6 Best Stars Boston Celtics Can Nab in Potential Trade to Pair with Rajon Rondo

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 16, 2014

6 Best Stars Boston Celtics Can Nab in Potential Trade to Pair with Rajon Rondo

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    Turns out the Boston Celtics don't have to continue tanking or trade Rajon Rondo after all.

    After completing a three-team trade with the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat that was first reported by Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Celtics are giving the term "flexibility" a whole new meaning. 

    As ESPN Insider Tom Haberstroh points out, Boston has amassed more future first-round draft picks than a few unfortunate souls have fingers. Their first-round selection outlook is as follows:

    Why yes, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge knows how to pilot a rebuild. He's also on record as downplaying this year's draft class.

    "If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was out there to change your franchise forever, or Tim Duncan was going to change your franchise for 15 years? That might be a different story," Ainge explained in September, via Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen. "I don't see that player out there."

    If true, that means Ainge and the Celtics should be open to obtaining franchise-altering talent now, using their collection of first-rounders as primary bait. 

    Rondo is set to make his return, and while some like ESPN's Chad Ford say Ainge intends to trade him, he also has the option of building around him. Now.

    With so many draft picks locked up in their cupboard, the Celtics are capable of turning a tanker into an immediate winner. Think of the possibilities.

    No, seriously, let's think about them.

    *Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted. 

    **Salary and draft pick information obtained via ShamSports and RealGM unless otherwise specified.

Eric Gordon, New Orleans Pelicans

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    This is one of those selections that makes you wonder if we're too liberal with the word "star," but given his scoring ability and general ceiling when healthy, Eric Gordon must be considered one.

    What's more is he's actually available. Injuries to Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson have prompted the New Orleans Pelicans to shop Gordon once again, according to The Sporting News' Sean Deveney.

    Dealing Gordon puts the Pellies in essential tank mode, a more-than-dangerous game considering their first-round pick is headed to the Sixers and is only top-five protected. But that pick is likely headed to Philly either way. Trading Gordon gives them a better chance at landing a top-five selection and retaining it.

    Moreover, squeezing an actual draft pick out of Boston would ensure New Orleans won't be watching from the sidelines as teams pillage through a wildly deep 2014 draft class. The Celtics could be willing to part with that Brooklyn pick if it meant bringing in a scorer like Gordon.

    Next to Rondo, who would easily be the best point guard he's played with, Gordon's offensive value could skyrocket. Boston could also use a high-scoring guard after shipping Jordan Crawford to the Warriors.

    Frequent injuries could deter any interest on Boston's behalf, but at only 25, Gordon would be an interesting addition if the Celtics are looking to move forward with Rondo as their primary building block.

Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons

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    Someone has to go for the Detroit Pistons, and if I'm the Celtics, I'm hoping it's Greg Monroe.

    Josh Smith seems like the obvious choice because of his bloated contract and ties to Rondo, but the last thing Boston should do is link itself to an expensive stretch forward who, you know, doesn't actually stretch defenses.

    Monroe is a more realistic target because he becomes a restricted free agent this summer anyway. Sending him to Boston opens up Detroit's offense, allowing Smith to work almost exclusively off the block where he's most effective.

    The Pistons are also awful, worse than any team with a $61.9 million payroll should be. Nabbing an extra pick in this year's draft—the Brooklyn selection, perhaps—or a later one gives them some flexibility in terms of direction.

    Any reluctance on Boston's part will stem from Monroe's contract situation. Ainge may not feel completely comfortable forking over a first-round pick for a player he isn't guaranteed to keep.

    At the same time, the Celtics can match any offer he receives, so the risk is minimal if they actually want him. And while the Detroit Free Press' Vincent Ellis says the Pistons aren't looking to move him, their tune may change if their offense continues to rank 19th in efficiency and this season is lost to unsound investments.

Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

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    Arron Afflalo earns this inclusion solely because he's playing like a star this season. If there's any justice in this cruel world J.R. Smith calls his flask, he'll make his first career All-Star appearance.

    The Orlando Magic are tanking quite nicely this season as well. They already have the league's second-worst record with Afflalo poring in an efficient 20.8 points per game. Imagine how far they could (deliberately) dip in the standings if they shipped him to Boston in a trade headlined by a loosely protected first-rounder for this summer or next?

    Parting ways with their leading scorer means publicly acknowledging they're tanking, but hey, haven't they kind of already done that? Afflalo is also 28 and headed for free agency after next season if he declines his $7.5 million player option (likely). He doesn't figure into the future of a team in the early stages of rebuilding.

    Alongside Rondo is where's he's best served.

    Boston's point man has never had a three-point weapon like him—sorry, Jason Terry—who can drill over 40 percent of his bombs. Playing him at small forward next to Avery Bradley and Rondo makes for an intriguing trio that could do some damage in the despondent Eastern Conference.

    Also, who in Beantown wouldn't love repeating Afflalo's name over and over (and over) again? It just rolls off the tongue.

Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks

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    Admit it, this would be interesting.

    Paul Millsap was linked to the Houston Rockets in a potential Omer Asik deal earlier this season but went nowhere, because the Atlanta Hawks, while simple-minded, aren't stupid.

    With word coming that Al Horford is done for the season, Atlanta is still capable of sneaking into the playoffs. Again, the Eastern Conference is downright awful. But the Hawks also have an opportunity to enter this summer's draft armed with plenty of selections.

    They already have the option of swapping first-rounders with Brooklyn, and adding another to the arsenal strengthens any and all rebuilding efforts under coach Mike Budenholzer.

    Millsap is also on one of the NBA's most reasonable contracts and will hit free agency in 2015, at which point the Hawks could have to pay him more than the $9.5 million annually they're giving him now.

    On the Celtics, Millsap becomes the second big (Kelly Olynyk) who can space the floor. He's developed into a nice stretch forward—seriously, J-Smoove should be jealous—shooting a deadly 39.4 percent from deep. His success is no aberration either. Millsap has already attempted more threes this season (99) than he did the last three years. Combined (93).

    Putting him next to Rondo makes too much sense, and his contract is so reasonable it gives Boston plenty of options come 2015, when both he and Rondo will become free agents.

Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks

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    What if Boston turned the tables on the New York Knicks?

    Rondo's high school coach, Steve Smith, told USA Today's Jason Jordan that Carmelo Anthony already started pitching the point man on New York, and ESPN's Brian Windhorst wrote that the Knicks are hoping Rondo either forces his way to the Big Apple via trade or signs with them in 2015.

    But what if Ainge threw a curveball?

    Prevailing wisdom suggests the Knicks would never give up Anthony, but it's worth an inquiry if they don't turn their season around. A potential deal built upon a couple first-rounders and a willingness to assume some unfavorable contracts in the process—Andrea Bargnani, Amar'e Stoudemire, Smith, etc.—would be a great starting point.

    Finding the salaries necessary to obtain 'Melo and a bad contract or two will be difficult, but not impossible. The Celtics do have some shorter pacts in Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans and Brandon Bass they can send back if needed.

    More likely, this is a deal focused solely on 'Melo because of the financial complications, requiring the Celtics to part ways with younger talents like Jared Sullinger or Olynyk as well. A third party, willing to assume an unfortunate contract in exchange for a pick, could also be involved.

    Under those terms, the Celtics are going to want assurances 'Melo will re-sign this summer, which is not an unreasonable request considering he and Rondo have been linked to one another all season.

    Acquiring 'Melo transforms the Celtics from borderline tankers into legitimate contenders who arguably have two top-10 superstars when healthy.

    Now that's how you expedite a rebuild.

Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Bring the hate, Minny. 

    Kevin Love's days with the Minnesota Timberwolves are numbered. Face it.

    According to NBA.com's Sam Smith, Love has already started thinking about 2015 free agency, when he is said to favor signing with the Los Angeles Lakers or Knicks.

    Comments he made to Wojnarowski last season don't say much about his future (or lack thereof) in Minny, either.

    "I haven't been in the playoffs yet," he told Woj. "I'm looking at my contract in the eye of two years from now, and if I haven't been to the playoffs—or it's been one playoff berth—well, it's going to be tough to say, 'Oh well, I'm going to stay here and continue to rebuild.' "

    The 'Wolves are now facing the same question the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers have all faced previously: Sell high on their superstar now or risk losing him for nothing later?

    Flipping Love now ensures the Timberwolves—who are four games off the Western Conference's final playoff spot—receive maximum value in return. Knowing they have the rest of this season and all of next year to sell Love on what they're building, the Celtics could be inclined to meet whatever demands Minnesota sets.

    Adding Love gives the Celtics a floor-spacing and rebounding guru who puts up video game numbers daily. And it gives Love the chance to play alongside a pass-first floor general who can shoot the ball better than Ricky Rubio. And is just plain better than Rubio.

    Striking a deal shouldn't be difficult to boot. Accepting a proposal structured around two or three future first-rounders and Sullinger, who Roy Hibbert called the Kevin Love of the East, isn't anything to scoff at. Boston also has the ability to send non-guaranteed and expiring contracts back to Minnesota in exchange for any long-term deals it's looking to part ways with.

    Using Bogans' non-guaranteed deal, Humphries' expiring contract and Joel Anthony's and Bass' short-term pacts, the Celtics can bring in players like Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger or Kevin Martin to provide serious financial relief.

    Trading any of those players isn't part of the Timberwolves' immediate plans, but neither is dealing Love. If they move him, they're in full-on rebuild mode and better off stockpiling contracts and draft picks—all of which are invaluable assets the Celtics can provide.