While most active teams around the trade deadline are looking to add one more piece to put themselves into the championship conversation or offload a bad contract for some future cap space, the Boston Celtics are in the unique position of hoping that a trade will actually make them worse.
The 2014 draft class hasn’t looked quite as stellar as it seemed before the college season began, but there is still quite a bit of star power, and the C’s, currently sitting at 12th in the Eastern Conference, are desperate for more top-flight talent.
Boston has been competitive in most of its games this year, but even with Rajon Rondo back and playing like his old self, the talent gap between the Celts and the league’s better squads is undeniable.
Jared Sullinger, averaging 13.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists on 44 percent shooting, is having a breakout season, and Avery Bradley is coming into his own as an offensive player, but even Brad Stevens’ meticulous game-planning has not been able to keep Boston from being anything more than an also-ran in a subpar Atlantic Division.
With that in mind, the C’s quite clearly need to get worse in the short term before they can get meaningfully better in the long term.
Granted, they’ve had some bad injury luck and also made two trades aimed at fixing their cap situation and lowering their win total, but Boston is not quite as bad as it needs to be to secure a high lottery pick in June.
Veteran rotation guys like Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries are playing just decently enough for the C’s to eek out some victories, but it’s not as if any of them are going to be franchise cornerstones for the next five or six seasons.
While a team is never truly out of it in the horrendous Eastern Conference, it’s safe to assume the C’s will be sellers, not buyers at the trade deadline.
Dealing a Vet
The C’s roster still boasts leftover talent from their days as a title contender, and in order to transition into the franchise’s next era of basketball, they are going to have to let them go.
Bass is averaging a decent 10.8 points, 5.8 boards and 1.2 assists on 47.5 percent shooting, but he has already reached his ceiling as a player and, at this point, is taking up valuable developmental minutes for Sully and Kelly Olynyk.
His offensive game has improved, and he is now more of a threat off the dribble, but he is still being asked to do far more offensively than he would on a true contender—and his defense has slipped as a result.
Bass is holding opposing centers to a solid PER of 10.5, but at power forward, where he plays most of his minutes, opponents are at 16.6, per 82Games.
He is due a hefty $6.9 million in 2014-15, per Hoops Hype, but could make an ideal third big man for a team that is vying for the playoffs, like the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers or Dallas Mavericks.
Wallace has had a turbulent year, but he has been playing better as of late (including a near triple-double against the Sacramento Kings).
His paltry averages of 4.7 points, 3.6 boards and 2.5 assists mean it will be nearly impossible to deal him without some significant assets, but Boston must find some way to get out from under his cumbersome contract.
Taking on Wallace was the price the Celts had to pay for three unprotected first-rounders, and it was certainly a fair price, but it simply does not make sense for them to keep a player with a 9.78 PER around until 2016.
He has had some nice moments as a secondary facilitator and a wing defender, but rerouting “Crash” and either a first-round pick or a young asset to another team simply makes too much sense if the opportunity presents itself.
As for Humphries, he has looked excellent at times, shooting the mid-range jumper with confidence, scrapping on the boards and playing solid position defense.
His averages of 7.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and one block on 50 percent shooting don’t exactly jump off the screen, but he has been a very effective, efficient player, and his 17.99 PER can attest to that.
He has been lethal in the pick-and-roll, shooting 50 percent, and is also holding opponents to just 38.1 percent shooting overall, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).
The problem is that Humphries is earning $12 million in 2013-14, per Hoops Hype, a figure that makes him nearly impossible to move unless it is for another expiring deal like Danny Granger.
Humphries may want to re-sign, according to The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn, and he has certainly played well under Stevens. But if an offer that nets the C’s a young asset is presented, it would be hard to turn it down.
Now that he is finally looking like his All-Star self, expect the Rondo trade rumors to once again kick into full gear.
After showing some expected rust in the early going, Rondo has strung together three straight strong games, including a 15-point, eight-board, 12-assist night against Dallas.
He’s still shooting poorly from the field, but he seems more confident in his three-pointer and is beginning to regain his blow-by speed that makes him such a nightmare to contain.
Let’s not underrate the fact that Rondo has managed three double-digit-assist games with fairly subpar talent around him, proving that he is still capable of making his teammates better even if they aren’t All-Star-caliber.
Jeff Green has looked much improved since Rondo returned, and the team’s 25th-ranked offense (95.0 points per game) has shown some signs of life.
Obviously his 39.1 percent mark from the field and 29.2 percent from three are unacceptable, but he is holding opposing point guards to a decent PER of 14.6, per 82Games, and both his shot and defense will improve as the season continues.
Sam Amick of USA Today recently wrote that the New York Knicks are still hoping to snag Rondo, and while that is highly unlikely, it speaks to the overall trade interest in the C’s superstar point guard.
Rondo is owed just $12.9 million in 2014-15, per Hoops Hype, a number far below what he is worth when playing his best. If the C’s really want to get good value for him, they should look to trade him soon while there is still significant meat on his contract.
However, the C’s may want to keep Rondo long-term, if this Tweet from Toucher and Rich is any indication:
Danny Ainge just told us that they offered Rondo an extension, and stated that Rondo would be paid star money.— Toucher and Rich (@Toucherandrich) January 23, 2014
It’s a tough call right now, but if the C’s really want to go all-out for the No. 1 pick, they could always deal their superstar point guard.
After dealing Jordan Crawford, MarShon Brooks and Courtney Lee, the C’s are running low on easily movable contracts, and they are likely unwilling to give up too many future assets at the trade deadline this season.
Unless a player like Kevin Love unexpectedly becomes available for less than expected, Boston will likely look only to make moves that make them worse going forward, and those will either likely be dealing Rondo or dealing some of their rotation veterans.
Boston has a few young players that deserve extended run, as well as an important contract decision to make about Bradley, so they could simply up the minutes of their younger guns while dialing back the run that Bass, Humphries and Wallace get regularly.
Danny Ainge and the Celtics’ front office have shown that they are willing to wait out deals and not jump at the first decent offer—meaning that it is a very real possibility they simply let the deadline pass if a deal does not materialize to their liking.
I wouldn’t say it’s likely, but after making two midseason deals, it is possible the Celtics just let the deadline pass quietly.
It simply makes too much sense for the Celtics to deal a player like Bass or Humphries for it not to happen.
Boston is not concerned with getting completely fair value if they can offload a contract and make the 2013-14 team worse, and it’s safe to say that at least someone will be interested in taking on one of the C’s veterans in time for a playoff run.
Dealing Rondo may be excessive right now, and his value could actually be improved if he is healthy and 100 percent by the time the offseason rolls around. But for the Celtics to cement their bottom-feeder status they need to make one more deal.
As the draft draws closer, teams with no playoff hopes will begin pulling all kinds of shady moves to lose games, but the Celts can get a jump on it by making a deal geared at losing now.
Their roster is currently stuck in the awkward stage between outright tanking and trying to win games, and a savvy trade could be the difference between landing Rodney Hood and getting a decade of Andrew Wiggins in green.