The Boston Celtics were a serious contender to secure home-court advantage in the playoffs following a convincing start, but they seem to have settled at the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Climbing back any further requires some urgency and reinforcements, and addressing some flaws ahead of the Feb. 18 trade deadline could help Boston overcome the razor-thin margin.
Just a month ago, Boston had an estimated 98.9 percent chance to make it to the postseason, per ESPN's playoff odds. That number had dropped to the mid-80s until the three-game winning streak pushed it back to 93.3 percent.
Consistency has been an issue, and while the Celtics have been competitive against most teams this year, a faltering offense is gasping for an infusion of creativity. Boston may not be able to get its hands on a superstar, but releasing the frontcourt logjam, preferably in favor of adding versatility on the wing, could solve some short-term struggles.
General manager Danny Ainge is a cautious negotiator, but there are players who should warrant his attention nonetheless.
Trading for Kevin Martin isn't exactly a flashy move, but he does possess tools which could help the Celtics.
Martin has practically no value to the Minnesota Timberwolves, as evidenced by his sporadic playing time this season. The Wolves would much rather pour all resources into its young players, rather than trying to cater to a veteran. Sam Amick of USA Today Sports suggests that Martin will definitely be up for grabs in the coming month:
"Minnesota is widely known to have Kevin on the trading block. The 32-year-old shooting guard still has some good basketball left in him, but the T-Wolves have Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, they have the young core they want at that position."
The biggest drawback to Martin, and one of the main reasons Minnesota hasn't managed to unload him yet, is his $7.3 million player option for next season. It's uncertain whether Martin will opt in, and it makes a major difference for teams trying to maintain cap flexibility heading into the summer.
That shouldn't be too big of an issue for the Celtics, who have only $34 million in guaranteed salary commitments for 2016-17, per Basketball Insiders. Even if Boston re-signs Jared Sullinger and absorbs Martin's contract, it will still be able to make big moves in free agency.
Martin's numbers might not be impressive this season, but he certainly has enough in the tank to contribute. He'd fit within head coach Brad Stevens' offense, running around off-ball screens and knocking down shots.
Martin shot 42.6 percent from long range in 2012-13 with the Oklahoma City Thunder, mostly spacing the floor with capable off-the-dribble creators around him. Boston takes the seventh-most threes in the league, yet ranks just 28th in accuracy this year. The Celtics create plenty of open looks and simply need marksmen to knock them down.
Boston could trade Jonas Jerebko straight-up for Martin, and it's a route worth exploring if nothing bigger materializes.
The New Orleans Pelicans' season hasn't turned out as planned, and there is a lingering chance that the team might move some pieces and give up on 2015-16. If so, Ryan Anderson could become available.
While the Pelicans aren't actively looking to trade anyone, the sense around the league appears to be that they aren't opposed to the notion, per Sean Deveney of Sporting News:
However, there is not a lot the Pelicans can do this season to significantly change the roster. They will have two contracts — guard Eric Gordon and forward Ryan Anderson — coming off the books this summer, and though Gentry shot down rumors of a possible Anderson trade this week, NBA executives expect that if the Pelicans make any major moves, it will be a trade of Anderson.
“He is really the only one that has value if you’re a playoff team,” one NBA executive said. “I wouldn’t say they’re shopping him, as far as I know, but I would say they’re listening [to offers].”
There is absolutely no doubt Anderson would bolster Boston's offense. He is the prototypical stretch-4 who would add plenty of versatility to the Celtics' frontcourt combinations. He would space the floor around Isaiah Thomas and Amir Johnson pick-and-rolls, while also providing Stevens with an option of fielding two shooting big men together with Kelly Olynyk.
The big caveat here would be the Pelicans' asking price. Anderson complements Anthony Davis, and New Orleans apparently has no interest in a long-term tanking plan. That lack of immediate urgency—combined with Ainge being a notoriously stingy negotiator—could make a potential deal tough to complete.
Anderson is on an expiring $8.5 million deal, and Ainge will never sacrifice a first-round pick for what could turn out to be a short-term rental. Even though the Pelicans might be somewhat hesitant to pay Anderson's next contract, they're not going to dump him for nothing, either.
Perhaps the two teams wouldn't be able to find reasonable middle ground, but there is enough incentive for Boston to at least reach out and explore the Pelicans' stance.
Brook Lopez and Greg Monroe
Boston should be willing to sacrifice some of its defensive ferocity if it entails a bump in the offensive department. Both Greg Monroe and Brook Lopez, while not superstars, could help in that regard.
It's important to preface any speculation with the fact that neither Lopez nor Monroe are being actively shopped by their respective teams, despite the wide guesswork about their availability in media.
The Brooklyn Nets are seemingly defying all logic and want to build around Lopez, even though cashing in on his value and rebuilding is the only logical path back to relevancy for the franchise. If the Nets reconsider their inherently flawed plan, Boston should consider reaching out.
Lopez has stayed healthy over the last two seasons, and he would give Boston's offense a boost. The Celtics could send David Lee, Tyler Zeller and a future first-round pick to Brooklyn, which would alleviate their own frontcourt logjam and bring in a legitimate go-to scorer.
Monroe is a similar player. He is an elite post-up big, albeit with a slightly inferior toolbox to that of Lopez. Monroe's pick-and-roll game hasn't been utilized to its full potential in Milwaukee, in huge part due to Michael Carter-Williams' shooting woes. A pairing with a speed demon like Thomas in Boston could be significantly more potent.
It might be too early for the Milwaukee Bucks to give up on their frontcourt experiment featuring Monroe, Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, ESPN.com's Zach Lowe pointed at the Celtics as a potential suitor if things don't get better in Milwaukee.
Trading for either guy is risky, but it's something the Celtics should explore if the possibility emerges. Ainge has publicly lamented Boston's lack of a go-to scorer, and both Monroe and Lopez can fill the gap.
All salary information is courtesy of Basketball Insiders.
All statistics are accurate as of Jan. 18.