Review Celtics options ahead of Feb. 9 trade deadline

To build up muscle.

This is the instruction Boston Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said he delivered to Brad Stevens ahead of next week’s NBA trade deadline.

Grousbeck even hinted last week that he would be fine with splurging on a rental type player when he said: “The conversation I had with Brad is, it’s about this It’s not about, ‘It’ll pay dividends in three years,’ or, ‘It’ll do that next year.’ It’s this year. Get your muscles going and let’s get the job done.

A green light to splurge is an attractive proposition. The Celtics, when healthy, have a well-defined eight-man playoff rotation and some emergency depth plays. An injury to a main player, especially in a big man position, complicates things a bit.

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So how could Stevens and his front desk staff proceed over the next 10 days?

Let’s start by taking stock of the Celtics’ assets to close a deal:

Draft Picks

The Celtics traded their 2023 first-round pick to Indiana as part of the Malcolm Brogdon trade last summer. It also means they can’t immediately trade their first-round pick in 2024, because the Stepien Rule prevents teams from trading back-to-back first-round picks. Once the 2023 draft passes, Boston could then trade the 2024 pick because they own all of their future picks going forward.

So if the Celtics wanted to use a first-round pick on any deal before the deadline, 2025 is the first option available. Let’s say the Celtics wanted to make a splash and send three first rounders, then you’d be looking at something like picks 25, 27 and 29 – this after already agreeing to a pick trade with San Antonio in 2028.

Boston has a potentially strong second-round pick from Houston (protected for the 31st and 32nd spots) who could be suspended, although the Rockets currently have the worst record in basketball and would deliver that pick to the Pacers instead.

Even if Boston doesn’t get Houston’s pick, Boston still plans to have multiple second-round picks in this year’s draft. That includes a mid-second-round pick from the Trail Blazers (currently ranked at No. 41) and the less favorable picks from Miami and Dallas (currently projected at No. 52).

Commercial exemptions

The Celtics still have five traded player exceptions, but four of them are valued at $2.1 million or less, making them unlikely to be used (a friendly reminder, TPEs cannot be combined ).

Boston has the Dennis Schroder TPE worth $5.89 million. The Celtics can trade for any player earning that salary (or less) without necessarily having to match the outgoing salary.

This opens up an intriguing avenue to add a player on a modest salary for depth purposes. With about $24 million in luxury tax and a nearly $60 million tax bill, Boston is likely hoping to send in a paycheck, but that might be a less tedious route to adding an impact actor.

Disabled player exception

The NBA granted the Celtics a $3.24 million disabled player exception after Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL before the season. The Celtics have until March 10 to use it. Boston can either sign a free agent for the remainder of the season or trade for any player from the final season of his contract making that amount or less.

Probably the biggest benefit of ECD would be to use it as a way to outbid other rivals for any impact player that landed in the buyout market. We’re just reminding you that history suggests limited impact for buyout additions as it’s been 15 years since PJ Brown helped Boston’s run at Banner 17.

Player Assets

If we’re assuming the Celtics wouldn’t want to trade one of their key players, then Boston’s best available trade asset would likely be Payton Pritchard. A playoff contributor last season, Pritchard has seen inconsistent minutes and recently hinted at his desire to spend next season with a team that can offer him a bigger role. Even with him under the control of the team next season, the Celtics need to think about his future given his obvious desire to play a bigger role.

Boston, given the injury history of players like Smart Marcus and Brogdon, may prefer to keep Pritchard for emergency depth this year. He’s been a luxury as Brogdon and Smart recently ran out of time.

Pritchard earns $2.2 million, which could make it difficult for the team to find ways to get a player of his potential in return. Boston could also consider including someone like Justin Jackson to help boost the total outgoing salary, but even putting those two contracts together doesn’t get you to a higher salary level than TPE Schroder.

The only wildcard here: would the Celtics be willing to send Gallinari on any deal? He reveled in the chance to join Boston and attacked his rehab in hopes of a rather unlikely playoff return. Alas, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be ready for that stage and the Celtics might need his hefty salary to facilitate any big moves before he can even play ground level green.

Moving Gallinari and his $6.5 million salary is a bit of a hassle, though. Gallinari has a player option for next season which, combined with his age and injury status, makes him a negative asset. A team would likely insist on additional asset projects to take their money.

Still, the bottom line is that there is no assurance that Gallinari can help this team this year and, if the Celtics can move him for someone who can, the team should definitely consider this deal.

Tax Considerations

One thing to keep in mind when framing a potential exchange is Boston’s tax status. As Grousbeck gives the green light to the splurges, the tax bill will rise rapidly from its current projection of $60 million. Adding impact talent to a high salary seems unlikely, though the player’s quality could certainly spur the property to go all out given Boston’s obvious place as a legitimate title contender.

So how does this all happen? How do the Celtics build muscle?

It would be easy for the Celtics to ride the status quo. They have the best record in basketball. They survived the first months of the season when Robert WilliamsIII was in rehabilitation after off-season knee surgery. They have more depth now than they did in last year’s final.

And yet, we can’t get rid of the feeling that they should swing at the trade deadline.

It’s just rare to get to this point in the season and feel like you have a definite shot at winning a title. These moments must be embraced. And when your landlord is on TV and telling you to build muscle, you might as well take advantage of his willingness to let you spend.

Yes, it’s harder to build an impact movement than in previous seasons. But it’s up to Stevens and his reception team to find something that moves the needle.

Boston could take smaller swings adding big depth to help manage Williams III and Al Horford to the finish line of the regular season, or find another trustworthy wing who could give the interim coach Joe Mazzulla another body to extend the rotation on occasion.

There should be ways to improve this team with only available assets. It’s hard to know what other teams might be up for, but we were in favor of calling a team like the Timberwolves, with their overloaded frontcourt, and seeing how much it would take to splurge to get a Naz out. Reid. Even if you don’t hold Reid back beyond this season, it would be a luxury to have a dynamic third big for the rest of this trip.

We suggested calling the Hornets about PJ Washington or Jalen McDaniels. Would the Kings take Gallinari’s money if you took Richaun Holmes’ money? Is there anything you can take away from the Pistons or Rockets as the race for Wembanyama heats up?

The ultimate goal here is trustworthy depth. We worry about the minutes that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown accumulate. Perhaps the solution is as simple as leaning a little deeper into Derrick White and Grant Williams. But splurging on a defensive-minded wing who can be a surefire playoff rotation player would also be good for this team.

One more thing to make you dream: the Celtics, despite all their talent and their growing payroll, still have at least one big bat. The ability to combine three future first-round picks puts them in play for any big name that comes to market.

So if the Raptors choose to move OG Anunoby, are you at least kicking the tires? There’s no roadmap for this move that doesn’t involve giving up any of your major assets like a Smart, Brogdon, or White given the hefty $17.4 million salary. ‘Anunoby. And maybe he’s not even the right player to take that swing.

But there could be players of that caliber quietly becoming available. Admittedly, it’s easier for Boston to wait until the summer and think about the best option for that home run.

The Celtics have a long history of not overpaying, but there’s reason to argue that, given the opportunity before them, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to splurge a bit. Other rivals will take steps to bolster their rosters.

The Celtics have the ability to hold their own at the deadline, make a little buyout add-on, and roll on what they’ve got. They need to think bigger. They thought about building muscle.

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