In spite of a recent three game win streak, that included exciting victories against the Pacers, Suns, and Wizards last week, the Celtics have now lost 7 of their last 12 games. The stretch has made some of the teams flaws increasingly apparent, and the team could benefit from a roster shake-up before the trade deadline on February 18.
Coach Brad Stevens has been messing around with different starting lineups all season, as well as experimenting with players filling new roles. The team has certainly shown hints of potential when using lineups with Jae Crowder playing power forward next to Amir Johnson, and playing Isaiah Thomas off-ball.
But it seems that if the team is looking to capitalize on an Eastern Conference willed with parity, the team would stand a much better chance by shoring up their inconsistent shooting, at least. At present, the Celtics have, among a bevy of smaller problems, a logjam of big men that is keeping David Lee and Tyler Zeller off the court. This became more notable when David Aldridge reported that Boston has made Lee available.
There is quite a cast of big men being thrown around in trade rumors at present with Lee being joined by Brook Lopez, Brandon Bass, Channing Frye, Markieff Morris, Roy Hibbert, Josh Smith and J.J. Hickson. Unfortunately for Boston, their front-court is not necessarily flawed so much as it is just overcrowded.
None of the names make a whole lot of sense for a Boston team with young bigs that need to develop like Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, and even 2nd round pick Jordan Mickey. The best case scenario for improving the front court might be to move one of Lee or Zeller and hope for continued improvement from Olynyk or a spark in the play of Jonas Jerebko, who could succeed as a small-ball four the way Crowder has if the opportunity is there.
But the Celtics do need to improve their shooting. Whether or not this team wins or loses comes down to their shooting ability on any given night and their has been far too much disparity between good nights and bad ones. We already know the team is a top-5 defense and has the potential to exceed even those lofty expectations. But offensively in losses, the team is shooting just over 40% from the field, just over 30% from beyond the arc, and just over 75% from the charity stripe.
The team is a few percentage points better in their wins, so regardless we aren’t talking about a team that can shoot the lights out, but more often than not it is those percentage points that decide their games. So how can General Manager Danny Ainge improve his team’s offensive play? Well, as mentioned before, moving Lee could be an addition by subtraction scenario if it allows Zeller or Jerebko to find their offensive rhythm. Another player who sometimes seems at odds with the team’s play style is Jared Sullinger, who has struggled with an inconsistent shot.
But more intriguing is the team’s backcourt. It seems unconventional that a team looking to contend would move a player who is succeeding, but if the move brings back a good return it has to be considered. But Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas are both signed to extremely team friendly deals. I’d be more inclined to deal the streaky Bradley, whose skill-set would be far easier replaced than Thomas’. Waiting behind Bradley is R.J. Hunter, a very promising first round pick.
So to recap, the player on the outs is David Lee, but don’t rule out the possibility of the team exploring trades involving Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller, Evan Turner and (big maybe) Avery Bradley. The team’s more valuable chips, Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk seem to be safe barring a blockbuster. So who could the team look to bring in? There have been no trade rumors of substance since the whispers about Danillo Gallinari just before the start of the season.
The team could certainly find an upgrade for Sullinger in Markieff Morris or even the aging Channing Frye, but if the team would have to attach another asset to make the deal work is it really worth it? In Frye’s case, maybe, given Orlando’s surplus of young bigs who could step in and succeed. But he is also under contract for two more seasons, which will affect the hallowed cap space Ainge has been amassing for the next few off-seasons. Instead, the team might be better suited trying to move Sullinger in a deal that brings them back a wing player.
If Ainge were willing to package Bradley with Sullinger or Lee in a deal that included draft picks, you’d have to wonder if the team could reel in a big name like Gallinari or Demar DeRozan, who continues to decimate Boston. Other targets that are being thrown around include Ben McLemore and Rudy Gay, but it seems unlikely that the Kings would sell after being so committed to competing this season. There has also been speculation about picking apart the bottom-feeding Pelicans, Nets, and Bucks.
The Pelicans have a bevy of veterans who have shown a capacity for high level performance, if on a somewhat inconsistent basis. Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans are risky adds but could be explored nevertheless, while Ryan Anderson is another option who would fit better in Brad Stevens’ offense than Jared Sullinger. Though to this point, New Orleans has shown an unwillingness to sell, as has Milwaukee.
The Bucks have been just as disappointing, but appear disinclined to move high priced free agent addition Greg Monroe. The Bucks almost certainly won’t move their young players or Khris Middleton, but one potential option is O.J. Mayo a polarizing scorer renowned for his inconsistency who would be right at home in Boston. The Nets appear to be the best trade partner, if only to further their descent into the depths of the lottery standings.
Joe Johnson and Thaddeus Young represent wing players who could bring a little scoring to the Celtics, although neither is an ideal option. Brook Lopez is the most talented player on the Nets, but whether or not Brooklyn would trade him is unclear. Acquiring Lopez or Young would also impede Boston’s cap flexibility this coming summer, and the Nets may be unwilling to trade Johnson’s expiring contract and sacrifice their own flexibility.
So the Celtics have plenty of options but none stand out as particularly fool-proof. Boston fans might have to hope for a second straight deadline surprise, in which Ainge plucks a gem from a desperate team. No one suspected that Phoenix would make Isaiah Thomas available after just signing him the off-season prior, and yet they did. Here’s hoping someone else is willing to surrender a valuable asset this year.