The Boston Celtics are dark horse contenders. They have been for the past few seasons now and things do not seem to be changing anytime soon. The team is wing-heavy, which helps play a versatile style of basketball. And while they have emerging stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, plus an established star in Kemba Walker and a defensive stalwart in Marcus Smart, the team is missing a few pieces that would make them favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics’ most glaring weakness is believed to be their big man rotation. Looking at the numbers, you would think the Celtics are set with rim protection and rebounding as they rank 6th in blocks and 9th in rebounding. Those numbers are due to team effort and not one stand-out big man. Daniel Theis has done a good job manning the middle, averaging 1.3 BPG and 6.6 RPG in only 23.8 MPG as a starter, but standing at only 6’8”, he does not provide the Celtics with a true paint protector.
Behind Theis, the Celtics have both Enes Kanter and Robert Williams. Neither player is above 6’10”; and while Williams is proving to be a great protector, his 6’8” stature limits his ability to intimidate opposing teams. Kanter’s rebounding prowess does mask the team’s weakness on the boards but he is only playing 17.5 MPG.
The key to this offseason for the Celtics will be Gordon Hayward accepting his player option. If Hayward shockingly declines the option, the Celtics would be hard-pressed to find a trade partner without giving up one of their key pieces (Tatum, Walker, Smart, or Brown). They would likely have to depend on Free Agent acquisitions but limited to mid-level exceptions or veteran minimums.
If the Celtics want to be favorites above the Milwaukee Bucks and other Eastern contenders, they either need to solidify their interior play with 1 player or go all-out in the wing-domination by adding another star forward.
Here are a few options I believe would help elevate the Celtics into true contender status.
Celtics Receive: Rudy Gobert
Jazz Receive: Jaylen Brown, 2020 1st Round Pick (MIL via PHX)
Not too long ago, a Rudy Gobert-Utah Jazz split seemed inevitable as there was a reported rift between him and Jazz’s star G Donovan Mitchell. Those reports have been squelched but that does not necessarily mean Gobert is back to being untouchable. The Jazz may have quieted those rumors to increase Gobert’s trade value back to that of a yearly DPOY candidate and 2x DPOY winner. Gobert may still be on the move as his relationship with Mitchell is still in question.
Adding Gobert to this roster would give the Celtics a phenomenal balance on offense and defense. It would also give them one of the best defensive duos with Gobert in the paint and Smart on the perimeter. Losing Brown may be a necessary casualty of landing a C that addresses both issues associated with the Celtics: rebounding and rim protection.
For the Jazz, Brown would move to the SF spot, replacing Royce O’Neale in the starting lineup. The Jazz can also move Mitchell to PG if Mike Conley does not return to his former self, putting Brown next to Joe Ingles and Bojan Bogdanovic. That would make the Utah Jazz one of the most versatile teams in the NBA.
Celtics Receive: Myles Turner, Jeremy Lamb, TJ Leaf
Pacers Receive: Gordon Hayward, Daniel Theis, 2020 1st Round Pick (MIL via PHX)
Myles Turner would have been a perfect pre-trade deadline target for the Celtics. Earlier in the season, trade rumors spread throughout the league, stemming from Turner and Domantas Sabonis’ inability to play together effectively. As the season continued, the Pacers started to work things out between the 2 bigs, making a Turner trade difficult. With that said, the Celtics may still be able to land Turner, but now at a higher cost.
In this deal, the Celtics address their rim protection while also adding wing depth to mask the loss of Hayward in the deal. Turner is a better version of Theis, a much better version. Though he does not rebound very well, the Celtics still have Kanter and Williams to cover the boards while Turner bolsters their rim protection. Adding Lamb to the deal allows the Celtics to remain versatile as he can play either wing position, fitting nicely alongside Brown, Tatum, or Smart. Leaf would be added simply for salary matching.
For the Pacers, this would allow Sabonis to play more minutes at C as Theis fills-in for spurts, as he demands less playing time than Turner. The deal also bolsters their forward depth; Lamb was a capable SF but his fit next to Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon was questionable. Placing Hayward in those lineups, next to TJ Warren at the forward positions, gives the Pacers more versatility offensively. The 1st Round Pick is top-6 protected and may be enticing enough for the Pacers to be willing to let go of Myles Turner.
Celtics Receive: Steven Adams, Mike Muscala, Abdel Nader
Thunder Receive: Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter
Acquiring Steven Adams would be a major upgrade in the paint for the Boston Celtics. Adams has declined athletically but his strength and ability to control the paint have remained. He is not a player that demands touches, yet he still contributes offensively with rim-runs and tap-outs on rebounding situations.
Adams’ play doesn’t always show in numbers as he has never averaged a double-double or average over 1.2 BPG, but putting him in a lineup with Walker, Smart, Brown, and Tatum would make life difficult for any contending team. Muscala and Nader would mainly be included for salary reasons, but either play may break into the Celtics rotation in limited minutes.
The Thunder have been rumored to be shopping Steven Adams since last off-season’s blow-up: trading away Paul George and Russell Westbrook. This is a deal that may work for them in different ways. Acquiring Hayward can help make up for the possibility of losing Danilo Gallinari. Even if they were somehow able to retain Gallinari, a forward tandem of Hayward and Gallinari would help the team push for a possible top 5-seed in the Western Conference. Also, OKC would be returning a fan favorite in Kanter. Kanter can also help make-up for the loss of Adams on the boards (though he brings minimal defensive efforts).
Celtics Receive: Kevin Love, 2021 2nd Round Pick (Conditional)
Cavaliers Receive: Gordon Hayward
This is another deal that would require Hayward to accept his PO. Kevin Love is no longer the beloved double-double machine All-Star. His fall from stardom has been overstated; he is still a potential 20-10 threat that offers solid floor spacing.
This deal would not be the sexiest trade at face value, but it may be enough to push Boston over the top. Love provides great rebounding prowess and pushes Tatum back to SF in the starting lineup. Though he does not provide rim protection, the Celtics are not terrible in that department, Williams and/or Theis may be enough to man the middle alongside Love.
The Cavaliers’ reward in this deal is shedding the long contract of Love. Currently, the Cavs are not in a great position, financially or talent-wise, so simply shedding long-term contracts is a must for them. It would likely cost them a draft pick, despite Love having a higher value than Hayward.
There are a few other players that the Celtics may try to acquire, but they would be nearly impossible to land without the plethora of draft picks we have become accustomed to seeing the Celtics yield. Knowing Danny Ainge, anything is possible…
Celtics Receive: Mitchell Robinson, Reggie Bullock
Knicks Receive: Daniel Theis, Carsen Edwards, 2020 1st Round Pick (MEM), 2022 1st Round Pick (BOS)
This deal is very unlikely. Robinson’s value is higher than the Celtics would like, but at the end of the day, it is the New York Knicks. There is always a chance they make a huge error like trading away Robinson for other potential pieces.
Robinson is nearly the perfect player for the Celtics. With both him and Robert Williams in tow, the Celtics would be able to have a rebounder/rim protector on the court for the majority of the game.
There really is not much incentive in this deal for the Knicks besides getting young assets/picks. The Celtics would have to bank on the Knicks looking to add more young assets.
Celtics Receive: Joel Embiid, Al Horford
76ers Receive: Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Daniel Theis, Two Future 1st Round Picks
If the Philadelphia 76ers are seriously looking to deal away Embiid, it would likely require a team who can offer stout perimeter shooting.
Though the Celtics have a few enticing players, a deal landing them Embiid will likely mandate a 3rd team’s involvement. Maybe involving the Cavaliers and Kevin Love could help do the job. Either way, getting Embiid in a Celtics uniform is a difficult task for Ainge.
Celtics Receive: Karl-Anthony Towns, James Johnson, Jacob Evans
Timberwolves Receive: Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, 2020 1st Round Pick (MIL via PHX)
This is likely another dead deal as Towns’ rift with management seems to have been settled after the Minnesota Timberwolves landed his close friend, D’Angelo Russell.
The Celtics can still try. The deal would likely be more enticing if done during the season if the Wolves come off to a slow start, but then the picks wielded may double.