Treading carefully at trade deadline

2/11/2014 - Boston Celtics
Al Jefferson Is Not An All-Star

He's averaging 20 and 11 for a team with a top ten NBA defense, and his teammate from last year -- Paul Millsap -- made the squad. But Bobcats big man Al Jefferson isn't bitter he won't be headed to New Orleans.

With little more than a week until the trade deadline, rumor season is chugging along and will only pick up steam before the swap whistle sounds Feb. 20. Here are some thoughts and answers to common questions we hear this time of year.

Let's start with our annual reminder to tread carefully with what bubbles up this far out. Very few deals gain traction this early. General managers (and their staffs) are feeling other teams out, making general inquires and simply getting their ducks in a row. The typical phone call this time of year lasts about as long as an appointment reminder from your dentist.

Things typically heat up a couple of days before the deadline and figure to shift into overdrive in the 24-hour span leading up to next Thursday's 3 p.m. ET deadline. Even if a team finds a deal it likes this early, it probably will spend the remaining time shopping around to ensure that it's the best it can find.

Now to the questions we've heard most often lately:

Will the Celtics make a trade?

An impossible question to answer because it's unclear what the team will be offered in return. Here's what we know: The Celtics are a team in transition that already has pulled off two deals with the goal of speeding up that rebuilding process. The team certainly wouldn't mind further unclogging its future payroll, adding to its draft-pick surplus or bringing in talent that can help get it back to contender status sooner than later. But it takes two to dance, and Boston must find a willing trade partner.

Do the Celtics need to make a trade before the deadline?

No, the Celtics won't make a move just to make a move. Given their transition status, they ought to bubble up in plenty of whispers before Feb. 20, but having already made those two moves last month and having perhaps a better chance at overhauling their roster this summer, the Celtics won't fret if the deadline passes without activity. If that happens, Boston could use its tiny chunk of available money and one remaining roster spot to add another future-minded body before the end of the regular season.

Which player is most likely to be traded from the Celtics?

The guy we often point to here is Brandon Bass. The 28-year-old forward quietly has had another excellent season for Boston, but he also makes an awful lot of sense for a contender. Bass is a versatile defender with a reasonable contract and a lunch-pail worker who won't disrupt the chemistry in the locker room on a winning team. Boston is overstocked at the 4, with Jared Sullinger the future at that position (assuming the team eventually adds a legit center next to him) and Kelly Olynyk and Kris Humphries deserving of more consistent minutes. Moving Bass would create playing time for rookie Olynyk to develop, while maybe also further trimming payroll next season.

Jeff Green's future likely depends on what teams are willing to offer. Despite his inconsistencies, the guess here is that the Celtics still would put a high price tag on his services. The Celtics obviously would love to move Gerald Wallace's bloated deal but seemingly would have to part with young talent or a future pick to entice a team to consider that. Keith Bogans, excused from the team back in January, is more likely to be moved over the summer with the final two years of his deal not guaranteed, but a team looking to shed costs could beat the rush if it were willing to take on his contract for the rest of this season.

Will the Celtics trade Rajon Rondo?

Even as Rondo shows signs of returning to All-Star form, it's hard to imagine a contender offering the sort of deal that would come close to Danny Ainge's lofty price tag for the team's captain. Let's remember, the only time the Celtics have come close to actually trading Rondo -- despite those annual trade murmurs -- was when Chris Paul would have been coming back in return. It seems unlikely that another team would offer an irresistible in-season package for a player coming off a major injury. Only the fear of losing Rondo in unrestricted free agency might be enough for Boston to slightly lower its asking price, and there's no reason to do that now before the Celtics can get to the negotiating table this summer and further gauge whether Rondo is open to an extension.

Is Jared Sullinger untouchable?

The list of untouchable players probably starts with LeBron James and ends with Kevin Durant. With everyone else, you can at least start a conversation (as brief as some of those would be). Sullinger has been fantastic recently, blossoming into a consistent double-double player who has shown the ability to go for 20/20 this season. What's more, he's on a steal of a rookie contract as the 21st pick in the 2012 draft and will earn $1.4 million in 2014-15 and $2.3 million in 2015-16 before the team really has to worry about a long-term extension. All that said, Boston's path to Banner 17 started with making a talented young big man (Al Jefferson) the centerpiece of a deal to land a surefire Hall of Famer. Could Sullinger -- and Boston's pile of future first-round picks -- be the key to a similar deal? Is there another Kevin Garnett out there? The more desirable situation for Boston is to nurture Sullinger and continue to mold him into an All-Star talent.

What about Kris Humphries and that $12 million contract?

The best situation for Boston might be to keep Humphries around through the end of the season and see what happens this summer. Getting him back at a lower price tag remains possible, while the worst-case scenario is the team simply sheds $12 million from its books (or uses Humphries as a sign-and-trade option).

Any chance the team moves Avery Bradley?

Bradley is set to become a restricted free agent this summer, and it seems likely a team will drive up his price tag. Boston must decide whether he's indeed the complementary piece next to Rondo in the backcourt of the future, and how much are the Celtics willing to spend for those services? While there's always the possibility of getting outbid this summer, it's probably a long shot, and Boston seems unlikely to deal him now unless it thought Bradley simply wasn't the future at shooting guard.

Would the Celtics trade for known talent or only picks and cap room?

This one is tricky because Boston is roughly $800,000 from the luxury-tax line, so taking on money isn't easy (although it's possible depending on the outgoing salaries). It's most often contenders who add big-money talent this time of year, but you can't rule out Boston using some of that draft-pick surplus if a player it lusts after becomes available at a below-market-value price tag.

What do you think is most likely to happen at the trade deadline?

Ultimately, I think the Celtics will be in a lot of whispers, with Ainge and his staff at least listening to everything that's available out there. Maybe the Celtics will send Bass to a contender, which could help take his $6.9 million off the books next season while creating playing time for younger players now. But Boston always could find better deals for the players it desires to move after the season, so this deadline could just as easily pass quietly. As Ainge has long maintained, his job is to make the Celtics better in the long run, and if there's a deal to be made that can accomplish that, he won't shy away. But with two deals in the rear-view mirror, Boston has taken some of the stress out of making a move by Feb. 20.