Celtics' Complete Guide to 2021 NBA Trade Deadline
After a month-plus of spotty play, the Boston Celtics finally found some rhythm ahead of the NBA All-Star break.
They entered intermission with four consecutive victories. More impressively, the competition included three clubs in the playoff picture (Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors) and a postseason-hopeful playing some of its best basketball of the 2020-21 season (Washington Wizards).
Should that have any bearing on the team's approach to the upcoming March 25 trade deadline? Yes and no. Yes, in that it was a reminder this club can be really good and maybe that increases confidence for the front office to buy. No, in that season-long decisions should never be made based on any four-game sample.
Still, as a club with championship aspirations and less-than-desired results, Boston could be among the more active buyers of this trade season. It makes sense, then, to break down where the organization stands on the transaction front.
The Shamrocks have reasons to feel good about their offense—at the top.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are two of the top young wings in the Association. Kemba Walker's shooting rates have climbed each month of the campaign. A healthy Marcus Smart is a quietly critical source of playmaking, which was an area of attention once Gordon Hayward bolted in free agency.
But the cupboards start to run dry at that end beyond the top four. Rookie Payton Pritchard has been a nice surprise, but he's handling a bigger role than expected due to Jeff Teague's struggles. Fellow freshman Aaron Nesmith was brought in to improve the quantity and quality of Boston's long-range attack, but he's nowhere near a needle-mover yet (4.2 points per game, 35.4 three-point percentage).
Defensively, the Celtics are in danger of finishing outside the top 10 in efficiency for the first time in four seasons. They rank just 16th at basketball's least glamorous end, and they've been searching for a steady interior presence ever since Al Horford exited in 2019 free agency.
The Celtics have two avenues to broker a blockbuster.
The first is the colossal $28.5 million trade exception from the Hayward sign-and-trade, the biggest such exception in NBA history. It won't fetch a star since it can't be combined with a player in a trade, but it can be broken up to add multiple players in separate transactions. That might mean making a mid-level move now and another over the offseason.
If Boston does a big trade without the exception, then that probably requires sacrificing Smart. That's hard to picture given his two-way importance and emotional leadership, but assuming Brown, Tatum and Walker are all staying put, Smart's $13.4 million salary would almost certainly be needed for money-matching purposes.
As for sweeteners, the Celtics own all of their upcoming first-round picks and all of their second-round selections except for 2023 and 2024. They could also dangle prospects like Nesmith, Romeo Langford and Carsen Edwards to help grease the gears.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said his team is on the hunt for "shooting with size," per SI.com's Chris Mannix. That's about as generic as it gets, and it's probably on the wish list of every deadline shopper.
Nevertheless, it does bring some specific targets to mind. Nikola Vucevic is the highest of high-end solutions, but players such as Harrison Barnes, Aaron Gordon and Jerami Grant could all make sense. The issue is it's unclear which, if any, of those names are actually on the market.
The Celtics are one of several teams interested in Larry Nance Jr., per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor. He is an athletic, hyper-versatile player who could add defense, shooting, playmaking and finishing to the frontcourt, but his trade cost could be massive.
Fedor reported the Cleveland Cavaliers received an offer for Nance featuring multiple late first-round picks and didn't let him go, so the Celtics might have to pay a small fortune.
Andre Drummond's name has bounced around Boston for forever (at least it feels like it), as he could be the coveted big body in the middle. But he probably only works as a buyout option. A Horford reunion intrigues, but his salary ($27.5 million this season, $27 million in 2021-22) remains prohibitive.
Beyond that, the Celtics should make the customary calls on Bradley Beal, Lonzo Ball and John Collins. It's possible none is available, but if Boston is going to splurge, these are preferable options to, say, Victor Oladipo.