taken another small, incremental step toward becoming an NBA star. In fact, he has gotten to the point where trading him would be a tough blow to Boston. However, as things stand now, there are deals out there that would make it worth the Celtics' while to ship him off.
The tough thing about losing Green in a trade is how much he means to Boston's offense right now. He leads the team with 16.5 points per game and is shooting a nifty 40.6 percent from beyond the arc. Taking him out of the offense, as he sometimes does himself, would make it tough to win. Gerald Wallace isn't doing much to fill that void, meaning a small forward would almost have to come back in a trade.
Dealing Green for a defensive player like Omer Asik would really hinder Boston's offensive game. They would essentially remove two floor-spacing shooters, in Green and Bass, in order to have Asik start at center. When Rondo becomes another member of that starting five instead of Jordan Crawford, things get really scary.
Green as a trade piece is valuable to Ainge, and the Celtics' President of Basketball Operations is no fool. Boston's starting wing won't be easily parted with. The deal has to be right and would most likely get complicated with things like picks, trade exceptions and hopefully the pairing of Green with a bad contract.
If a team were willing to accept Wallace's or Keith Bogans' contract, they would be more likely to persuade Ainge into dealing a player in whom he has supreme confidence.
At this point, Jordan Crawford has played himself into quite a position.
Teams are looking at him in a whole different way than they were previously, when Boston picked him up for an inactive Leandro Barbosa and barely active Jason Collins. These days, it would take a much more impressive offer to pry Crawford loose of Boston's clutches.
He has run the offense spectacularly at times, and he has been one of Boston's more consistent scorers. He leads the team in scoring since the start of December, averaging 17.4 points per game. On the season, he is posting 13.7 points and 5.5 assists a night.
In the grand scheme of starting NBA point guards, he would still be considered mediocre, but in a more controlled environment, being the third guard on a contender could suit him. He does still love to shoot from all over, and that type of thing would be more appreciated in that role.
There was a recent rumor, coming out of Mitch Lawrence and the New York Daily News, that the Miami Heat would be interested in pursuing Crawford. However, the Heat have limited assets that Boston would be interested in at that level. They could perhaps swing it for one of Miami's acquired picks, as Ira Winderman stated in his recent Ask Ira blog for the Sun-Sentinel.
"What the Celtics want are picks, and the Heat do have that future, lottery-protected first-rounder from the 76ers that likely will turn into a pair of second-rounders. But that also might be too big of a chip (one of their few remaining draft chips) for the Heat to toss into any deal that doesn't allow them to offload salary."
The deal would have to be right for Crawford to be packaged up and shipped. He has earned that level of respect from Boston. However, with Rondo on his way back to sponge up minutes, Crawford's trade value will likely never be higher.
Entering the season, Courtney Lee was considered one of those Wallace/Bogans-type bad contracts.
After 18-of-37 three pointers and an overall 51.1 percent shooting clip, Lee has worked that contract number into the reasonable category. The way Lee is shooting, there isn't a team in the league that couldn't use him.
That $16.4 million he is owed is still a major commitment through 2015-16 and will definitely deter a large portion of teams, but there are still a number of organizations who could utilize Lee as a bench scorer, much like the Celtics have.
He is averaging 7.3 points in just 16.3 minutes per game. It would be tough to get fair value back for Lee in a one-for-one trade, because there aren't many productive players making similar money that a contender would part with. Instead, Lee would be a potentially valuable piece in a larger trade.
Top teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder could really stand to add some three-point shooting, so either a small side deal or three-team blockbuster could send Lee out of Boston.
Given the impending extensions of Rondo, Avery Bradley and now possibly Jordan Crawford, all with deals expiring before 2015-16, shedding every little bit helps.
Expiring Deals and Trade Exceptions
Even after excluding the possible qualifying offers due to Jordan Crawford and Avery Bradley, the Celtics hold a possible $18.76 million in expiring contracts.
Kris Humphries ($12 million) and MarShon Brooks ($1.21 million) are unrestricted free agents following this season. Keith Bogans ($5.06 million) and Phil Pressey ($490,000) hold non-guaranteed contracts for 2014-15. That is plenty of money freeing up that Danny Ainge can play with in his own personal trade machine.
Brooks and Bogans haven't gotten much of an opportunity to show themselves as trade bait beyond their contracts. Pressey at this point isn't an attractive asset because of his contract. It is minuscule enough that it wouldn't be a concern for any team. He is beginning to prove his worth as a backup point guard, but he still has a long way to go.
Humphries is the player to take away from this chapter of Boston's trade assets. He has actually been a sizable contributor in a handful of Celtics wins this season, coming off the bench to provide some extra physical size inside and a quick dose of capable offensive hands.
In Boston, with inexpensive youth seeming to be the direction, the highly paid almost-29-year-old wouldn't seem to be a long-term Celtic. There are other teams in the league that could use him as either a reserve big or expiring contract.
Teams like the Miami Heat and New York Knicks are supposed to be contenders but have incredibly weak rebounding games. Humphries could help there. Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling first brought up a possible Knicks-Humphries swap back in November.
"While Chandler recovers, Humphries could start at center for the Knicks, alongside Carmelo Anthony and Andrea Bargnani. Then he could be Chandler's sub," writes Zwerling. "Backup bigs are a dime a dozen, and Humphries fits that mold."
In return, Boston would presumably get other expiring contracts, a young asset or a pick. The Celtics also have more than $10 million in trade exceptions from the Paul Pierce deal and Fab Melo deal that could help eat up salary matching in a Humphries for a young asset or pick trade.
If Danny Ainge is looking to supplement his current roster instead of dismantling, he certainly has the picks to do so.
In 2014, they have their own first-round pick, along with a second first-rounder coming from either the Brooklyn Nets or Atlanta Hawks, whichever is less desirable. They owe their second-round pick to the Dallas Mavericks, courtesy of the Kelly Olynyk trade last summer.
The following year, Boston has their own two regular picks, as well as the Clippers' first-rounder, as a result of the recent Doc Rivers ordeal. They will also receive a second second-round pick, top-55 protected, from the Sacramento Kings in the Sam Cassel trade a few years ago.
In 2016, the Celtics have their own two regular picks, on top of Brooklyn's first-round selection. The 2017 draft will allow Boston to swap first-round picks with Brooklyn if they so chose, as well as bring another top-55 protected second-rounder from Sacramento, stemming from the Marquis Daniels trade.
The Nets finally finish paying up for this summer's Pierce and Kevin Garnett blockbuster in 2018, when they sacrifice another first-round pick to Boston.
So, instead of having the typical eight picks over the next four NBA drafts, the Celtics have 15 possible picks, eight first-rounders, during that time period, a full NBA roster's worth of incoming players.
That is plenty of assets for Ainge to play around with and use to attract other general managers. In the NBA, future picks are the lifeblood of the trade market, and Boston now has a lion's share.
Going along with the idea of supplementing, these picks are extremely useful in tempting a rebuilding organization to part with an established, but young asset. This would be a player like Gordon Hayward of the Utah Jazz or Spencer Hawes of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Other than that, one would expect players like Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley to be on the more untouchable side. Rondo is obviously a proven star on an inexpensive contract for another year. The others are young players Boston will want to experience in-house for a while.
There are deals out there to be made, and Danny Ainge has the guts to pull the trigger. He's shipped away fan favorites from Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins. If the right fish comes along and takes a bite at one of his pieces of bait, Ainge is more likely to hook 'em and cook 'em than catch-and-release.
All salary information used courtesy of HoopsWorld.com.