With the number of NBA teams still playing basketball dwindling every week, the offseason trade machine mindset grows.

And with that growth comes speculation involving Danny Ainge's proclivities for cutting deals. For years, the primary names connected to Boston in hypothetical trades were Kevin Love, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis.

Now, with all three having settled into situations that, for respective reasons, make them very unlikely options for the Celtics, it seems some prominent basketball names have fired up a new line of thinking that is likely as unrealistic (but not impossible) as these predecessors - the Minnesota Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns.

Personally, I think a lot of the reason guys like Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst (who casually stumbled into the idea in what felt like a throwaway comment on one of the more recent episodes of the Lowe Post podcast) and fans alike include Boston in hypothetical blockbusters like these for two reasons. The more obvious one is because of the aforementioned habits of Ainge. But the other is because of how the 2007-08 title team came together - transforming how championship caliber teams were (for the most part) created in the modern NBA. We'll come back to this later.

Not really.

But we both know I wasn't stopping there. There is, of course, an asterisk involved where such a deal could happen, but for now let's outline the reasons why it's unlikely. First among them is fit.

Don't get me wrong, we likely agree Towns is a truly special offensive threat who has not been used to his potential in coach Tom Thibodeau's system, and would be a lethal pairing with Al Horford in a front court that could wreak havoc on opposing defenses.
The problem is what it could do to Boston's defense.

It's no secret Karl-Anthony is a...shall we say, improving defender. He's definitely gotten better over the course of this season, but still would be the worst defender on Boston's starting roster, in the company of bigs like Kristaps Porzingis and Kelly Olynyk as the worst front court defenders in the league who play considerable minutes.

Moreover, it's worth noting that the calling card of this season's Celtics, who are now up two games to one in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, is defense. Defense in a way that is special, not just in efficacy, but novelty - rebounds and blocks come as much if not more from wings and guards, because of their construction, length, athleticism, and switchability.
It is literally the reason Boston is where it is right now, having taken steps forward - notably - from last season, despite missing two top-25 players. Who they will get back. With largely the same roster.

Let that sink in for a second.

Got it? Cool. This team is getting some minor moves made to see how they can do when healthy. Book it. Unless someone calls up Danny with a deal that looks like a Green Teamer made on Trade Machine, that's going down. How could you not? It would be dereliction of duty as a GM otherwise.

So in that sense, this deal is unlikely, at least in the short term.

Back to that defense, though, and improving from last season. Remember why Boston got its ass handed to it by the team it is currently leading in the very same series? Isaiah Thomas was terrible defensively, and despite turning in truly amazing performances on the other end of the court fairly consistently, was truly the achilles heel of the team in the postseason.

Now imagine having two guys like that.

To be fair, Kyrie Irving (the other defensive culprit we need to consider) has gotten much better defensively in green, and I like to think KAT would, too. But we don't have any guarantees, and a hole on defense in the interior and the perimeter would make our best units highly vulnerable to exactly the teams we need to not be so with.

There's ways to adapt - staggering rotations, for example - but on nights when the shots don't fall, or when you play talented enough teams able to feast on such gaps, you will lose. So, without some evidence of increased defensive intensity in the tank if not on the court in regular practice, I think this remains as a significant obstacle for such a deal.

And then there's the cap. It's going to take a lot of skill on Ainge's part already to keep future season's rosters from forcing unsavory moves down the road with the roster Boston already has. Scary Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart may both be crucial components if Danny does indeed run this team back, but their success may price Boston out of retaining one or both after next season, even with neither likely to whiff a max offer from anyone in this constricted cap environment.
Let's say we throw in one of these guys and cash or a Abdel Nader-/Guerschon Yabusele-type deal for salary matching purposes, most likely Rozier, as it'll take most of Boston's liquid assets to get the deal done assuming such a deal is even on the table (more on this later, too). There is a massive elephant in the room, and that elephant being the Designated Rookie Player Exception KAT will still be eligible for.

This would not be an issue any earlier than Rozier would, as both players will be unrestricted free agents after next season unless extended. However, there is a small chance Rozier might extend for a two or three-year deal with the final year as a player option to wait out market constrictions and maximize his longer-term earning potential (check out our recent cap-issue pod with Early Bird Right's Jeff Siegel for more details). There's zero chance that will happen with Towns, given he has literally nothing to gain and millions to lose.
So, with KAT, you are getting at bare minimum a full max deal for the 2019-20 season, or 25% of the cap - and it's quite reasonable to assume the 30% supermax will be in play. For now, our best guess is the cap that season will be $108 million, which looks to be about $32.4 million for 30% of the cap, and $27 million for 25%.

That year, we'll have Gordon Hayward on the books for $32 million. We'll also have to resign Kyrie at 30% of the cap, as he'll be virtually certain to opt out, and Horford may very well also opt out to seek years and not dollars - but he very well could opt in for his final year at $30 million. Jaylen Brown will also be eligible for an extension, and more than likely they'll want to give him one - but it will be for very close to a tier-one max if so - so let's assume Brown sucks it up a little to the tune of $20 million for a shorter, two-year extension with a player option on the second year.

Without even considering roster depth, the cheapest possible roster we could have would be Hayward's $32 million, Irving's $30 million, Tatum's $7.8 million, and Brown's $6.5, placing your starters at over $76 million without both front court positions filled, never mind bench and rotation players. This means parting ways with Smart and Morris after next season, Horford opting out and not being resigned, and likely using minimum deal guys for the bench, and a mid-level exception to sign a starting big.
This sounds great in theory, but - there's always a but - you'll then have to sign Tatum to a deal likely close to $30 million the season after, maybe at the same time as Brown, meaning one of them will likely have to go, leaving you with...guys who, at least right now, are net-even defenders on their best days, a guy on the wrong side of 30 we haven't seen play professional basketball since one of the more gruesome injuries in recent memory, and, hopefully, the better of the two, I'm assuming Tatum, for the 2020-21 season.

$34 million for Hayward. North of $30 million for Irving. About $30 million for Tatum or Brown. At least that for KAT. This team would likely be at or over the cap before even filling out the starting roster, and likely a taxpaying team for at least one if not two seasons, meaning just this season alone could be enough to send Boston into repeater tax territory, where minimum salary players will cost almost as much as low-end starters on some teams.

And this is likely the best possible scenario, with so many ifs on the way it's virtually impossible to happen. Any of the steps noted as contingent along the way will only drive the cost up, the depth down, or both.
Of course, things can change in a hurry, and it's certainly possible to trade one of those bigger names salary-wise from Boston's roster close to the trade deadline, assuming extensions happen (more ifs) and guarantees are made by both sides, should said Voltron-like reunion of the hurt Celtics with the hospital Celtics currently making noise in the Conference Finals not go as planned (yet another if).

Moving Hayward seems unlikely even if healthy, given his ties to Brad Stevens and the damage such a move could create - but certainly isn't impossible, either. Moving Irving would address the defensive issues noted above, but would also require Irving to play ball with extensions, another unlikely if. Horford would likely be unattractive given his age barring exceptional skill fighting off father time, and, barring regression or no growth next season, Brown and Tatum seem unlikely as well (and only buy a season of cap relief at very most).
Finally, the biggest issue to consider is the very idea Tom Thibodeau would even trade KAT in the first place. More than a few informed Minnesota fans and analysts alike share the opinion it'll be Tom to go first - from GM if not from coach - sooner than later, maybe even before next season, depending on how things shake out, and that team ownership would likely step in to prevent any such deals from taking place. One must also assume that even in the unlikely event of the team being open for dealing Towns that there will be other teams with far fewer "ifs" and as many or more assets to compete with.

Returning to where I started, let's just say this deal is not impossible, nor necessarily bad in terms of on-court production outcomes. But it's also one of - if not the - most likely blockbuster imagined by analysts in recent years, if only for the myriad obstacles to it making sense in the short and long term. Throw in a dash of holy shit this team is amazing with two top players already on the payroll, and I have to say it's a much, much better plan to hang onto Ainge's prized roster and financial flexibility - I have a sneaky feeling Danny and company have found an entirely new way to build a champion, and I for one would like to see it try in earnest next season before even considering personnel moves.

For more stories by Justin, click here.

Image: Jordan Johnson/NBAE
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Justinquinnn 5/21/2018 01:31:00 PM Edit
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