WOULD YOU? (The trade for an injured Jamal Murray or Zion Williamson and tank option)
This past summer we wrote about how This year's Celtics team has a 2006-07 vibe to it, and why that might be by design. The Boston Celtics currently sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 18-21. That's that no man's land territory of not bad enough to be looking forward to a high lottery pick, but not good enough to contend. Some fans still think that all this squad needs is more time to play together. Others like myself have been saying the sample size is now large enough to come to the conclusion that this group just isn't it.
Some fans don't like to hear objectivity or realism, but we try to pride ourselves in giving you unique takes on celticslife.com and ones that are realistic. Not just to Celtics fans, but to NBA fans. For that reason, we've been clear from the jump that if you want the team to add another star, the only way you can acquire a player like a De'Aaron Fox, Dejounte Murray, Ben Simmons, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Pascal Siakam, or Karl Anthony Towns is if you traded one of the Jay's. And with the exception of Simmons, and maybe a couple others, the majority of those players aren't available.
Creating posts or tweets where the Celtics add any of those players without trading either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum is simply blind homerism or clickbait. If you were a fan of one of those teams, would you be willing to trade your star for 4 quarters? No you'd want a blue chip player or asset back. Coming up with trades where the Celtics acquire these players without a Jay, would be like another team coming up with a Jaylen Brown deal where they don't trade anything great. You'd never accept that right? And neither will other teams accept a package headlined by a Robert Williams or Marcus Smart for their star.
As much as we like Smart and Time Lord they simply aren't blue chip assets. Back in 2006-07, Boston had two, Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson, and then it became three when they tanked and ended up with pick #5. That's how the Big 3 of Pierce, KG, and Ray was formed. Ainge didn't set out to tank in the beginning of the season. He hoped his big draft day acquisition of Sebastion Telfair would flourish into his own version of Chris Paul and combine with Pierce, Wally Sczerbiak and Al Jefferson to lead the Celtics into the playoffs.
The Celtics dedicated the season to Red Auerbach. They didn't set out to tank. But after a slow start, injuries, and losses, and the inability to trade for a star with the current set of assets, Ainge wisely set out to tank. Now I LOATHE the system that is in place in the NBA that rewards losing with much better odds of drafting the elite college talents. I don't think tanking should be allowed, but the NBA has never made any significant changes to dissuade it.
And the problem is, if there is a (faulty) system in place that rewards teams wanting to lose, the teams that are actually trying suffer. So the Celtics aren't going to get a top pick unless they make a drastic effort to get one. Ainge did this in 2007. M.L. Carr did it as well in 1998. Both GM's set their sights on once in a generation talents in Kevin Durant and Tim Duncan respectively.
Ainge had the benefit of Greg oden also being in the upcoming draft, so Danny only needed a top 2 pick to get Durant. M.L, who gets criticized too much in my opinion made a fantastic trade the year prior dealing Eric Montross to the Mavs to move up in the draft to select future All-Star Antoine Walker and just importantly acquire the Mavs 1998 1st round pick unprotected.
The Celtics finished at the bottom of the NBA standings and coupled with the Mavs abysmal record the Celtics had the best odds of hitting #1 that I think any team has had in the lottery era. Of course those odds were still less than 50% and Boston missed out on Duncan. Both picks fell in the lottery. After falling on the sword for the Celtics, M.L. stepped down, so ownership could hire Rick Pitino. Pitino selected Chauncey Billups and Ron Mercer after toying with a Scottie Pippen trade for the picks.
The selections weren't bad, but giving up on Billups in his rookie season was, and in hindsight Pitino should have drafted the high school kid the Bulls Jerry Krause was reportedly after with one of those picks in the aforementioned Pippen deal, Tracy McGrady. Billups and McGrady would have made that brutal 1997-98 season worth it.
Even though the Celtics pick fell to #5 in 2007, it was still high enough for the Celtics to flip to add a star without parting with Al Jefferson. Big Al at the time had star potential, so trading him for an older Ray wouldn't have made sense. A Pierce and Ray Allen combo wasn't winning anything. A Pierce, Ray, Jefferson trio was intriguing, but not really a championship contender either. One of the issues is the same issue why a Jaylen, Tatum, Beal trio would never work, and that's all three of Pierce, Allen, and Jefferson were scorers while none were defenders or playmakers.
Enter Kevin Garnett. KG didn't want to just join Paul in Boston, but after they added Ray Allen that was a game changer in his mind. And KG was completely right. That trio was a winning hand and if not for KG's knee injury and/or subsequent injuries to Perkins, Rondo, Shaq, Jeff Green, Ray Allen (the list goes on) that group wins a minimum of 2 titles and likely more. They still won the only Celtics title in the past 35 years, so there's that.
Again the Celtics needed to tank in 2007 to get Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Ainge also wisely knew that fit mattered and an unselfish, amazing defender, culture changing MVP candidate in KG was the perfect compliment to Paul and Ray.
Similar to how in current times many fans don't want to trade either Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum, back then both the Boston Herald and the top Celtics blog at the time each did polls asking Celtics fans if they'd trade Al Jefferson straight up for KG and both polls ended with 90% saying no, believe it or not.
Fans get very attached to current players. Now Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum aren't proper comps to Jefferson as both are older and more accomplished than Al was as the time, and unless something crazy happens both will end up with better careers, but Jefferson was a pretty highly rated 20 year old at the time. He reached All-Star status in Charlotte before his career ended prematurely due to the extinction of old school bigs.
Jaylen (or Tatum) has more trade value than Jefferson. A Jaylen for KG could have likely been made more straight up, than the 2007 deal that included a couple 1st rounders, plus recent teenage first rounder Gerald Green, Telfair, and Gomes. The difference is there is no KG to trade for. Beal is nowhere close to KG's class. And though Lillard is better than Beal, he's also older than Beal. Plus Lillard as much as like him isn't in KG's class as an MVP type and unselfish defensive beast.
No, if you are going to break up the Jay's for a better fit, you need to acquire a star in the same age range. You acquire a Beal, he's just going to continue to get worse as he gets older and Tatum will be left as the one star on this team and just force his way out. Lillard might help temporarily, but you're not winning a title and again you'd end up with just one star wanting to walk in two years.
Now Lillard as your 3rd star would probably work is all 3 stars were willing to sacrifice shots, but Boston doesn't have the assets to acquire him to pair him with the Jay's. Not unless they had a top pick in this upcoming draft!
Add a top 5 pick in a trade offer to the Blazers for Lillard and Portland quite possibly say yes this coming summer. One wrinkle with that plan is they may have already traded Lillard before then. Also they seem to be clearly busting a 2007 Ainge and tanking themselves this year, so they may flip their high 2022 1st at draft time for their own 3rd All-Star.
That's the thing with NBA trades. It's not NBA2k. You can only trade for the stars players that are actually available. Right now that list includes Ben Simmons or Bradley Beal, though both would require the Celtics trading Jaylen. That's a hard no from me on Beal and I'd consider a Jaylen deal for Simmons if Stevens didn’t better due diligence on him as the right long term guy than Danny did on Kyrie Irving. Also a Simmons deal could allow Brad to also get a couple 1st rounders from the 76ers to flip in another deal for a guy like Jerami Grant.
But I know a lot of Celtics fans hate Simmons, so let's move on about 85 paragraphs later to today's WOULD YOU.
WOULD YOU trade one of the Jay's for an injured young star like Jamal Murray or Zion Williamson and tank the rest of this season in order to build a championship Big 3?
Despite Ime Udoka's best efforts due to odd coaching decisions, any team with Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown isn't going to finish in a position to get a a high lottery pick. Maybe they'd be bad enough to finish out of the playoffs with like 10% chance to move up to atop 4 pick in the lottery, but one out of ten isn't much of a plan.
In order to for the Celtics to get a top pick to either draft a 3rd star or trade for one, one of the Jay's would need to be gone. And no one wants some season ending, potentially career altering injury to occur, so the only way to make that happen is for Brad to keep one Jay and trade the other. Probably needs to trade a couple other vets too. Then you do what Ainge did in 2007 and sit the remaining Jay due to some injury down the stretch.
The NBA would't allow a team to sit two healthy stars down the stretch, but teams do it with one healthy star all the time. Not that hard to play up some small injury.
Ok so who's a young injured star worth a Jay, that a team might actually be down to swap? Jamal Murray and Zion Williamson are the two options. If Zion was healthy, the Pelicans would never trade him for Jaylen Brown, but would likely consider a Tatum swap. If Jamal Murray was healthy, the Nuggets wouldn't trade him for Jaylen, but would likely for Jayson. Neither are healthy though.
The 24 year old Murray could return this season, but the 6th place Nuggets are taking a wait and see approach. Only worth bringing him back this year if they think they can make a run. Would be hard, since they'd likely have to maintenance his minutes. Jaylen Brown would give the Nuggets an ideal running mate to go with their MVP Nikola Jokic. I mean Murray is also ideal, but he's hurt, so thus opens the opportunity.
Truth be told and if you read this site back in 2016 you'd know that Jamal Murray was my top choice for the Celtics in that draft with their 3rd selection. Obviously things worked out just fine with Jaylen, but the younger Murray just seemed like a perfect fit for the modern Steph Curry shooting NBA. He still does. But the key to a Jaylen for Jamal swap would be that the Celtics would actually benefit from holding Murray out the rest of the year.
Jamal Murray stats:
Since the Nuggets offense runs through Jokic with his terrific passing skills, Murray's assists are obviously lower than they could be. He's no pass first point guard, but he is a better playmaker than Jaylen and thus would conceivably fit better with Jayson PLUS of course the 2nd part to this deal is that you'd be adding a 3rd key piece this offseason.
So even if you were against trading Jaylen for Murray straight up, Jaylen for Murray and 3rd star has to change the minds of many right? So Jaylen and let's say pick #16 for Jamal and pick #4 would be the end result. Either draft a stud at 4 or trade it if your more risk adverse.
Don't like Murray, well then Zion Williamson is an unselfish one of kind talent that put up numbers at the age of 20 last season that not only ranked in the league's best, but were unheard of for someone his age. He was looking like a sure fire MVP candidate for the next 15 years until his latest injury and the weight gain it caused.
Let's point out both sides of the Zion option here. One, even if he doesn't play a game this season as he works to rehab and lose weight, he will have still played in more games than Joel Embiid his first three seasons. Dismissing Zion as some Greg Oden is very premature.
Zion previously slimmed down prior to his NBA draft and I doubt he can do it again. Charles Barkley is a player who slimmed down as his career went on. I don't see Zion as some Oliver Miller type that has always been very overweight to obsese that will be his future.
With that all that said, the other side of the coin is part of what makes Zion so great is what he can do athletically at his size. That makes him an injury risk. And like Embiid after his first few injured years, Williamson needs to prove he can stay healthy.
Zion will undoubtedly lose some weight and the Pelicans will offer him a max contract because he's just that good. But my forecast is showing another Anthony Davis situation in the Pelicans' future. Zion reportedly has never been a fan of the franchise and there is enough smoke there that come his time to ask out (aka force his way out), his reps will make that happen.
For the Pelicans, Jaylen Brown would give you a ready made young All-Star to pair with Brandon Ingram.They could make the push they want to for the playoffs this season, while having two solid building blocks for their future.
For the Celtics there would be a risk involved of course, since while Jaylen has had his injury issues the past two seasons, Zion as we mentioned is in that Embiid category health wise. Tatum and a healthy Zion are a title contending duo. Both are that good. And just like with the Murray trade, it would really be more like Jaylen and pick #16 for Zion and pick #4. Or Jaylen for Zion and another star (either drafted or through a trade).
If Zion stayed healthy, he'd be your Giannis playmaking 4/5 and combined with Tatum the Celtics would be lethal, but add in a 3rd star and we're talking dynasty. Plus Zion is still young enough, and has already shown enouugh in his short NBA career, that if you were that worried about his long term future, the Celtics could still flip him to another team for a ton next season or whenever.
Zion Williamson stats:
The worst case scenario of being left with just Tatum a top pick and an injured or fat Zion isn't really there. Every team would trade for Zion now. And almost every team would trade for him even if he had another setback ot two. GM's strive for championships. They aren't prisoners of the moments that change their minds that quickly on a young player. Simmons was an All-NBA, All-Defense, young All-Star. Yes his value is lower after his horrible 2021 post season, but as seen from some of the offers Philly has turned down and their asking price, Ben still has about 90% of his value.
GM's don't go from viewing Zion as the next LeBron or Giannis to not still highly desiring him in a year, let alone a few months. But I get it if a fan would prefer Jaylen Brown, especially a Celtics fan. The calculus has to change though when it changes to Jaylen for Zion and another star or Jaylen for two stars.
Now 185 paragraphs down, we have to remind you that the Celtics have too much talent to tank, so the tanking option only works if you trade a Jay. If we suggested trading one for young prospects and picks without the resumes of Murray or Zion, that would likely be a harder to sell to Celtics fans. But that would be the only other way to tank.
If you're realistic enough to be aware that the Celtics don't have the desired assets to trade for a 3rd star, don't have the cap space to sign one, and have decided that pulling a 2007 tank job is the best hope to getting the team back on top, one of the Jay's needs to be traded to achieve that goal.
And you can't trade that Jay for a player who will help the team this year, so there's the rub. Either has to be for picks and/or raw young players, OR... for an injured young All-Star like Murray or Zion.
Would you pull a 2007 tank and trade a Jay for Jamal Murray to form a Big 3?
Would you pull a 2007 tank and trade a Jay for Zion Williamson to form a Big 3?