1/12/2016 10:42:00 AM
With the trade deadline just five weeks away, it is time to start thinking about the Celtics as both buyers and sellers. With any potential deal, you need assets other teams want and Danny Ainge has plenty of those.
Here are my rankings of his top 21 trade assets, which I measured by value to prospective trade partners around the NBA. The rankings include the Celtics current 15-man roster and first-round draft picks in 2016, 2017 and 2018, i.e. no second-round picks, which I consider the 2016 Minnesota pick to be at this point in time.
THE TOP FIVE
1. BROOKLYN 2016 FIRST ROUND PICK
This is by far the Celtics most valuable asset. More so than anything, it is the potential of what this pick may become that would appeal to other teams. I say that because while the Nets are currently projected to receive the third-most ping pong balls at the NBA lottery, the Suns, who recently lost Eric Bledsoe for the year, Timberwolves and Pelicans are all on their heels and appear on the surface to have a tougher schedule the rest of the way.
Here is a snapshot of the strength of schedules of the teams currently in slots two through six (in order):
(AVG Winning % of Remaining Opponents)
Lakers (8-31): .529%
Nets (10-28): .461%
Pelicans (11-25): .462%
Timberwolves (12-26): .530%
Suns (13-26): .507%
For prospective trade partners, even though the race to the bottom between the aforementioned five teams will be tight the rest of the season, the Nets pick at least offers the chance to acquire the elusive franchise-changing, NBA superstar. As long as they maintain their hold on the third-worst record, Brooklyn's pick will have a 15.6% chance of being the first in the draft and a 46.9% chance of being in the top three.
Every team in the NBA would love a 15.6% chance of drafting Ben Simmons (LSU), and in most corner offices, a 46.9% chance at Brandon Ingram (Duke), Dragan Bender (Croatia), Jaylen Brown (California) Kris Dunn (Providence).
Moreover, the Nets are only 2.5 games behind the Lakers, who have the second-worst record in the NBA. If Brooklyn were to catch them, their odds of receiving the number one overall pick increases to 19.9% and their odds of landing in the top three increase to 55.8%.
While the Lakers have a more difficult schedule based on opponent winning percentage, the Nets have a more difficult one based on the venue of those games. While Brooklyn played 21 of their remaining 44 games at home, Los Angeles plays 25 of their final 43 at home.
2. CELTICS OWN 2016 FIRST ROUND PICK
How much has changed during the Celtics recent skid? Other than the Nets 2016 first-rounder, it is this pick that gives prospective trade partners the most confidence of landing in the lottery. Although some of that is due to their downturn in play, much of it can be attributed to the strength and balance across the Eastern Conference this season.
At this point in the season, if I am an opposing general manager, I am betting on the Cavaliers, Bulls, Raptors, Hawks, Heat, Pacers and Pistons finishing ahead of the Celtics in the standings, which means only one more team among the Magic, Knicks, Wizards and Hornets needs to in order for this pick to land in the lottery.
Therefore, the odds are high of this becoming a lottery pick and GMs appreciate certainty, especially in the current climate of win-now-or-be-fired. That is why this pick is ranked here. The other picks, such as Brooklyn’s in 2018, has too much uncertainty around it. What if the Nets, with their recent organizational changes, become competent over the next year-and-a-half? Any prospective trade partner will want this pick over the others because it is a little clearer of where it may end up.
More importantly though is the potential ceiling of this pick, as it is becoming more and more likely one or more of the teams currently behind the Celtics are able to leap over them between now and the end of the season. For example, the Knicks are only one-game behind them and the two may be tied after tonight’s game. The Wizards are only 1.5 games back of Boston and have been playing much better of late, going 7-5 in their last 12 games with back-to-back road wins over the Magic and Bulls. The Hornets are only two games back and the Bucks are five games back, but play 24 of their remaining 43 games at home.
Thus, there is a very real chance the Celtics 2016 first-round picks, which is currently projected as 14th, landing as high as 10th.
3. JAE CROWDER
This will no doubt be an unpopular opinion, especially given the wealth of draft picks the Celtics own, but none of those picks offer the certainty Crowder does and that is so important in today's NBA climate, which expects immediate results.
Jae, who is only 25-years-old, signed a five-year, $35 million-dollar contract with the Celtics this past offseason, which means any team who acquired him would have their starting SF under contract for approximately $7 million annually through their age-28 season. With the NBA salary cap projected to increase to $90 million next year, the value of having a starting small forward in his prime years for four more seasons at $7 million annually is priceless.
Crowder has grown into an All-Star this season and continues to have the look of a younger, cheaper version of DeMarre Carroll, who is four-years older and signed a four-year, $58 million-dollar contract with the Raptors this past offseason.
For comparison purposes, Carroll, who has only appeared in 23 games, is shooting 38% from the field, 37% from three and averaging 11.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.7 spg and 1.0 apg. He has an offensive rating of 99 and defensive rating of 103. Crowder has started all 36 games for Boston this year, is shooting 44% from the field, 35% from three and averaging 14.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.8 spg and 1.8 apg. He has an offensive rating of 109 and defensive rating of 100. Given their contracts, age and production, it is easy to see why and how Jae is so valuable in today's NBA.
More importantly, Crowder seems to be getting better as the season progresses. In 14 December games, he averaged 16.1 ppg, 5.9 rpb and 1.6 apg, and in five January games, he has averaged 16.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg and 2.0 apg, with an offensive rating of 115 and defensive rating of 100. The potential of that sort of production, which will likely only improve as his contract ages, for only $7 million annually for another four seasons is what makes him the Celtics third-most valuable trade asset.
And for those who want to make the case that draft picks in an undetermined slot, especially the ones that carry no guarantee of even being in the lottery, are more valuable than Crowder and his contract, consider the fact the Kings have been picking in the lottery since 2007.
4. MARCUS SMART
The 21-year-old Smart has two more seasons under his rookie contract, plus four more if signed to a contract as a restricted free agent. Therefore, any team who acquires Marcus would have him for another six seasons if they are prepared to match any offer he received as a restricted free agent.
Smart demonstrated he is a starting guard in the NBA during his rookie season and, although he has been slowed by injuries, has done nothing to change that this year. While his shooting has been a liability this year, it was not during his rookie campaign, which will likely give opposing teams confidence this season was an outlier in that regard.
Furthermore, his per 36 numbers this season still demonstrate how capable he is of doing it all on the basketball court. Lastly, any team acquiring him will do so with the knowledge they are getting an all-NBA type defensive player.
Would you rather have Marcus Smart from his age-22 through age-27 seasons or the 22nd pick in the draft from Dallas? The players projected to be drafted in that slot are Caris Levert (Michigan), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma) and Isaac Copeland (Georgetown).
There is no general manager in the NBA who rather trade for LeVert, Hield or Copeland. The only people who would are Celtics fans who want to keep Smart while also acquiring a player like Demarcus Cousins. Not going to happen.
5. BROOKLYN 2018 FIRST ROUND PICK
While this pick may not end up being in the top five like this year, teams acquiring it will be banking on the Nets and their ownership messing up the upcoming trade deadline, offseason and hiring of their new coach and general manager.
However, even if their new leadership leads them to a better place, which is entirely possible given the amount of salary coming off their books after this season, new practice facility and lure of a big media market to prospective free agents, what are the odds that place is ultimately in the playoffs and not the back-end of the lottery? Slim. The Cavaliers, Bulls, Raptors, Hawks, Celtics, Pacers, Magic, Hornets, Knicks, Heat and Wizards are all in better situations right now.
No one is going to project the Nets turnaround happens that quickly, especially given the amount of teams and talented rosters in front of them right now. Additionally, while the Nets are going to have more cap space with the departure of Joe Johnson, every team in the NBA is going to have money to spend this summer with the cap projected to rise by nearly $20 million.
Therefore, the odds of this pick being somewhere in the lottery in 2018 is high and the odds are even higher the pick will be better than Dallas’ 2016 first-rounder. In addition to being able to use the pick, any team acquiring it will have their own asset for a season-plus, as oppose to the Mavericks pick.
BEST OF THE REST
6. MAVERICKS 2016 FIRST ROUND PICK
This pick is going to be conveyed, but the question is where it will land in the draft. The chances of Dallas missing the playoffs and having it turn into a lottery pick are slim. They are currently the fifth seed and are 6.5 games ahead of the Kings, who are in ninth place. It is hard enough to imagine the Grizzlies, Rockets and Jazz climbing over Dallas, let alone one from the group of the Kings, Blazers or Nuggets as well, which is what has to happen for the Mavericks pick to land in the lottery.
Although the pick is currently projected to be the 22nd pick in the 2016 draft, they are only three games ahead of the Rockets, who are projected to receive the 16th pick in the draft. Moreover, it is easy to imagine their older roster fading down the stretch and falling behind the non-lottery teams directly in front of them in the standings, including Miami, Detroit, Indiana, Memphis, Orlando and Houston.
7. ISAIAH THOMAS
A borderline all-star guard for the rest of this season and two more thereafter, who is capable of providing nearly 20 points, 6 assists and 3 rebounds as a starter or bench player, at approximately $6.5 million annually? In an NBA where the salary cap is going to rise to $90 million next year, can you imagine being able to slot in an all-star guard at just under 7% of your cap?
8. AVERY BRADLEY
Similar to Thomas, any team acquiring Bradley would be getting an extremely productive player at a bargain rate under the new salary cap. Moreover, there are few two-guards who can play both ways as well as he can.
In addition to having him on their roster for the rest of this season, they would also be getting him for an additional two years at approximately $8.5 million annually. The value of filling a starting guard spot with a productive two-way player for less than 10% of your salary cap is value.
9. 2017 FIRST ROUND PICK-SWAP RIGHTS WITH BROOKLYN
Pick-swaps are not as valuable because it limits the prospective pool of trade partners, and the less teams who want an asset, the less valuable it is. Remember, this simply gives you the right to swap picks with Brooklyn. Therefore, unlike the other draft picks listed herein, this one is not adding a pick to a team’s draft board.
The only teams who would want to surrender something of value for a pick-swap are teams near the top of the standings. For example, why would the Nuggets give up value for the right to swap picks with the Nets, who they may end up being worse than next season? Or, for teams in the middle, such as the Bucks, how much value are they willing to trade in order to have the right to potentially move up 5-10 spots in the 2017 draft?
I am not saying teams will not want that right, but its value is diminished because you MUST outplay the Nets next year for you to actually use it. And again, Brooklyn is going to be flush with cash to spend this summer. Who knows? Ultimately, there is too much uncertainty with a pick-swap for this to be ranked higher, as the pool of teams who would take the risk of acquiring it are limited. Hence, its limited value.
10. AMIR JOHNSON
Amir has been one of the few consistent bright spots for the Celtics season, which should come as no surprise to anyone who followed his career in Toronto. The consummate professional, NBA player and teammate. He adds a lot to a roster both on the court and in the locker room. He would be a major addition to any contender who needs a boost in their frontcourt. However, his appeal widens to the rest of the league when you consider his $12 million next season is non-guaranteed, so he can also be used as an expiring deal.
In the alternative, any team acquiring Johnson can keep him and go for it next season. His $12 million is not costly under the new salary cap and do not forget his potential value on the court. Check out his numbers this month: 12.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, with a 138 offensive rating and 101 defensive rating. For the entire season, he has an offensive rating of 113 and defensive rating of 99. He is also reliable, having played in 35 of the 37 games this season, 75 in 2014-2015, 77 in 2013-2014 and 81 in 2012-2013. A team can also keep his contract on the books and use it as their own expiring contract, trade asset next year.
11. KELLY OLYNYK
The 24-year-old Olynyk does not become a restricted free agent until after the 2017 season. He clearly thrives more as a starter, which may limit his value on the trade market. However, any team acquiring him as a starter would be getting quite the player if recent history is any indication. Since becoming a starter on the Celtics recently, he has played approximately 29 minutes per game and averaged 13.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg and 2.2 apg. He has shot 48% from the field and 45% from three.
An extremely-skilled offensive player who is improving defensively, as evidenced by his 99 defensive rating this season, and stands at 7-feet tall? A lot of value there. Furthermore, he will be playing at a great price next season and any team who acquires him will be able to control his destiny in restricted free agency thereafter.
12. JARED SULLINGER
There are definitely teams out there who view Sullinger as an NBA starter, but this is his final season before becoming a restricted free agent. Given the uncertainty of the market next offseason with the rising cap, as well as the uncertainty regarding Jared’s conditioning, his value may be limited on the trade market.
Who is going to want to give up something up value for the right to sign him to a four-year contract next summer? And if there is a team out there who does, how much value will they really be willing to pay?
Nonetheless, Sullinger IS a potential starter in this league. He has shown that much this season. He is playing by far the best defense of his career and is also rebounding the ball very well. Surprisingly, it has been his offense dragging down his value this year, as his per game, per 36 minutes and per 100 possession numbers are the worst of his career.
With that being said, between his age, defense, rebounding ability and offensive potential, which he clearly demonstrated the past two seasons when he averaged over 13 ppg, there will be plenty of executives willing and wanting to take a chance on him.
13. CELTICS OWN 2018 FIRST ROUND PICK
Who knows where Boston and the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference are going to look like in 2018? Would it surprise anyone if the conference continues to grow in strength and balance and good teams, such as the Celtics, miss the playoffs, landing in the lottery instead, for seasons to come? Also, this pick has the added value of being used as a trade asset between now and the 2018 draft.
14. JONAS JEREBKO
Jerebko is affordable both this year and next at $5 million, which is a great price considering his potential on both ends of the floor. Unfortunately for him, the Celtics simply do not have any minutes for him, but could another team? If so, he would be a great add for any roster in need of depth and a stretch-four, who is capable of guarding at least four positions on the court.
He is even more valuable when you consider the fact he is also a potential expiring since his $5 million next year is non-guaranteed.
15. DAVID LEE
A player with championship experience, who can still play, and represents a huge expiring contract?
16. RJ HUNTER
One of the Celtics first-round draft picks in 2015, Hunter has shown signs of being NBA-ready in limited minutes this season. He will be an affordable asset until 2019 when he becomes a restricted free agent. He represents a low-risk, high-reward option for any team trading for him.
It is low risk because the most he will be paid between now and 2019 is $2.5 million. A very small number considering where the cap is going. At the same time, if he continues to develop into his potential, which is a two-way wing who can shoot from the outside, he offers a prospective team the reward of having a major rotation player taking up so little of their cap.
17. TERRY ROZIER
The 16th overall pick in the 2015 draft, Rozier has seen limited action with the Celtics this season, but that speaks more to the talent pool of guards in Boston than Terry’s play. He is averaging 20 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 9.0 apg in the D-league this season and his quickness is going to translate to the NBA when he is finally given the chance. His rookie deal runs through the 2018-2019 season.
18. JORDAN MICKEY
The darling of the D-league, Jordan has the Celtics salivating over his potential. However, due to the lack of playing time in the frontcourt, he has only seen six minutes of action in Boston this season. In 19 games with Maine, the 21-year-old Mickey is averaging 18 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 4.6 bpg and 1.4 apg.
Although not all guaranteed, he is under contract for another three seasons and will become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. If his outsized performance in the D-league transfers to the NBA, this contract will turn into one of the best in the NBA.
19. JAMES YOUNG
Young has seen limited chances with the Celtics this season and has failed to take advantage of any of them. However, it is hard for a shooter like him to get into a rhythm, develop confidence at this level and perform well when you know are on a short leash and are given sporadic and inconsistent minutes.
Young's value comes from the fact he is only 20-years-old, which is younger than most players being projected to go in the first round of the 2016 draft, and already has two years of NBA service under his belt.
Given his age and contract, he becomes more valuable when you consider how unknown his potential truly is. He has never received consistent playing time at the NBA level, so it is hard to evaluate what he may turn into, which may cause executives to ask themselves, “what if?” All it takes is one.
20. EVAN TURNER
Playing on an expiring deal worth very little. Having a productive season and may be able to help a contender down the stretch, but that limits his pool of potential interest, which in turn limits his value as an asset to the Celtics.
21. TYLER ZELLER
Zeller offers very little in the way of value to any prospective trade partners. He comes with no future control since he is a restricted free-agent after the season, and is also having the worst season of his four-year career.
However, he has shown flashes of his old self when given minutes over an extended period of time, which is not something the Celtics are able to offer him right now. It is possible there is another team out there who not only has the available frontcourt minutes, but still believes in Zeller and feels now is the time to buy low on him.
Plus, given how poorly his year has gone so far, he may even accept the qualifying offer after the season, which adds to his value as an asset at the deadline.
Questions for the Readers: what does your top five look like? Which of my rankings do you agree and disagree with most? As always, provide reasoning with your opinions.
Photo Credit: Barry Chin/Boston Globe Staff
Follow Max Sandgrund on Twitter @SotoSpeakz
1/12/2016 10:42:00 AM