Boston Celtics fans have been watching their team this season unsure of what to hope for. Wins have brought some joy, but losses are supposedly better for the future this season.
The NBA trade deadline is an interesting wrinkle in the weird, semi-directionless season Boston is in the midst of.
How much stock should they be putting into getting something accomplished by Feb. 20? Do they look to make a deal that makes them better or immediately worse?
These are all questions without a true answer right now, but as time goes on, the picture that should start to appear is a trade for a capable, starting NBA center. It will take a steep offer, but the Celtics should put quite a few eggs in the Greg Monroe basket.
Why not wait till the draft?
The 2014 NBA draft started off being viewed as this mammoth pot of gold at the end of a lengthy tanking rainbow. Since then, it has been periodically picked apart by college performances and rumors. The newest of which has Joel Embiid, the top center prospect in college hoops and the possible No. 1 pick, mulling the idea of remaining a Kansas Jayhawk for another year.
"I'm not even thinking about it right now," Embiid told ESPN's Jeff Goodman. "I'll make a decision after the season, but I'm definitely considering coming back to school."
Beyond Embiid, the top players in this proposed draft class are largley power forwards, wings and guards. Considering Boston's biggest immediate need is to find a rim-protector and a pick-and-roll offensive big, Embiid should be at the top of their list. However, the chances of getting him are slim.
For one, there is obviously the possibility he doesn't enter the draft. The second factor is that Boston likely isn't bad enough to get him if he does declare. DraftExpress.com has Embiid going first overall in their mock draft, as does B/R's very own Jonathan Wasserman. The currently fourth-worst Celtics would have just an 11.9-percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick.
However, with Rajon Rondo getting back in stride, a good head coach and a handful of other Celtics having career seasons, Boston could win their fair share of second-half games. That would sink their hopes of securing a top lottery pick, eliminating them from Embiid range.
That leaves the trade deadline as the team's only legitimate chance of landing that big. Luckily, the Celtics don't have the only roster that is a mess right now, and they could find a trading partner with their long list of future assets.
Why could the Pistons be interested in a deal with the Celtics?
The Detroit Pistons are not where they thought they'd be at this point. They made moves over the offseason to bring in experienced talent with the idea of winning right away. That, coupled with the explosion of second-year big Andre Drummond, should have yielded better than a 19-28 start.
However, that is where the Pistons sit right now, on the cusp of a No. 8 seed in the disturbing Eastern Conference playoff crawl.
The trio of high-priced free agent Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Drummond simply doesn't fit. Drummond and Monroe play an inside game, clogging the middle for possible guard penetration. The two have combined for just 23 field-goal attempts beyond nine feet this season, per NBA.com.
Smith just adds to the clutter that has been Detroit's offense this season. He shoots a lot from the perimeter, but he simply isn't effective outside the paint, where he is shooting 64.7 percent on 388 attempts. Three high-volume and high-minute interior scorers just don't mix well on a basketball court.
In order to salvage this season, and the larger acquisitions of Smith and Brandon Jennings, the Pistons could be greased into the idea of dealing Monroe.
Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News seems to think a trade is unlikely, but it is not out of the question. Pistons owner Tom Gore is definitely not pleased with the current state of things, which may put pressure on Joe Dumars and the organization to take some chances.
Monroe is a restricted free agent this summer, and he could require a hefty sum to be retained given the market for quality, young bigs. By dealing him at the trade deadline, Detroit can assure themselves of getting something in return for him. They will have plenty of money coming off the books this summer, but do they want to invest in both Monroe and Drummond over the long-term, with Smith's deal (four years, $54 million) increasingly difficult to move?
Dealing Monroe clears up that frontcourt logjam, allowing Drummond and Smith to operate a bit more freely with a slashing guard like Jennings. It would also presumably bring them back a piece they can use immediately on the wing, and it would assure them plenty of cap space to splash around in the summer's free-agent pool.
The Pistons' first-round pick in this highly-touted draft class is likely headed to the Charlotte Bobcats as a result of a past Corey Maggette trade. The pick is top-eight protected, but with the state of the Eastern Conference, Detroit should finish in the 12-16 range. If they're looking to get in on the June excitement, Danny Ainge has plenty of party favors he could send to the Palace at Auburn Hills.
Why could the Celtics be interested in a deal with the Pistons?
A 6'11" 23-year-old who has missed just three games in three-and-a-half years and is averaging 14.4 points and 8.9 rebounds while shooting 51.1 percent is potentially available. As a result, the Celtics and everyone else should be at least a little bit interested.
Furthermore, Monroe is a young center being forced to play power forward next to Drummond and still putting up quality numbers in somewhat limited minutes. In Boston, the center position is open for the taking.
Brandon Bass—though he may need to be included in a trade—is a very good mid-range shooter. Jared Sullinger has spent this entire season working on his face-up game on the perimeter. Both players would seemingly fit better with Monroe than Drummond and Smith.
Rondo has the skill to be an elite pick-and-roll player, something that works a lot better with a quality center with good hands to partner up with.
The rim-protecting defense isn't there with Monroe, but he won't be 24 years old until June. There is the capacity for him to learn how to become a better defender with some coaching.
The Celtics' gaping hole at center likely isn't going to be filled by the 2014 draft, unless Boston suddenly gets much worse. This summer's free-agent pool, beyond a restricted free agent like Monroe, is led by Spencer Hawes and Marcin Gortat at the center postion.
Going after Monroe now is a definite way to shore up the center spot for the Celtics in the future.
How it could happen?
The Celtics have a bevy of picks over the next few years that Ainge has been acquiring for just this reason.
They have two first-rounders set for the 2014 draft (their own and one of either the Brooklyn Nets' or Atlanta Hawks', depending on final records). Detroit will likely have none. Ainge could easily sweeten a deal of role players by including one of those first-rounders.
Boston's own pick in this situation is tough to part with considering it will likely be a top-five or top-10 choice, but this is a matter of need and finding a sure-thing. Monroe is a reasonably accomplished professional big man with a great many years of basketball ahead of him, while the aforementioned pick could turn out to produce anything from a future All-Star to a total bust.
The Pistons are set with their own picks beyond 2014, so they would likely prefer to get back into this upcoming first round instead of taking one of Boston's picks down the road.
In terms of real, physical assets, the Celtics feature the likes of Brandon Bass and Jeff Green at the forefront. Both are players who could help Detroit right away in a different method than Monroe.
With the Pistons, you are looking at quite literally the worst perimeter shooting team in the league. They are shooting 30.6 percent on 19.4 three-point attempts per game.
While his scorching December has cooled some, Green is shooting 35.9 percent on 4.2 threes per game—numbers Josh Smith dreams of. While the two are similar in stature and notoriety as high-flying athletes, Green plays a more typical small forward role, while Smith is much better off at the power forward position.
The Celtics would have a much easier time finding a wing player in their range of the draft to replace Green, rather than a center to build around. If they were to trade Green, the Celtics would likely be forced to play out the season with Gerald Wallace and Chris Johnson at the 3.
Bass is another trade candidate and could prove to have significant value as the first big off Detroit's bench. He provides a change-of-pace from the interior-oriented starting frontcourt. His mid-range game would periodically open things up in the paint.
Kris Humphries provides a sizable expiring contract, though that salary would be tough to match. Keith Bogans could provide additional salary relief with his non-guaranteed contract beyond this season. Do note that the Pistons have plenty of expiring money of their own, though.
Salary-wise, this deal is difficult to figure out. With restricted free agency on the way for Monroe, the teams could try for an extend-and-trade, which is a bit more restricting than a typical sign-and-trade and would net Monroe less money and Boston one less year of having him under contract.
Without that, Boston is looking at acquiring minimal salary from Monroe. He is making just $4.09 million this year, per BasketballInsiders.com, with a qualifying offer of $5.48 million for next season. Both Green and Bass make a decent amount more than that individually, per BasketballInsiders.com.
Boston does have a trade exception of $10.2 million from last summer's big Brooklyn deal, though it is up against the luxury tax as it is. This would only become a factor if the Pistons were looking to unload salary on the Celtics, which isn't likely in this type of deal.
The Pistons could also prove to be stubborn and continue to believe their roster will work itself out in time.
Ainge could be overlooking Monroe with his eyes set on another big. He could still be holding a candle for the failed Omer Asik deal or looking to cash-in again with Billy King by prying Brook Lopez from Brooklyn.
It is tough to put anything by Ainge at this point; he could still believe in the Celtics having a shot at Embiid or having the opportunity to pair the first-rounders and move up into Embiid range.
The potential deal
If we are to consider Monroe and Green to be roughly equal caliber players, albeit with different styles and positions, what is the four-year age difference worth?
Monroe's upcoming contract should be at least what Green's current deal is worth, making the effect their salaries will have on their respective teams similar. Monroe may present more value as a big man than Green as a wing as well.
With that and the age taken into account, is that difference worth a late first-round pick (Brooklyn/Atlanta) for the Celtics to give to Detroit?
Beyond that, some salary fodder would likely have to be tossed in on Detroit's part in lieu of an extend-and-trade. Say little-used wing Luigi Datome's $1.75 million, since Will Bynum ($2.79 million) is getting significant minutes.