We are into the new year, which means we’re a month and a half away from the trade deadline. Over the next six weeks, you’re going to hear and read all sorts of trade rumors ranging from the plausible to the ridiculous. We’ve already addressed the possibility that the Celtics could acquire Nate Robinson, and Sixer fans are dealing with reports that the team has discussed a possible deal with the Rockets involving Tracy McGrady.
Let’s just get this out of the way now: You’re going to hear a lot of people (ranging from Tommy in the car to actual plugged-in NBA reporters) wondering what the Celtics could get if they decided to deal Ray Allen and his expiring $19 million contract. The only scenario in which this happens is if injuries decimate the team so badly by mid-February that the C’s give up on the season. And the chances of that happening are slim to none.
That said, there are deals out there to be done. Teams struggling with revenue (and there are many of them—this CBS Sports story is a handy reference) are dying to shed salary both this season and next. Teams that feel they have a chance to make the playoffs may be unwilling to deal their undesirable contracts in exchange for expiring deals (of which the C’s have plenty) if such a deal would cost them a chance to make a couple of million in revenue from playoff home games.
But if a few borderline teams (say, the Bulls, Hornets, Knicks or Pistons) collapse in the next six weeks, they could waive the white flag and make some decent guys available for nothing (in terms of basketball talent).
Let’s start simple for now and look at three possible general paths the Celtics could take:
1) Try to work a deal on the margins with the C’s bench-warmers.
The C’s have about $13.5 million in expiring deals linked to the following seven players: Marquis Daniels ($1.99M), Brian Scalabrine ($3.4M), Tony Allen ($2.5M), Eddie House ($2.8M), J.R.Giddens ($1.03M), Shelden Williams ($857K) and Bill Walker ($736K).
Path number one involves using expiring deals linked only to players of little or no use to this team. I think we could all agree that House, Daniels and Tony Allen (for now) would not fall into that category, thus eliminating about $7.3 million of expiring deals.
That leaves a little more than $6 million tied up in four players (Scal, Shelden, Giddens, Walker). Over the next six weeks you will hear all sorts of trade ideas involving players the C’s could nab for that amount. And it’s natural for fans to speculate in this way—trading a package of these guys for a player with a matching salary who could contribute (Nate Robinson! Rudy Gay! Maybe John Salmons if the Bulls fall apart! Ditto for James Posey and the Hornets!) feels comfortable, since it would spare the C’s from giving up a player who helps the current team.
1) Teams must have 13 players on their roster at all times. The C’s have 15 (the max) right now, but you can’t just trade four guys for one without adding someone else to the roster.
2) There aren’t any good players earning somewhere around $4-$5 million per season over the next few years, and if there were, teams wouldn’t readily give them up.
The chances of making a deal using only players the C’s don’t need are low. Which brings us to scenario #2:
#2: Get ballsy/creative and add players of value or draft picks to a trade package.
This is the realization that teams aren’t just going to give the Celtics someone who could help now (like, say, Andres Nocioni and his $7.5 million deal) for the flotsam and jetsam of the C’s bench. Toss in Glen Davis and a draft pick, and you might get someone to bite. Combine Baby’s salary with those of Scal and one or two of the flotsam, and you’re approaching the point at which you could grab someone more expensive, such as Corey Maggette (Golden would love to be rid of him), Stephen Jackson (unlikely with the Cats playing well and Larry Brown’s win-now obsession), Tayshaun Prince or Rip Hamilton (Detroit could be ready to dump one as long as they get a useful piece in return). (Note: The Pistons scenario is certainly not my original idea; Bill Simmons mentioned this scenario in his column late last month. I’m just parroting it here because I think it reflected an accurate understanding of Boston’s place in the trade landscape).
Unfortunately, Davis is really the only deal-able piece the C’s have to add to any package. Eddie House is valuable to the Celtics, but I don’t think many teams view him as a long-term piece of the puzzle. Same with Marquis Daniels.
And I doubt the Celtics would be willing to part with Davis, considering KG’s precarious right knee. Which brings us to scenario #3:
#3: The C’s are willing to deal Ray Allen
Again, I’d say the chances of this happening are roughly 1 percent. As long as this team has championship aspirations, they are not going to shake the foundation. They are not going to part with Ray Allen, who remains an ultra-valuable offensive player with unique skills, including an ability to raise the bench players to a higher level (an ability other C’s stars, including Paul Pierce, do not seem to have for whatever reason).
Some commenters are already suggesting a Ray Allen for Andre Iguodala/cap filler deal, which is interesting, but there is no way Boston is dealing Ray Allen for a second banana earning first banana money (nearly $15 million per) through 2014.
Still, in the 1 percent of scenarios in which the C’s actually dangle Ray’s expiring deal, almost anything is possible.
Barring a complicated deal with a third (or fourth) team acting as facilitator, these are Boston’s three basic options for improving via trade.
If Ainge can pull something useful together out of this, he’s an even better GM than I thought (and I think he’s one of the best in the league).
But my guess is the C’s go into the playoffs with the roster you see now.