With the 2017 NBA trade deadline rapidly approaching, front offices around the league are working the phones to put together the best possible deals for their clubs.
After 3 p.m. eastern on Thursday, Feb 23 the trade window will officially be closed. That’s only a few more days, with the All-Star break in-between them from Feb. 17 to Feb. 19, for some big moves to go down. The trade waters are already starting to get more active, and more rumors are starting to circulate.
The Boston Celtics may be in the best position of any team in the NBA. They are stacked with good players, young talent and multiple first-round picks in upcoming drafts. Celtic’s GM Danny Ainge has been patient on the trade front, he’s made smart deals to help reduce the amount of time it’s taking for the franchise to rebuild.
Ainge has made it a point to win deals. He did this with the Brooklyn Nets when he dealt an aging Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in exchange for THREE first-round picks, and he also did this in deals with Dallas and Phoenix, which eventually brought Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas to the Celtics.
Regardless, we’re nearing the point where the Celtics need to turn their assets into something. Ainge isn’t going to make a bad deal to mortgage the team’s future, he’s more than happy to use the draft picks on some of the elite talents at the top of the draft, and he should be. But fans want to see Boston make a move, they want to see the team finally do something with the number of valuable pieces they’ve acquired over the last few seasons.
Fans in Boston expect a championship, and they don’t care if the teams in Cleveland and Golden State are supposed to be more talented. This city doesn't settle for second, that’s why there are 17 banners in the rafters.
It seems unlikely that a major trade goes down around the deadline for the Celtics, though they have been linked to Jimmy Butler and Paul George for a while, those players just simply don’t seem to be readily available for a trade. If a move is made, it’ll most likely be something smaller to try and get the team another competent big who can protect the rim and rebound.
Disclaimer: This order is my opinion of how these assets are valued, please don’t hurt me.
1. 2017 NBA Draft pick-swap with the Brooklyn Nets
The Nets sit at a league worst 9-46, the second worst team, the Phoenix Suns, are 17-39. The Nets are eight wins behind the second worst team! It’s incredible in a sad way, and even worse for Brooklyn is that Boston holds their first round pick for the next two years.
This pick is almost guaranteed to give you the best odds in the lottery at the number one pick in the 2017 Draft. If the Celtics want to net a star in a trade, this pick starts that conversation.
2. Jae Crowder
Crowder is an elite two-way player on a bargain contract. He’s locked in until 2020 and will make a combined $21.9 million over the next three seasons, for comparison, Al Horford is making $26.5 million this season.
He’s shooting 41.5% from deep, tops on the Celtics roster. That’s a huge improvement from the 33.6% he shot from three in the regular season, and the 24.4% from deep in the 2016 playoffs. His shot and overall ability on offense have begun to show signs of improvement. Crowder could be traded or remain in Boston as a valuable future piece. His commitment to defense, winning, and being a good teammate makes him an impact guy to have around. Crowder’s attitude has rubbed off on the entire team.
3. Avery Bradley
Bradley is another elite two-way player, though he’s about to get paid. He hits the market in 2018 and the Celtics are going to have a big decision to make. Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas will also be up for extension in 2018 and it seems unlikely that all three will remain on the roster.
The current longest tenured Celtic is averaging 17.7 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game this season, though he has missed 20 of the last 21 games with an Achilles injury. Bradley is expected to return after the all-star break. If Boston is to net a star via trade, Crowder or Bradley seem like the top options to be moved in that deal because of their youth, versatility, and value around the league.
4. Marcus Smart
Smart is one of the best young defenders in the NBA, and it’ll be a criminal offense if he isn’t named to one of the NBA All-Defense teams. He hounds his man all night, forcing opposing players into mistakes and turnovers. As a starter, he’s averaging 2.7 steals per game.
He has developed enough offensively to be able to run the offense, and he’s an excellent passer in the pick and roll. The knock on Smart is his shot, but he’s beginning to show signs of improvement. Smart is shooting 33.5% from downtown, not great, but certainly a jump over the 25.3% he shot last season. His sweet spot is the corners, where he converts on 46.9% of his shots from the left corner and 41% from the right corner.
If I'm the Celtics, Smart is untouchable unless the trade brings back a superstar. He makes the kind of winning plays you don't see often and does all of the little things that make teams great.
5. Jaylen Brown
Long, athletic, and full of potential. Brown is the kind of prospect that is coveted around the league, hence why he went top five in the draft. He was expected to be raw and need development before he could make an impact at the NBA level, but Brown has come on stronger than expected.
As I wrote earlier this month, Brown has made the most of his opportunities while Avery Bradley has been sidelined. He’s settled in and you can see how much more comfortable he is on the court. Brown made 10 straight starts, the Celtics won nine of 10, before suffering a hip flexor that’ll keep him out until after the all-star break. He looks like he could play a big role in Boston’s future, it’ll be tough to pry him away.
6. Isaiah Thomas
Thomas is one of the hardest players to rank. He’s having an MVP-caliber season while averaging 29.9 points and 6.3 assists. He’s also one of the most clutch players in the NBA, putting up 10.7 points per game in the fourth quarter alone.
IT has turned into one of the most productive offensive players in the league, unfortunately, people are always going to doubt him because of his height and defensive numbers. He’s posting a 9.4 offensive plus-minus and a -3.9 defensive plus-minus, but the defensive issues aren’t all on Thomas. He plays with effort on defense, he isn’t just looking to score like some superstars around the league. The Celtics have also had some of their best defenders miss time, notably Avery Bradley. Horford has also missed 12 games, while Crowder has missed 10.
He’s up for extension in 2018, and that could scare teams off. Thomas could demand max money.
7. Brooklyn Nets 2018 NBA Draft first-round pick
The Nets are set up to be awful once again in 2017-2018. They own a pair of second round picks in the 2017 NBA draft and are projected to have about $40.6 million in cap room available.
The Nets had cap space in 2016 and turned that into Jeremy Lin and Luis Scola, major free agents are going to go to winning situations, not to the Nets. Depending on Brooklyn’s summer, Boston could be in for another top five pick in 2018.
8. Kelly Olynyk
Olynyk has finally been able to get into a groove. He struggled early in the season while trying to recover from a shoulder surgery that prevented him from shooting for six months.
In seven games in February, he’s averaging 13.1 points, seven rebounds, and 2.1 assists over 22.6 minutes per game. Olynyk is shooting 58.7% from the field, 42.9% from three and 64.3% from the line during those seven games.
Olynyk’s rookie deal is up after the season, the Celtics have the option of trading him now or possibly resigning him this summer. There’s no question in the value of having a seven footer who can stretch the floor at a high level, there’s just the question of if the Celtics will have the cap space necessary to be able to resign him.
9. Amir Johnson
Johnson is a role player on this squad whose main job is to play solid defense, rebound and contribute offensively when needed and he is playing that role to a tune.
My colleague recently wrote about how underrated Johnson is, noting that he might secretly be the best rebounder on the roster as Johnson hauls in a team-high 12.9% of the total rebounds available when he’s on the court. He’s also a plus-defender that has one of the top rim protecting field goal percentages in the league.
His contract is expiring and it’s the second highest on the roster outside of Al Horford. If a trade goes down, Amir’s contract may have to be dealt for salary matching purposes.
10. Ante Zizic
Zizic is a bit of a mystery man, but if the tales from overseas are true, he could be a good one. The six-foot-eleven-inch big man recently signed with Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul, a team coached by former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach, David Blatt.
Blatt recognizes the talent in front of him and Zizic is performing at a high level. In eight appearances with five starts, he’s averaging 10.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, and one block per game.
11. Terry Rozier
Rozier is still trying to find a consistent role on the team. He’s athletic and quick, but he isn’t as good as a finisher as he needs to be. Rozier also has an inconsistent shot, and he’s mostly a work in progress on the offensive end.
He’s a good energy piece of the bench and he rebounds well for a guard. He needs to continue to develop his game but he’s notably better after spending much of last season in the D-League.
12. Gerald Green
Green provides a solid, veteran scoring option off the bench. He’s picked up his play as of late and scored in double-figures in three straight contests before injuring his heel against Philadelphia.
He’s shooting 46.2% from deep in February and still has a lot of the athleticism he had 10 years ago when he won the dunk contest. Plus, he's on a veteran minimum deal.
13. Guerschon Yabusele
Yabusele is a prospect that Celtic’s fans are more familiar with since he played with the team during NBA Summer League action.
Now stashed in China, he’s averaging 21.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.3 steals. He’s also shooting 54% from the field and about 39% from deep. The competition in China is weaker than other leagues, so those numbers are encouraging. He’s dominating the weaker competition like he should.
14. Jonas Jerebko
Jerebko is another solid veteran on an expiring deal. His contract could be used as a trade-chip if need be. He provides solid defense but his offensive game has fallen off of a cliff as of late, and that could be due to the injury he’s currently dealing with.
He broke his nose in a friendly fire collision with Jaylen Brown back on Feb. 5 against the Los Angeles Clippers. Jerebko is only playing 13.9 minutes per game in February after playing 18.2 last month. Is he starting to fall out of Stevens rotation?
15. Tyler Zeller
Zeller is also having trouble finding consistent minutes this season. He missed 12 straight games after coming down with an illness in late December. Since his return, he’s only appeared in seven of 11 contests while averaging 11.3 minutes per game, but that number is slightly inflated as 51 of those minutes came over three games.
He signed a two-year, $16 million deal over the summer to remain in Boston, but his contract in 2017-2018 is non-guaranteed if he is no longer on the roster by July 1, 2017. Zeller is probably one of the main players that the Celtics are shopping as the deadline nears.
16. James Young
The Celtics declined the fourth-year option on Young’s contract before the 2016-2017 season began. As I wrote back in October, this left him with one choice, to perform, or likely lose his spot in Boston and possibly the NBA.
His 2016-2017 season began just like his first two. Young was glued to the bench, only getting on the court in garbage time duty. However, he has seen an uptick in minutes after injuries to Avery Bradley and Jaylen Brown. Over the last three games, Young is averaging 8.3 points and 2.3 rebounds over 16.3 minutes per contest. He’s shooting 59% from the field and 50% from deep during this small sample size of games.
17. Jordan Mickey
Mickey was given opportunities to play earlier in the season when the Celtics were banged up. Unfortunately, he wasn’t very impressive and he’s mostly been relegated to the bench since.
He’s only played double-digit minutes four times this season, and twice since November 9. The Celtics have Mickey under contract until the summer of 2019 and he’s making less than $1.5 million for the next two seasons. They can deal him or continue trying to develop him, either way, his low cap hold isn’t hurting the team. If they decide he isn't worth a roster spot next season, cut him loose.
18. Demetrius Jackson
Jackson just signed a four-year, $5.5 million deal with the Celtics back when he was drafted in 2016. He’s behind IT, Smart and Rozier on the depth chart so he’s spent most of his time on the bench and in the D-League.
In 22 appearances for the Maine Red Claws, Jackson is putting up 16.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 5.1 assists. He’s played pretty well in the D-League and he’s on a team-friendly deal.
19. Al Horford
No, I didn’t forget about Al. The man just signed on to be a Celtic for four years and $113.3 million. After this season he’ll have two more years under contract, plus a player option in 2019-2020. He’s set to be in Boston for a long time and it wouldn’t be a good look if the Celtics traded Horford away.
We’ve heard for years how Boston isn’t a free agent destination, trading away possibly the biggest free agent signing in your franchise’s history isn’t the way to impress future free agents. Horford is essentially off the market, he’s set to play a large part in the future of the team.
If Horford was an upcoming free agent, I’d rank him in the top six. His ability to contribute to all facets of the game is very intriguing.