What to expect now that Ainge has made his first move of the season
More trades should mean more ping pong balls
As you know by now, the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies swapped Courtney Lee for Jerryd Bayless straight up on Sunday. But don't be fooled, this trade has little to do with basketball.
Does this trade really mean anything on the court? Not really if we are speaking in terms of wins and losses, this was a move to clear future cap space by Danny Ainge. However, the domino effect of this trade could be what bumps the Celtics into a top five pick in the draft.
This deal signifies the tank train is leaving the station, and it's not turning back. Expect a flurry of deals from Ainge over the next six weeks, and all of them will be geared towards 2014-15 and beyond.
Here is what this trade means for now till the trade deadline: 1. Anyone is tradeable: It is about the future in Boston, Ainge proved that by trading a guard having a career season for a guard who has fallen off the past couple years… simply because the contract was more favorable. Although Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger most likely are safe, big names like Jeff Green or Avery Bradley are not quite untouchable like many have thought.
2. Shedding long term deals is key: The Lee deal was made because he is signed for two years beyond this season and Bayless is in a contract year. This will save the Celtics $11 million AND give them cap room to use on the players Ainge sees fit for the future. Perfect rebuild move; now make more of these moves and Boston not only continues to get in better shape long term, but loses games in the short term. Obviously this stacks up more ping pong balls for the draft lottery.
Now that Lee is gone, three players fit this mold. One of them is Gerald Wallace, who is being paid $10.1 million this season and each of the next two. Unless he is included in a Rondo package or a GM is just trying to get canned, Wallace isn't going anywhere this season.
Brandon Bass and Jeff Green are the other two, neither would be surprising to see on the move. In fact, both should be priorities to trade in Ainge's mind. Bass is the most likely, making $6.45 million this season and slightly more next year. Green is on the hook for a bit more, making $8.7 million this season and over $9 million each of the next two seasons. However, each of these players could be a huge addition coming off the bench for a contending team. Find the right team that is desperate enough and one of these contracts could be dumped as well.
3. Don't disregard contracts ending this season: Ainge does not only have one goal though, so players expiring this season are not safe either. If a contender is interested, or even a team thinks they can re-sign someone from Boston's roster, comes calling for a player they like… Ainge will listen. If the deal saves Boston money, or more importantly, brings a draft pick or young talent in return, then it could happen.
The players that could work in a deal like this are Kris Humphries, Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford and even MarShon Brooks. In all likelihood Brooks will just walk at the end of the year, but given his age and scoring ability he could be a throw in for a deal. The other three are arguably all playing the best basketball of their careers, and that is a very good thing for their value.
In one of the strangest scenarios you will even see, Jordan Crawford transformed himself from a shooting guard that was known for too much shooting, into a point guard that gets his teammates involved. Crawford has been slipping of late though, slowly looking more like his old self. With Rondo potentially returning and Bayless now here, Ainge has to be considering selling high on Crawford. At only $2.1 million this season, a team could get a solid combo guard for a low price.
I wish I had a hot take for you on Avery, but this is going to turn into one of those wait and see situations. The Celtics like Bradley a lot and envision him as part of their future, but for the right price. Going above 4/$24 just seems like too much. If by the deadline Ainge realizes Bradley won't be coming back next season, he becomes a very valuable trade piece to a team looking for a playoff run, especially at only $2.5 million this season.
4. The players know all this: The players are not stupid, they know what is going on. This will be in the back of their minds until the deadline passes, which is never a good feeling to have. Not only that, but adjusting to all the moving pieces as they happen will be a challenge on its own. That challenge will be just as tough on Brad Stevens also, this is his first time ever dealing with players coming and going during a season.
Combine all of these things with the tough schedule ahead, and the Celtics could fade quickly. The run that Boston made earlier this season could have all been an illusion due to the horrible division and over-performing players that will be on the move.
Nothing is certain in the NBA, but it is one of the most predictable leagues. It appears very likely that the Celtics are about to plunge themselves deep into the lottery… which means it's probably going to happen.