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NBA PM: Finally Time For A Celtics Trade?

The Celtics may soon need to decide between a win-now core and immense future assets, writes Moke Hamilton.



Time to Make a Deal?

From the moment Kevin Durant announced his decision to take his talents to Oakland, the Russell Westbrook watch began in earnest. Surely, he would be leaving Oklahoma City, as well.

Among potential landing spots, the Boston Celtics were mentioned. And why wouldn’t they have been? They’ve become the ideal trading partner for every single NBA team that has a superstar that appears to warrant a proactive change of scenery. It’s no coincidence that they have been tied to DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, Jimmy Butler and, most recently, Carmelo Anthony.

For Danny Ainge and Co., the question has never been whether or not they could make a trade, it’s always been whether or not they should.

All things considered, though, it may finally be time.

Back on draft night in 2013, when Ainge made the decision to trade Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets, little did we know the extent to which he was altering the trajectory of the franchise. That began a meticulous process wherein Ainge peddled off assets to amass a treasure trove of draft picks. With James Young and Jaylen Brown selected with two of the picks that came from the Nets, they accumulate with the 2017 first round pick the Nets still owe the Celtics to form a fairly rich cupboard in Boston. Jeff Green, whom Ainge subsequently peddled to the Memphis Grizzlies, also returned a first round pick to the team. That pick may vest as early as 2019. The Celtics are also set to receive a pick from the Los Angeles Clippers as compensation for Doc Rivers, which is likely to vest as an additional first rounder either in 2019 or 2020.

In sum, the NBA today is marked by a value being placed on return on investment. Draft picks represent that quite well. With those three first round picks potentially vesting in Boston, the Celtics also have five second round pick credits that will vest between now and 2020. Along with the aforementioned Young and Brown, the Celtics have tons of players whose potential is still not fully realized. The gross majority of them also happen to be on cap friendly contracts.

For those reasons, it is clear as day that the Celtics are the ideal trade partner for any team looking to extricate itself of superstar who hasn’t quite worked out.

Now, as the team enters play on February 16 as the second seed in the Eastern Conference, many wonder what it would take for the Celtics to solidify themselves as a contender.

What even more are wondering is whether Ainge will feel pressure to do something to attempt to get his team to the next level, especially considering Serge Ibaka’s recent trade to the Toronto Raptors. With Kevin Love’s injury and the Cavaliers having proven themselves capable of struggling, the Celtics are a team that should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, because they appear to simply be one or two more pieces away from truly turning a corner. Ainge has perhaps the richest cupboard in the entire league that can be used as a catalyst for a blockbuster trade.

As difficult as it was for Ainge to trade the franchise’s mainstay in Pierce, hindsight now reveals that it was the right decision, especially with the way things have played out since Pierce’s departure. Most scouts are tabbing the 2017 draft as being as loaded as any draft we have seen over the past few years, and the Nets’ pick (which is owed to the Celtics) may very well be first overall.

One can only wonder, however, whether the Celts actually need or want another lottery pick. At this point, Ainge and Brad Stevens truly appear to be managing a franchise that’s stuck between two extremes—one building for the future and one try to win right now. With Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder all far from spring chickens, the Celtics probably don’t have time to wait three or four years for some of their younger prospects—much less whichever rookie they select in this year’s draft—to become impact players.

Even more troublesome? Those youngsters will continue to battle some of their older veteran teammates for playing time, and that’s not ideal.

One way or another, the Celtics will need to decide whether they are trying to win right now, or whether they are building for their future. Interestingly enough, we may get an indication of how they are leaning as the trade deadline draws nearer.

Russell Westbrook Alone in Third

In Wednesday night’s 116-105 victory over the New York Knicks, Russell Westbrook notched a 38-point, 14-rebound, 12-assist triple-double. After 57 games, Westbrook is averaging 31.1 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.1 assists per game. With only 25 games remaining, he will have a legitimate shot at doing the unthinkable—averaging a triple-double for the entire season.

Wednesday night’s triple-double gave Westbrook 27 on the season, moving him into sole possession for third-most in a single season. During the 1961-62 season, Oscar Robertson recorded 41 triple-doubles, while Wilt Chamberlain’s 31 triple-doubles during the 1973-74 season remains second-most.

At this point, it’s difficult to imagine Westbrook not supplanting Chamberlain’s 31, but there’s still plenty of work to do for him to eclipse “The Big O.”

And if Westbrook does the unthinkable and manages to average a triple-double through mid-April, that wouldn’t only set historic mark. It would also set the stage for what could be the most interesting Most Valuable Player vote in NBA history.

The second half of the season promises to be quite dramatic, if nothing else.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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