Normally on Monday's I've been doing the Wiggins Watch. You know, checking in on where the Celtics stand in the race for a top lottery position. But then a funny thing happened. The Celtics started winning. And kept winning. To the point where they're now a fairly respectful 10-12, and leading the Atlantic division by 1.5 games.
Obviously a 1.5 game lead in the division after 22 games doesn't guarantee a damn thing. But their success has got me thinking - is there a way for the Celtics to speed up their rebuild from both ends? To both improve their draft position and improve their chances for the rest of the 2013-14 season? At first glance, it would seem impossible. After all, the very process of getting a good draft pick is reliant on the team struggling.
You see, there's a loophole. A one time loophole in the rebuild process that the Celtics can take advantage of that could allow them to both make a run this season, and allow them to slide up the draft board.
Well remember, the Celtics acquired a 2014 1st round pick from the Nets in the KG-Pierce deal. Only, because of the Joe Johnson trade, the Hawks have the ability to swap first round picks with the Nets. Because of this, the Celtics are currently in a position where they would receive the Hawks pick (20th overall) instead of the Nets pick (currently in the 5th lottery position). So while the Celts have two first round picks, neither of them would be lottery selections at the moment.
But if both Atlanta and Brooklyn were to miss the playoffs, the Celts would be locked into a lottery pick even if their improbable run to a division title continues. Not only that, but with the Western Conference being as loaded as it is, it's very likely that even the 9th place team in the East will pick in the top 10 in the draft. Which needless to say, is a really nice spot to be.
So therefore, any trade the Celtics could make that made the Hawks weaker would theoretically improve their draft spot.
Enter Danny Ainge making the following offer to Hawks GM Danny Ferry.
Boston trades: Kris Humphries ($12M), Kelly Olynyk ($1.3M), Celtics' 2015 1st round pick, Nets' 2016 1st round pick, Celtics' 2017 1st round pick
Hawks trade: Al Horford ($12M)
Why would Boston do this trade?
1. They get a running mate for Rondo - Horford is 27 years old and is averaging 17.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG and 1.7 BPG this year. He is one of the top ten big men in basketball and signed through 2016 (three seasons including this one) at a very team friendly $12 million per season. His presence alone would help the Celtics both lock up Rondo and recruit other talent to Boston.
2. They become the clear #3 team in the East - Ok so Indiana and Miami would still be better than Boston on paper. But once Rondo returns the Celtics would have: Rondo-Bradley-Green-Sullinger-Horford as the starters with Bass-Crawford-Lee-Wallace as the reserves. They could use one more big, but in a weak Eastern Conference, this team could cause some damage.
3. The loss of Horford would drive Atlanta into the lottery - The Hawks are currently 11-10 and appear destined for right around 40 wins. However, if you remove their best player (by quite a bit) and replace him with a rookie (Olynyk), and a guy who would likely be bought out (Humphries), they would plummet in the standings. Without any more trades Atlanta would be unlikely to dive down towards Utah/Milwaukee territory, but again, even the 9th place team in the East is likely to pick in the top ten come next June.
Why wouldn't the Celtics do this trade?
|Ainge could accomplish so much with one move|
1. They give up a ton - In the new NBA landscape, first round picks are really valuable. With only $70 million or so to spend (to the luxury tax), being able to find rotation players on cheap rookie contracts is immensely important when you have big money guys chewing up $15-20 million worth of space. Boston has nine first round picks in the next five years, and in this deal they'd be giving up 1/3rd of them.
2. It doesn't guarantee them a lottery pick - While Atlanta would likely flounder, there are no guarantees in sports, and the Hawks depleted roster could make a miracle run to the 8-seed. There's also the Nets, who could make a run if they fire Jason Kidd and replace him with George Karl or Lionel Hollins. Remember, the Hawks get whatever pick is better between them and the Nets, so for this plan to work, Boston would need both Brooklyn and Atlanta to miss the playoffs. Which would not be a lock.
3. They'd be torpedoing their own chances at a lottery pick - The Celtics may already be too good to make a run at an elite draft pick, but if they're not, this trade would certainly get them to that level. There is no way that a Rondo-Bradley-Green-Sully-Horford starting five doesn't win the Atlantic and claim a top four (and likely top three) spot in the playoffs. That would mean Boston's own draft pick would be somewhere between 20th-25th.
Despite the reservations, this trade has enough positives where I think Ainge would pull the trigger. Horford is still young and is at the very top of his game. Pairing him with Rondo and Sullinger would give the Cs an impressive foundation. When you also consider that Boston could also pick up a top ten pick because of this deal..it becomes even easier to say yes to.
But obviously the Celtics aren't the only team in the equation. The Hawks would also need to say yes.
Why would Atlanta do this deal?
1. They avoid NBA purgatory - Atlanta is a nice little basketball team, and seemingly have been every year since 2007-08. Unfortunately for them, that is hell in the NBA. Being the 4-8 seed in the East every season has really hurt the Hawks' effort to build anything special around Horford (and previously Josh Smith). With their current core of Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Horford, the Hawks once again seem destined for a run of decentness. This trade sends them into full rebuild mode, and allows them to hit the reset button.
2. Olynyk + 3 firsts is a really nice haul - Last season at the trade deadline the Hawks wanted two first round picks for Josh Smith, but no team would meet their demands. In this case they get three firsts plus Olynyk, who is basically the equivalent of a fourth. Obviously Horford is far more valuable than Smith as he is signed for two years after this one, compared to Smith who was approaching free agency. But still, this is a monster haul for Horford. Especially when you stop and consider how terrible Brooklyn could be in 2016.
3. It gives them a better shot at a lottery pick in 2014 - As terrible as Brooklyn looks right now, it's still early enough where a run is possible. Therefore the only way the Hawks could guarantee themselves a spot at the 2014 draft lottery is by getting their themselves. This deal would almost certainly accomplish that, as Atlanta would be highly unlikely to make a playoff run sans Horford.
Why wouldn't the Hawks do this deal?
1. It would hurt their fan base/bottom line - Ok, I know it's not exactly an awesome fan base..but still. Selling any fan base "Hey we just traded our 27 year old star for three picks and an unproven rookie" is a tough task, and Hawks fans would not be thrilled. The Hawks are also in line for at least one, and maybe two playoff series come April/May (good lord I hope it's not two..can't take two series worth of Hawks games), and this trade would ruin those chances. Sure, it's easy for us to sit back and say "what's the point of making the playoffs if you have no shot at a title?", but owners see things a bit differently. 3-6 playoff gates are worth quite a nice chunk of change..a chunk of change that would disappear.
2. They have Horford until 2016 - We mentioned this above, but Horford is locked in for what amounts to be three more seasons and $36 million. Giving up a player that good and that cheap is a tough proposition. Even if Atlanta is acquiring a ton of picks, those picks are not locks to turn into anything special. And Horford is already something special.
3. They get no proven talent back - I like Olynyk, but there's no guarantee that he turns into anything more than a decent rotational big. And as we just said, draft picks aren't locks either. Atlanta would be pinning their hopes to their ability to draft using their own picks and the ones they'd be acquiring in this deal. It would be an amazing set of assets to have, but it wouldn't ensure success.
So Boston says yes (in this crazy hypothetical)..but does Atlanta? To me it's too close to call. If Ferry was finally ready to rebuild, I think this would be as good of an offer as he'd receive for Horford. But this is also the guy who re-signed Teague and signed Millsap this summer when Smith's departure should have signaled that it was time to rebuild. So it's unlikely that Ferry would then trade the teams best player less than two months into the season.
But it's a fun trade to think about as it would placate both sides of the tank argument. Boston would be having their cake and eating it too. Now we just need to convince Ferry to play along.
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Michael Dyer 12/09/2013 08:13:00 AM Tweet