The NBA trade deadline is one week away, and Boston Celtics team president Danny Ainge figures to be the most called executive in the league over the next week.
Thanks to several moves over the last few years and poor regular-season finishes, the Celtics possess six first-round picks for the next two NBA drafts, and potentially 14 total picks over the next two years. First-round picks have become extremely coveted in recent years to either rebuilding squads or those that perennially bounce between the draft lottery and a low postseason seed.
Ainge has been hoarding picks and prospects ever since he broke up Boston’s most recent Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, a group that captured the franchise’s last NBA title in 2008. Ainge furthered his rebuilding plans by sending All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks earlier this season.
Now Ainge can leverage a huge trade for a superstar, or continue to pile up more picks and rebuild the Celtics on a foundation of blue chip prospects.
Ainge can acquire even more picks by unloading the expiring contracts of forwards Brandon Bass and Tayshaun Prince, and guard Marcus Thornton. Essentially Ainge has positioned the Celtics’ future quite well.
Touching on the possibility of more trades before the deadline, Ainge wouldn’t rule anything out.
"We’re opportunistic," Ainge said according to The Boston Globe. "There’s a lot of different things that can happen. I don’t anticipate, because right now we don’t have anything imminent, but you never know what can happen at the trade deadline."
By acquiring so many picks via trades, this year the Celtics haven’t had to resort to the much maligned taking method in the dilapidated Eastern Conference. Even at 20-31, Boston currently sits one game back of the No. 7 or No. 8 seed in the East, where two teams with losing records are likely to make the postseason.
Thus, the Celtics can possibly flip a few of their picks into a coveted or undervalued player on another team and offer them a shot at the playoffs.
Other than the Rondo deal, and the Brooklyn Nets’ efforts to move center Brook Lopez, this year’s trade market has been rather slim and inactive. The biggest move coming last summer when the Cleveland Cavaliers acquired forward Kevin Love for essentially 2014’s No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.
But three teams in particular are in the trade market and could place calls to Ainge over the next week, the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets.
Fourth-year Jazz center Enes Kanter recently told The Salt Lake Tribune that he’s unhappy with his role on the team and desires a trade. Talking about how he wasn’t allowed to re-enter Wednesday’s loss to Dallas due to an eye injury even though he claimed to be fine, and made a veiled reference to a trade.
In the midst of its own rebuild, no previous reports until now indicated that Utah was looking to move Kanter, a versatile big man who’s averaging a career-best 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds this season.
Boston could have some interest in Kanter, possibly for one of their first-round picks, while tinkering with the idea of the Turkish star playing alongside surprisingly effective second-year center Kelly Olynyk and allowing Jared Sullinger slide over to power forward to better use his face-the-basket moves.
The Suns, currently fighting off Oklahoma City for the last playoff spot in the West, are reportedly looking to “balance” their roster. General manager Ryan McDonough said in an radio interview that the roster is a “little too backcourt heavy,” according to Arizona Sports.
Indeed, Phoenix has a platoon of guards in Isaiah Thomas, Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic and Gerald Green, and could certainly use some size to shore up its 18th-ranked rebounding and No. 28 overall defensive.
The Celtics could package Bass and Prince to Phoenix, but they aren’t in need of backcourt help at the moment, which means a third team would likely need to be part of any discussions.
Last week, the Nuggets refused to budge on their demand for a first-round pick for guard Arron Afflalo, the Denver Post reported. The talented scorer holds a player option on the final year of his contract, which is evidently making teams nervous about giving up a first-round pick. The Post also reported that teams are interested in Denver swingman Wilson Chandler.
Afflalo could certainly add more punch to Boston’s three-point shooting. As a team, the Celtics shoot 32.7 percent from beyond the arc, No. 24 in the league. Dealing for Afflalo, however, might too much of be a gamble.
Chandler, though, could be a nice piece, and his contract comes with a team option for next season. The Celtics could acquire the career 13.7 points per game scorer for the second half of the season, and then let him hit the open market to free up more cap space.