By Thursday’s trade deadline, the Celtics expect to make a move. No, that’s not inside information or wishful thinking on my part, those are the owner’s own words. When Wyc Grousbeck went on Felger and Mazz a few weeks ago, he said that the C’s were unlikely to make a transformative trade, but they were also unlikely to make no deal at all. It makes total sense for the C’s to pull the trigger on some deal given that they have 10 quality NBA players on their roster, 4 prospects in their 1st or 2nd year that are poised to make a jump in the next 2 seasons, and 8 (!) draft picks in June. They need to make a quantity for quality trade. Let’s see who is the most likely to be dealt at this year’s deadline.
1. Tyler Zeller
I feel bad for Zeller. I don’t know what happened to him, and I’m not gong to doubt Brad Stevens for taking him out of the lineup given that Stevens is a) a great NBA coach and b) at practice every day when I’m not. But it’s still fair to ask, “What the hell is going on???” Zeller was a key contributor to last year’s overachieving team, and some projections stated that, if Zeller would have been extended last fall, then he would have gotten eight figures per year. But when this season started, he couldn’t get off the bench. Zeller and the Celtics need to part ways, and Danny Ainge never enjoys letting an asset go for nothing. I don’t see Ainge matching the best offer this summer with Zeller’s restricted free agency, and it would be best to move him now. You know that Ainge will try his hardest to move Zeller in a deal instead of another asset that the other team wants: “Hmm… I like this deal, but can you throw in Jordan Mickey or a high 2nd round pick?” “Nah, we like those assets, but how about Tyler Zeller?!” After Zeller gets traded, don’t even bother reading the analysis of how his name entered the deal, because I just transcribed the conversation verbatim for you. You’re welcome.
2. David Lee
If this was a ranking of “Celtics players most likely to not be on the team in a week,” Lee would walk away with the number 1 spot. If he’s not traded, he’ll likely get bought out, and he would have been bought out if not for the hope that the Celtics can trade use his expiring deal at the deadline. Lee will only get traded if the Celtics take back a guy with a high salary, because he makes over $15 million this season. If Lee gets dealt, then it might mean that the Celtics made a transformative trade, despite Grousbeck saying it was unlikely. But there’s also a decent chance that the C’s swap Lee’s contract and some low asset for another expiring, overpriced guy like Roy Hibbert.
3. Jonas Jerebko
Danny Ainge would much, much rather include David Lee’s expiring contract in a trade than Jonas Jerebko’s, but he may not have an option. Jerebko makes $5 million this season and has a team option for another $5M next season, which makes him all the more of an asset to the C’s. But $5 million is exactly the type of number that the Celtics will need to throw into the deal to make salaries equal. For the sake of argument, let’s say they trade for Al Horford and his $12 million salary. If they throw in a bunch of picks and some cheap young guys, then David Lee’s $15.5M is too much to give back in the deal for the salaries to be equal, unless the C’s get someone else. But Jerebko’s $5M would work perfectly. He’s far more useful of a player than Lee, though, and I hope that Ainge can trade the washed up vet instead of Jerebko.
4. James Young
There’s a big dropoff after Lee in the 2nd slot. Young clocks in at number 3 because he had the highest pedigree coming out of college of the Celtics 4 prospects (Young, Rozier, Hunter, and Mickey), and he’s an extra year into his rookie deal. Young is still just 20 years old, and he’s more than young enough to be able to sell a team on his future promise. I could easily see the C’s including him in a deal for a more established player.
5. RJ Hunter
The reason that I’d be apprehensive about trading Hunter is the same reason that a bunch of teams will probably want him: the NBA is all about shooting. I almost didn’t put Hunter at #4 because so many teams passed on Hunter in the 10s and 20s in the 1st round of last year’s draft, but Hunter has already shown flashes that he can be a valuable shooter off the bench, at the very least.
6. Jared Sullinger
It’s impossible to know if Danny Ainge is as down on Sullinger as he was last year when Sully couldn’t make weight, but either way, Sullinger isn’t Ainge’s favorite player. He’s about to be a restricted free agent, and he and agent David Falk will likely demand every penny they can get. I can definitely see Danny’s value of Sullinger being lower than that of another team who could submit an offer sheet to the big man. But Danny Ainge knows this. Nobody is better at determining the value of assets than Ainge, and he may realize that Sullinger could be more of an asset to another team to the Celtics. If they get a big on the trade front (BOOGIE!!!), then expect Sullinger to be a part of the package leaving Boston.
7. Evan Turner
Before the season, I thought that there was a very small chance of Turner finishing the season in Boston. He makes $3.4M this season and is a free agent in the summer, so it would make sense that Danny would like the idea of getting something for Turner before he leaves, no? However, as the season has progressed, it’s become clear that the Celtics need Turner’s shot creation and versatility. He’s the best creator after Isaiah and is a swiss army knife defensively, even guarding Stephen Curry pretty well in December when Bradley had foul trouble. Celtics will keep him for the rest of the season unless they make a move that renders him expendable, which is totally possible with Trader Danny running the show.
8. Avery Bradley
I know you all love Bradley, but don’t get too worried. There’s another big drop off after Sullinger, and there’s not much of a difference between Bradley and the last guy on this list. I put Bradley here only because the Celtics already have a lot of young guards. After this season, Bradley has 2 more remaining on his very reasonable contract (about $8.5 million per season), but Marcus Smart, James Young, and Isaiah Thomas all will see their contracts expire at the same time as AB’s. That might cause Ainge to move Bradley now and create more minutes for the other guys, especially Smart. I could also see another team watching Bradley’s big games against the Warriors — when he guarded Steph Curry as well as anyone else has — and the Cavaliers 2 weeks ago –when he hit a game winning 3 — and targeting Bradley at the deadline because “That’s the type of defense, character, and swagger we need from our guards in the playoffs!”
9. Jordan Mickey
I’ll admit, even by the standards of a column that is totally speculative, putting Mickey at #9 is me throwing a dart at a dartboard. The Celtics have a ton of big men and 8 draft picks to come in this year’s draft, and Mickey has shown more promise than you’d expect from a 2nd round pick last summer. Seems like Ainge might sell high on his stock, right?
10. Terry Rozier
Surprises you that Rozier is the lowest of himself, Young, Hunter, and Mickey, doesn’t it? Well, there’s no way that Danny Ainge’s stock of Rozier is lower than that of other GMs. The Celtics took Rozier at #16 last year when no one was even considering him (from what we know), and Trader Danny doesn’t sell low on his prized assets. If the C’s make a transformative trade (BOOGIE!!!)
11. Amir Johnson
Hard to tell how the Celtics feel about Amir. They love his defense and rebounding, but he’s often on the bench for long, long stretches during games. Also, Ainge and Stevens are not the type of dudes who like a 56.4% clip from the charity stripe. Especially if the C’s get a big man (Do I need to annoy the hell out of you by saying his name again in all caps with 3 exclamation points?), then Ainge might feel like the team has it’s frontcourt core for the next few years. I don’t know if I’d feel the same way because Johnson has a $12 million team option for next season that can also be traded during the first 2 days of free agency, not to mention that $12 million for a good 3rd big man will be more than a fair price next season. But it wouldn’t shock me if the C’s move on from their 2015 free agent acquisition.
12. Isaiah Thomas
Only if the Celtics trade for a point guard. If they do, then expect Thomas to leave town, as much as it would suck to see the undersized All Star leave. Thomas’ stock is at an all time high, and that’s exactly when Danny likes to trade a guy and capitalize on his value as an asset. But if the C’s don’t pick up a PG, then there’s no way that Thomas leaves, because he’s too valuable to the offense. I guess that means that IT is only leaving if Mike Conley or Jeff Teague come to Boston.
13. Marcus Smart
Smart is the Celtics’ most prized asset right now. He’s a ferocious perimeter defender, and that’s kinda sorta important in today’s NBA. He turns 22 next month, and if he develops a decent shooting stroke, we could be talking about a franchise player. That means that another team might demand Smart to be included in a trade if they’re dealing a blue chipper to the Celtics. I hope and truly believe that Ainge would try to include draft picks, which could turn into nothing if the picks flame out, rather than Smart, who has a floor of a very good NBA player thanks to his defense alone.
14. Kelly Olynyk
The Celtics love Olynyk. He’s a 7 footer who can shoot 3s in the NBA’s shooting era, and his defense has stepped up this season. He still has another year before restricted free agency, making him all the more valuable to the Celtics. The chances are pretty small that another team values him much higher than the Celtics do right now.
15. Jae Crowder
Crowder is a fantastic asset for the Boston Celtics. He makes just $7 million per year for the next 4 seasons after this one, and some teams may be paying their waterboys $7 million per season by 2020 with the direction that the salary cap is headed. One of the NBA’s biggest commodities is 3 and D players, and tons of teams want Crowder’s services but won’t get them I’m honestly not sure if Ainge would trade Jae Crowder for Kevin Love straight up, regardless of whether or not the Cavs would even consider that trade. If Crowder gets dealt before Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline, then you’ll know that the Celtics got a ton in return.