Boston Celtics leader Danny Ainge is throwing a party in 2014-15, and the first step towards a successful event is shopping. Stores are open until the 2014 trade deadline on Feb. 20.
The party currently going on at TD Garden is a bit short-staffed and low-class, so Ainge's shopping list has quite a few items on it. Unfortunately, as with a lot of party hosts, Ainge's Celtics are on a pretty strict budget and don't want to risk their long-term flexibility.
Ainge isn't looking for a one-and-done event. The goal is to build a sustainable product that will keep people coming back for more and have his team competitive for years to come.
There are a couple things to keep in mind on this shopping trip. It is always important to not overvalue your own assets. If bartering with another host, one must be realistic. The Celtics also have $10.5 million in trade exception coupons that expire over the offseason. Ainge will try to use those up before the deadline.
Boston also has to weigh in the probability of re-signing their own assets. They want to reach an agreement with Avery Bradley to return, but it will likely cost $8 million per year, around $5 million more than he is currently making.
Aisle One: Upgrade Small Forward
Ainge and the Celtics have to rapidly be coming to the decision that Jeff Green isn't going to cut it as a main option on a winning team. He had a real shot this year to raise himself to another level around the league but has not answered the bell.
That was reinforced once again with a 2-of-10 shooting performance against the defensively lackluster Houston Rockets. He can look superb for stretches and even complete games, but consistently, he isn't much more than a 15-points per game scorer with one highlight dunk. He isn't assertive enough on a consistent basis to be a viable leader on a winning NBA team, and Ainge needs to realize this and attempt to upgrade.
One option that has been floated around, most notable by Grantland's Bill Simmons, is Gordon Hayward. The Utah Jazz wing was put into a similar situation to Green's this year, with a down-trodden team and the opportunity to take on a lot of opportunity and put up some inflated numbers.
The difference is Hayward took advantage of that situation, while Green has remained status quo. Hayward is averaging 17.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game, all better numbers than Green. He isn't shooting at a great clip, 41.5 percent from the field and 31.7 from beyond the arc, but part of that is the workload.
Hayward obviously also has the college connection with first-year Boston head coach Brad Stevens. While Green and Stevens haven't totally butted heads, there have been a few incidents and fourth-quarter benchings this season.
The bigger benefit of having Stevens with the Celtics is convincing Hayward to sign in Boston for the long term. He is a restricted free agent at the end of 2013-14 and will probably demand a sizable pay bump north of Green's, which is roughly $9 million per year.
Ainge does have around $20 million in the expiring contracts of Kris Humphries ($12 million), Keith Bogans ($5 million), Jerryd Bayless ($3.1 million) and others to play with or clear room for Hayward's extension. He also has a bevvy of first-round picks, of which at least one would have to be sacrificed to convince Utah of parting ways with the 23-year-old.
Another possible option here would be Thaddeus Young of the Philadelphia 76ers. While trading within the division is always difficult, there are extenuating circumstances to consider. Bringing in Young would make the Celtics immediately better and probably make Philadelphia worse. That greatly increases their odds in the lottery this summer.
If the trade costs Boston one of their two first-rounders this coming June, it would be quite a haul for Philadelphia.
Aisle Two: Legitimate Center
Turning the corner on the wing position, Boston’s major need is a center. Boston has been playing the well-undersized duo of Brandon Bass and Humphries at the position for most minutes this season.
Because of Humphries’ and Jared Sullinger’s rebounding prowess, this hasn’t been a disaster for the team overall, but it is definitely a need worth addressing. Not having a legitimate seven-footer capable of playing real minutes in the paint, sorry Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk, limits what Boston can do defensively.
Sullinger has the talent to become a focal point on the interior offensively, but it would also help him to have a bigger guy to draw some coverage.
The obvious choice here is Houston Rockets big man Omer Asik, whom the Celtics nearly acquired about a month ago.
Asik is a top-line defensive center. The Celtics would immediately upgrade themselves by acquiring him. The cost was an issue at last juncture, when the teams presumably couldn't land on which first-round pick Houston would get along with Bass and Courtney Lee.
Lee has since been moved for Bayless. Though I'm sure Bayless or Jordan Crawford would be a worthy substitute in the deal. As the deadline gets closer and closer, the Rockets are going to be feeling a tad more pressure to deal Asik, who hasn't played since Dec. 2. They won't want to go into the postseason with dead weight on their bench when he could be easily flipped into assets that could help immediately.
If Houston chooses to keep Asik, though, as Sean Deveney of Sporting News wrote that one league executive told him, Ainge will have to move down the aisle.
“It is a tough sell to bring something like that to your owner,” the source told Deveney of Asik's salary. “You have got to tell him, 'We’re getting a pretty good player, an $8 million player. Oh, but we have to pay him $15 million'."
Joel Embiid has skyrocketed up the draft boards for this summer and will thus be tougher and tougher for the Celtics to get him in June. The rest of the upper class is mostly power forwards on down.
Other options on the trade market could include Anderson Varejao, who has a non-guaranteed deal for next season. Kosta Koufos is an intriguing younger option with the same non-guaranteed deal as Varejao down in Memphis. He could potentially blossom in the right situation.
Marcin Gortat and Spencer Hawes are on expiring deals with the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers. A long shot would be Chris Bosh, who will likely stick around with the Miami Heat for a big pay day.
Aisle Three: Upgrade Third Guard
With Rajon Rondo's assumed return this coming weekend, the Celtics will likely force Jordan Crawford to the bench and into the third guard role.
That may not be the best option for the Celtics moving forward. Crawford is a restricted free agent this summer and may not be around for next year anyway. Partly because of that and partly because he may not be best suited for that role, the Celtics should explore upgrading that spot.
Rajon Rondo is the point guard and is under contract for next season. Avery Bradley has proven his worth as a starting guard thus far and will get first chance to develop alongside Rondo for Stevens' eyes. However, Bradley is still primarily a defensive threat, with somewhat limited, though improving, offensive capabilities.
Boston should consider looking into a quality off-ball shooter, if any are available. This would give Stevens options when playing around with rotations and end-of-game scenarios. Crawford and Bayless are more ball-dominating guards who can shoot a little bit. That style won't mesh with Rondo.
One possibility is still Danny Granger. Since his mildly successful return from injury, though, the Pacers will have some leverage in negotiating a deal and could just be interested in keeping him and his expiring contract for their playoff run.
Other options could include Jamal Crawford, but the Celtics don't have a big who the Los Angeles Clippers are really craving right now.
The Los Angeles Lakers' Nick Young is another probable free-agent shooting guard Boston could go after before the deadline. He has endeared himself to the Lakers this year but might not be a long-term option in Los Angeles with Kobe Bryant set in stone.
Clearly, Danny Ainge still has a lot of shopping to do before the Feb. 20 deadline, and even more supply gathering to do over the summer. Boston has high hopes for this 2014-15 shindig, and some of these options are definitely in need of a price check.
Ainge's wallet is stuffed with future assets burning a hole in his pocket, so expect the Celtics to make some noise before David Stern puts up the closed sign on this season's trade market.