Is Aiding A Weakness Worth Sacrificing A Strength?

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Before we begin, something, or someone, needs to be addressed- the death of one Kobe “Bean” Bryant. The NBA community lost one of its biggest icons over the weekend when Bryant lost his life in a helicopter crash. This news is very tragic seeing how popular Kobe was both during and after his time in the NBA and how young he was when he passed on.

It’s hard to write anything period right now because tragedies like these almost never happen, and in Kobe’s case, no one could have ever imagined that it would end for him so tragically soon. It’s going to be a long time before everyone can fully process this. Some of us may never be able to. If you’re still understandably grieving, take your time.

Let’s also remember the other lives that were lost that day, which included Kobe’s daughter Gianna Bryant, and keep them in your prayers if you haven’t already. There are plenty of videos and articles that go into much more detail about the man and the player that Kobe Bryant was. Please feel free to check those out, because fair warning, this won’t be a piece about the man who once donned the numbers 8 and 24.

This is going to be about the trading season. The trade deadline is less than two weeks away. Slowly but surely, trade buzz is now heating up. Over the past few weeks, the Minnesota Timberwolves added some desperately needed shooting while the Atlanta Hawks wanted some nostalgia in an already lost season. The Golden State Warriors are going full throttle on their tank job, while the Dallas Mavericks have adjusted accordingly following Dwight Powell’s devastating Achilles injury.

That might be the tip of the iceberg, or it might be as good we get in terms of impact. Teams may think they want more time to evaluate their squads, or they may think that it’s not worth making any big changes. That hasn’t stopped anyone from speculating about the big names potentially finding new homes — Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Paul come to mind.

Then, there’s one that always comes up despite no rumors being tied to him: Gordon Hayward.

For context, let’s start with the Boston Celtics. The Celtics have played well enough to put their name among the very best in the Eastern Conference and arguably the entire league. Despite their impressive 31-15 record, what seems to be preventing them from entering the contender discussion is their lack of a difference-maker in the big department.

Al Horford didn’t provide a whole lot of flash, but his skill set checked a lot of boxes. His departure left a huge void for Boston to fill. With him and Aron Baynes gone, Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Robert Williams III and Grant Williams have handled the majority of the minutes at the five position. Together, the four of them have done a good enough job. Good enough in the sense that they haven’t brought Boston down nearly as much as originally feared. Still, if they had a bigger name manning the middle, maybe that would put the Celtics back in the discussion.

Now would be as good a time as any to get that particular big name at the center spot. Steven Adams and Andre Drummond have been rumored to be on the market since both of their teams are supposedly changing course.

This is where the prospect of trading Hayward comes in. With his $30+ million on the books, he makes enough money that he would match in a trade with any upper-tier big in the league. Also, because the Celtics have plenty both in the scoring department with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker — and the playmaking department with Walker and Marcus Smart — a case can be made that Hayward isn’t the top offensive option on the team he once was.

Another case can be made that Hayward, who has objectively played so much better this season than last, gives the Celtics another layer on both sides of the floor because of his abilities as a jack-of-all-trades wing. When fully healthy, the Celtics have had the privilege of having two of either him or Kemba or “the Jays” on the court at all times without missing a beat. Together, the four of them are plus-14.1 when they share the court.

The only problem is that those four have had trouble staying on the court together throughout most of the season. Believe it or not, that particular quartet has only played in 16 games together total.

If the Celtics were to trade Hayward for a high-profile big, they would, on paper, be taking away from a strength to aid a weakness. Teams have made these types of trades before where they trade a player believed to be superfluous for a player who was slated to help in a weaker area.

Has this strategy worked? Yes and no. History says it’s a mixed bag. This brings us to a tweet made by former Celtic Kendrick Perkins a little while ago.

This specific trade idea has been brought up what seems like an infinite amount of times, but coming from Perk this time is a little ironic. That’s because Perkins himself was involved in a similar trade nine years ago.

For those who don’t remember — and any Celtics fan who’s reading this certainly doesn’t — Boston traded Perkins among others to the Oklahoma City Thunder for primarily Jeff Green. Many were put off by this trade seeing how Perkins played a vital part in Boston winning its 17th championship, while Green helped Oklahoma City get its first playoff berth.

Putting all emotions aside, the rationale was pretty straightforward. The Celtics lost backup wing Marquis Daniels for the season with a bruised spinal cord and were one of the oldest teams in the league. They needed some depth on the wing and a little infusion of youth couldn’t have hurt. The Thunder had been bested by the then-defending reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers the previous postseason because LA took advantage of their lack of size. Getting someone who could stand up to them potentially made them the favorites in the West.

Both sides also viewed Perkins and Green as expendable. Boston had a strong enough frontcourt that they were one of the East’s best teams, even with Perkins out for most of the season. Oklahoma City had plenty of young talent in its arsenal that Green was a surplus — plus, they needed to see how good James Harden would be if his role expanded.

Both teams sacrificed a part of their strengths to help a weakness. We all know how this worked out. To make a long story short, it didn’t. Perkins did not fit the Thunder’s up-tempo style at all, and Green never really found a role for himself with the Celtics until it was too late. In this instance, the player acquired in hopes of aiding the weakness either didn’t really do that (Green) or even if he did, he hurt the team more than he helped overall (Perkins).

There have been other instances where making a deal like this worked for the best — at least for one side. A year after OKC and Boston agreed to their midseason swap, Golden State and the Milwaukee Bucks made some rather seismic roster changes midseason when the Warriors traded Monta Ellis to the Bucks for Andrew Bogut, among others.

This move also didn’t sit well with fans even if the thinking made sense. Golden State had one of the league’s most talented scoring duos between Ellis and a young Stephen Curry, but since the team’s defense was a complete joke — especially in the post — a rim protector was needed to change its fortunes. Milwaukee needed more scoring help seeing how Brandon Jennings couldn’t do everything himself, and Bogut was injury-prone.

In short, while Ellis didn’t really do much for the Bucks, Bogut was exactly what the Warriors needed. His high IQ both as a shot-blocker and as a passer gave Golden State the final touches to start what would turn into an era of dominance. Ellis may have been the more talented player at that point, but Bogut was the better piece to put next to Curry.

Another reason why both teams agreed to a swap? They both had blossoming players who had great potential ahead of them. For the Warriors, it was hot-shot rookie Klay Thompson, whose shooting and defense proved to be a better fit next to Curry. For the Bucks, it was second-year man Larry Sanders, whose athleticism and rim protection made Bogut redundant. Because they had their replacements lined up, both sides felt they could give up the players in the deal.

It may have only worked out for one side in the long run, but it still proves that making a move like this can work out as long as you prepare accordingly. It’s not a given, but the risk is worth taking.

Getting back to Hayward, the odds of Boston trading him period should seem low. If the Celtics traded a guy who:
– Left more money on the table to join them
– Has gone through hell and back with his leg injury
– Has a personal relationship with their head coach

It would not make them look good. The Celtics’ image took a substantial hit when they traded Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving. Even if it was the right move, Thomas gave the Celtics everything he could while dealing with both an injured hip and the death of his sister. Trading him made the Celtics look cold and ruthless. That cold image would only be amped up if they did the same with Hayward.

Then again, maybe it wouldn’t matter to them if they believed a title was in their grasp should they make such a move. That was the thought process when they acquired Irving. Getting to that final stage requires making moves that aren’t comfortable to make. If taking away from your strength bolsters your team overall because it helps a weakness, you should do it. Especially if a title is within your grasp.

When it comes to topics like this, always think of what Thanos said during Avengers: Infinity War.

“The hardest choices require the strongest wills.”