After a quiet first week of free agency in which the Celtics’ only move was to bring back shooting guard Avery Bradley, "Trader Danny" got back to action on Wednesday.
According to a report from Marc Stein of ESPN.com, Danny Ainge's impending acquisition of Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton and a future protected first-round pick from Cleveland might require giving the team’s president of basketball operations a new nickname. "Patient Danny" would be a better fit after this move.
Ainge's willingness to wait out the trade market helped the Celtics land a couple decent assets in a three-team deal with the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers. The cost to Boston is merely taking on a bad contract (Thornton earns $8.6 million next season).
For all of the moaning and groaning about the Celtics' lack of activity at the trade deadline or on draft night in June, this is the kind of opportunity Ainge was waiting for since acquiring a $10.4 million trade exception last July in the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett blockbuster trade.
Ainge kept that exception as a trade chip in his back pocket for a situation like the one that is unfolding in Cleveland right now. The Cavs needed to clear salary cap room in order to be able to offer LeBron James a max contract (if he elects to return).
Jarrett Jack was the salary the Cavs were looking to dump, and Cleveland found a taker in Brooklyn for the overpaid guard. In order for the Cavs to maintain the salary cap space they needed, a third team had to get involved, a squad that was willing and able to absorb some Brooklyn salary right away without sending any money back in return.
There are very few NBA teams with the ability to take on a big contract right now in a one-sided trade, and even fewer teams that would be willing to do so at this stage of the offseason. With the Cavs seemingly still hopeful they can land James, according to a report from Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Ainge took advantage of Cleveland’s dire circumstance and pounced to pick up some more assets in the form of Zeller and a future first-round pick.
This kind of trade probably wasn’t the top option for Ainge. He likely had hopes of landing a key contributor at the start of this offseason via a sign-and-trade, but a competitive open market washed away those hopes. The Celtics only had until July 12 to use the trade exception before it expired, so the team couldn’t afford to wait it out much longer, making the timing of this move pretty perfect from their perspective.
The bigger question now: What comes next? The Celtics have added to their long list of trade assets. They have nine first-round picks over the next five years, even after using two first rounders in the 2014 NBA draft. Thornton is a shooter and an expiring contract. Zeller is a modest, young 7-footer on a cheap contract who should be a solid rotation player in the frontcourt for most teams.
Do bringing those pieces aboard help Boston’s chances of landing Kevin Love or another significant player this offseason? Not in a big way, but they push the needle slightly. It gives the Celtics another pick to include in any proposal as they search for “creative” ways to appease the Wolves' potential trade demands for Love as was reported by Wojnarowski over the weekend.
It’s unclear whether this is just the first in a string of moves for the Celtics this summer to improve quickly, or if they are content to keep stockpiling assets for one more season. Either way, Ainge made a favorable trade here that makes Boston’s future even brighter.