Option route: C's can be choosy
Here's what all the noise should tell you: (1) It's trade deadline week and (2) The Celtics have options.
There is no worse fate in the NBA than to be a rebuilding team at the mercy of a bunch of ping-pong balls. Often teams in the NBA basement have uncloggable payrolls and mismanage their draft picks, either trading them away for marginal talent or misfiring on high selections. It fosters a vicious cycle in which teams struggle to claw their way out of the cellar.
Make no mistake, there is no guarantee to how quickly Boston will turn things around. But even as the Celtics emerge from the All-Star break with a 19-35 record, there's optimism about the team's direction because Boston has positioned itself to hit the accelerator on the rebuilding process with the moves it has made over the past eight months.
All of which allows Boston to be a bit choosy at this week's trade deadline, a luxury that most rebuilding teams don't often have. The Celtics are a trade chameleon, able to be buyers or sellers depending on what other teams are willing to part with. What's more, there's little urgency on Boston's end to make a deal. The Celtics have already engineered two January swaps that cleared bloated contracts (Courtney Lee) off the books and swapped two players with no future here (Jordan Crawford, MarShon Brooks) for more draft picks. Boston can always wait until the summer to further overhaul its roster if it finds nothing to its liking before Thursday.
We already offered a trade deadline FAQ last week, but as the Celtics navigate deadline week, here's a breakdown of the assets they have at their disposal (most of which seem more likely to be used this summer):
* DRAFT PICKS: The Celtics have as many as 17 picks over the next five drafts, including as many as 10 first-rounders in that span. Under this collective bargaining agreement, draft picks have grown in value and Boston has the luxury of utilizing its stash not just to pick young, cost-efficient talent, but to facilitate deals to bring in established talent. It's hard to part with draft picks, especially when you only typically have one first-rounder each June, but Boston's surplus allows Ainge to shop more aggressively.
* TRADE EXCEPTIONS: The Celtics have two exceptions, one worth $10.3 million as part of the Brooklyn summer blockbuster, and another worth $2.1 million from the Lee-Jerryd Bayless swap last month. Both are good for one year from the time of the trades and, with Boston around $800,000 away from the luxury tax line it yearns to avoid this season, it's unlikely that they'd absorb additional salary at the deadline. Many exceptions go unused, but that's still $12.4 million in potential salary the Celtics are capable of taking on in deals without having to worry about salary cap constraints.
* EXPIRING DEALS: Teams are always looking to shed cap space in future seasons and the Celtics have two expiring deals in Kris Humphries ($12 million) and Bayless ($3.1 million; remember that Bayless cannot be packaged in a trade, though he can be dealt individually before the deadline). Looking ahead to summer, both players would also be potential sign-and-trade assets if Boston was unable to retain them at a reasonable price tag.
* BOGANS' CONTRACT: The final two years of the $15.9 million contract that excused veteran guard Keith Bogans inked this past summer to facilitate the Brooklyn swap are non-guaranteed. That means a receiving team could take on his deal this summer, then immediately chop $5.3 million from next season's payroll. But if a team wanted to beat the rest of the league to that savings, it could acquire Bogans before the trade deadline, pay him instead of any outgoing talent, and then gain the surefire savings in July.
* THE DESIRABLE STAR: The Celtics will at least listen to offers for the services of Rajon Rondo. While we maintain that it will be hard for any team to reach Ainge's lofty price tag, that hasn't stopped Rondo from dominating the early batch of rumors during deadline week, with reports suggesting the Kings and Raptors have at least inquired about his availability. Tread carefully with all Rondo rumors. It's prudent to remember that some teams, trying to appease their fan base by suggesting they courted a superstar, might suggest they "inquired" about Rondo when that might have been the briefest of phone calls.
* CONTENDER INTEREST: Playoff contenders that phone Boston hoping to pry some established talent at a reasonable cost will likely inquire about the likes of Brandon Bass and Jeff Green. The former seems the more likely of the two to draw interest given his lower price tag (and fewer remaining years on his deal). The Celtics are under no stress to move either of those players and can again set higher-than-usual price tags without fretting if no one is willing to bite.
* THE ACE UP THE SLEEVE: Jared Sullinger's sophomore emergence makes him an extremely valuable part of Boston's future, whether it's as a low-priced building block or as an Al Jefferson-like centerpiece to land a more established veteran. It's likely that Boston's preference is to hang on to him and continue that development, but having a young talent like Sullinger and the surplus of picks gives Boston an option to investigate another Kevin Garnett-like trade path if one materialized.
Listen, there's no clear-cut path back to being a contender, but like punching an address into Google Maps, Boston at least has a few different travel options here. All lead to the same destination, and each will feature its own roadblock along the way.
While many teams' GPS directions will be dictated by their lottery position, Boston has operated this season without fear that brief winning streaks will detour their draft position. The Celtics have been scorned by the ping-pong balls in the past and will not rely solely on them now.
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