Brokering a trade ahead of the NBA's Feb. 7 deadline probably doesn't top the Boston Celtics' to-do list.
It would be one thing if they were still lazing in an early-season slump and ran the risk of losing Kyrie Irving over the summer (player option). They're not, and they don't.
Boston is 9-2 since dropping three straight at the end of November, with the league's best offense and net rating by a light-year. Jaylen Brown is playing well off the bench, Gordon Hayward has shown a couple more flashes, Terry Rozier doesn't seem as out of sorts on offense, and the starting lineup continues to raise hell whether it's using Aron Baynes or Al Horford in the middle.
A schedule steeped in defensive lightweights is no doubt helping the Celtics' turnaround. Just two of their games during this stretch have come against teams that rank better than 16th in points allowed per possession (Dallas and Detroit).
Discounting their resurgence still feels a touch too pessimistic. Al Horford has missed their last five games with a left knee injury, Robert Williams has gone from a G League mainstay to getting actual minutes, and everyone who's anyone is waiting to see whether demotions for Brown and Hayward will be permanent.
For all that's starting to go right, the Celtics are, in many ways, still in a holding pattern. They're waiting to be fully healthy. They're waiting for Hayward to get all the way back. And yes, they're waiting to cash in their Anthony Davis trade chips this summer, when they can legally acquire him without sending out Irving, as Adrian Wojnarowski noted on ESPN's Woj & Lowe TV special.
"Boston has been hawking Anthony Davis for years," he said. "They always hoped that it would be—whether it's the end of this season or the beginning of next before the trade deadline—that they would gather up all those assets, all those picks Danny Ainge has, young players, and they'd be the team to be able to get Anthony Davis."
String it all together, and the Celtics don't have the look or feel of a team itching to make a move now. That doesn't mean they will—or should—hold serve. Team president Danny Ainge isn't one to sit out the rumor mill even if he inevitably does nothing, and Boston has some odds and ends to tie up.
Horford's injury is a problem if he misses significant time. Rozier (restricted) and Marcus Morris are free agents this summer and will likely price themselves out of town. If the Celtics are serious about making a run this summer, it wouldn't hurt to enhance their treasure trove of assets. Better-than-expected play from the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings has, for the time being, diminished the value of the protected first-rounders they all owe to Boston.
Beyond that, the Celtics aren't exactly sitting pretty. They have more ground to make up. They may only fear the Toronto Raptors in a seven-game series, but the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks are on the come-up, and the Philadelphia 76ers still loom. The right trade could playoff-proof Boston's roster.
Rozier will be the focus of this exercise. Irving has already declared he intends to stick around, and housing both on richer salaries is redundant. Morris would be fair game if the Celtics were trying to duck the tax, but he's played his way out of a straight dump. He leads all of Boston's non-bigs in true shooting percentage and is necessary insurance against Hayward's recovery curve spilling into the postseason.
Breaking Bread with Phoenix, Version I
Celtics Receive: Kelly Oubre Jr., 2021 second-round pick (from Brooklyn, via Phoenix)
Suns Receive: Terry Rozier
Back in early November, The Ringer's Bill Simmons reignited Rozier's rumor mill by tweeting this:
Ainge later downplayed these sentiments to Yahoo Sports' Ben Rohrbach, but Rozier copped to being frustrated and having to adjust. He did not admit to requesting a trade.
"If you know me, I'm not one to stir the pot," Rozier told Rohrbach. "That's not me. That's not how I do things."
Boston has an interested trade partner in Phoenix if it decides to solicit offers. Sources told The Athletic's Shams Charania that the Suns are one of "at least seven teams monitoring Rozier's status," and that they "have aggressively pursued" him for months.
Kelly Oubre Jr. is a nice starting point if the Celtics place stock in his matching rights as he enters restricted free agency. He doesn't replace Rozier's half-court shot creation, but Boston has more than enough ball-handlers. His 6'7" frame comes with a wingspan north of 7'2", so he can toggle between defending most guards and wings.
Oubre's outside touch is a dud. He's draining under 32 percent of his three-point attempts and fairing even worse off the catch (29.7 percent). His numbers should climb amid better shot quality in Boston. Only the Mavericks, Bucks, Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz have a larger share of their treys going uncontested.
Taking a chance on Oubre could pay off even if he doesn't find his footing beyond the arc. He's additional defensive insurance if Hayward is being targeted by Boston's postseason opponents. He also might not command as much as Morris—or for that matter, Rozier—on the open market. And if the Celtics end up including Brown in prospective Davis packages this summer, wing depth becomes a concern.
The Suns could try signing Rozier outright in July rather than giving up a second-round pick. They'll most likely fail. Devin Booker's extension eats into a chunk of their cap space, and as co-owners of the league's worst record, they're in line for an expensive first-round pick.
Combine that with Oubre's free-agent hold ($9.6 million), and they'd have a tough time chiseling out even $10 million in wiggle room. Coughing up a second-round pick stings, but it safeguards the Suns against more aggressive suitors.
Plus, as a primary ball-handler, Rozier's skill set is in higher demand. They'd have to grease the wheels of this deal in some form, and Oubre isn't eligible to be moved in combination with other players.
Breaking Bread with Phoenix, Version II
Celtics Receive: Richaun Holmes, Josh Jackson
Suns Receive: Terry Rozier, Brad Wanamaker, Guerschon Yabusele, 2020 second-round pick
This is a package the Celtics could target if they're looking to swing for the fences.
Josh Jackson's stock as cratered. He's averaging 11.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.7 steals and breaking up plays at the defensive end over his past 10 games, but his shooting percentages are circling the drain.
Among 227 players attempting at least 10 shots per 36 minutes, Jackson's effective field-goal percentage ranks...225th. His jumper isn't just hitchy and erratic. It takes forever for him to uncork. Defenses pay him no mind when the ball isn't in his hands.
Still, with two years left on his rookie scale, Jackson becomes an intriguing trade piece if the Celtics can remodel his offensive value. They'll get him going with more cuts and perhaps regular spin at power forward, and he is, for what it's worth, putting down 39.5 percent of his wide-open three-balls.
Richaun Holmes isn't a throw-in for the Celtics. He's closer to a deal-breaker for the Suns. He's shooting better than 70 percent and erasing looks around the basket over his past 15 games. Opponents are converting just 46.2 percent of their attempts against him at the rim—second-best mark in the league, behind only Nerlens Noel, among 110-plus players who have contested at least 75 such opportunities.
Phoenix shouldn't be too reticent to give him up. Holmes is a free agent this summer, and though his cap hold will be next to nothing, he's up against a glass ceiling with Deandre Ayton on the roster.
Selling this low on Jackson might be hard, but the Suns have wings and swingmen to spare in Oubre, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and TJ Warren. Grabbing a legitimate starting point guard is more important when they have no guarantee Jackson's value will improve between now and next season.
3-Teamer with Chicago and New York
Celtics Receive: Justin Holiday, 2020 second-round pick (from Charlotte, via New York)
Bulls Receive: Mario Hezonja, Courtney Lee, Terry Rozier
Knicks Receive: Jabari Parker, Brad Wanamaker
Let's get weird, shall we?
The Bulls are looking to move Jabari Parker, who has a team option for next season, according to the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson. They could also use another look at point guard.
Kris Dunn, who recently returned from a sprained MCL in his left knee, isn't floor-general material. Ryan Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne aren't long-term answers, and Zach LaVine shouldn't be tasked with running an offense.
Rozier could be the guy. And at 24, he can be the answer without running counter to Chicago's timeline.
Building something around Justin Holiday should get the ball rolling. His efficiency has dipped over the past few weeks, but he's shooting 38 percent from long range for the year and more than capable of providing some emergency improv off the dribble.
Dangling him alone won't be enough—and not just because Boston needs to shed more salary. He fits the Celtics like a glove, but he, like Rozier, is a free agent this summer and cannot match up against the largest wings on defense.
Chicago should not be in the business of trading draft picks. Enter the Knicks. They shouldn't technically be forking over future selections either, but they have grander free-agency ambitions (rhymes with Devin Kurant).
Carving out Kevin Durant money demands New York wipe Courtney Lee (two years, $25 million) or Tim Hardaway Jr. (three years, $54.5 million) from the 2018-19 ledger. Neither is a desirable asset at his respective price point. League sources told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor it will take sweeteners for the Knicks to move them.
Offering a future second-rounder while taking on Parker should be enough to get the Bulls thinking. They're not in a position to prioritize cap space when all the marquee names are being linked to the Los Angeles- and New York-based teams, and Lee could play well enough down the stretch to be traded into another team's cap space over the summer.
Boston is offloading Rozier at a discount relative to his 2018 postseason detonation, but that's the risk of moving an expiring deal. Holiday is the more versatile defender and better complementary shooter, and with Morris' free agency on the horizon, the Celtics could stand to have the Early Bird rights of another wing.
Asset Consolidation with Orlando
Celtics Receive: Jonathan Isaac
Magic Receive: Terry Rozier, Guerschon Yabusele, 2019 first-round pick
Targeting Jonathan Isaac is more of a big-picture play for the Celtics, but he's not without immediate gains.
The 21-year-old remains an unpolished offensive player. He has the handle to finish off straight-line drives and the speed to make electric plays in transition, but not much else. He's shooting under 30 percent on jumpers, including just 23.3 percent on wide-open threes.
Boston has the spacing to get more out of Isaac, even if he doesn't establish himself as a low-volume outside threat. His defensive integration should be seamless. He works his butt off to contest everything, his arms are always in passing lanes, and he merges the line between wings and bigs.
Only three other players are matching his steal and block rates in at least 20 minutes per game: Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Granted, the Celtics would not only be betting on Isaac to unlock some tantalizing small-ball combos. They'd also be counting on his trade value outstripping that of their own first-rounder.
With the Clippers, Grizzlies and Kings all threatening to finish the year inside or around the playoff bubble, Boston could use another high-upside buffer for eventual Davis packages. Isaac, who has two years left on his rookie-scale deal after this one, is more appealing than a bottom-10 to bottom-five first-rounder.
Much like the Suns, the Magic could balk and opt to chase Rozier in restricted free agency. They have a cleaner cap sheet than Phoenix. Eking out more than $15 million in room won't be a problem. But that mandates they renounce Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross, both of whom are having career years.
Vucevic is easier to ditch with Mo Bamba and Aaron Gordon in the fold. Ross is harder to let go. Waiving Jonathon Simmons ($1 million guarantee) lets the Magic keep one while grinding out Rozier money, but it doesn't give them the juice to win a bidding war.
Not that they should be tripping over themselves to overpay free agents. They shouldn't. They're still too early in the rebuilding process. But turning Isaac into a viable starting point guard and an extra first-rounder makes some sense if they're married to Bamba and Gordon.
Playing those three at the same time is a no-go. They've logged just nine minutes together this season, and the numbers aren't pretty. That doesn't stand to change unless Gordon or Isaac becomes a quasi-wing for the Magic or Bamba mirrors Vucevic's offensive playmaking.