The stars appear to be aligning for the 2017-18 Boston Celtics.
The Celtics enter Wednesday atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference despite the season-long absence of All-Star Gordon Hayward. At no point has their path to the NBA Finals looked more clear: The scuffling Cleveland Cavaliers, once Boston’s stiffest competition in the East, suffered another devastating blow Tuesday when All-Star Kevin Love fractured his hand, sidelining him for up to two months, per reports.
Sure, the Cavs could turn things around, and the Toronto Raptors — just one game back of the C’s — are a serious threat. But doesn’t it make sense for president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to make a move before the NBA’s Feb. 8 trade deadline, striking while the iron is hot to position his team for a legitimate title run?
Well, it’s complicated.
First, let’s lay out the three options on Boston’s table, as detailed by ESPN NBA insider Bobby Marks.
1. Use the Disabled Player Exception.
The Celtics were granted an $8.4 million Disabled Player Exception as a result of Hayward’s injury that they can use to sign, claim or trade for a player on the final year of his contract, presuming they have an open roster spot. You can check that box, according to a Wednesday report.
Among eligible players on expiring contracts, here are the most notable names: Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams, Memphis Grizzlies forward Tyreke Evans and Atlanta Hawks forwards Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. The C’s likely would have to give up assets to land Williams or Evans, but they’re reportedly in the mix for Evans.
2. Swing a trade at the deadline.
Sorry, Celtics fans: You’re not landing Anthony Davis. DeAndre Jordan wouldn’t come cheap, either. Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez could be a potential deadline target for Boston, but the Celtics likely would have to part with Marcus Smart and a first-round pick to acquire him, according to Marks.
3. Explore the buyout market.
The NBA’s buyout deadline is March 1, and if the Celtics still have an open roster spot, they can swoop in and sign a player waived by another team without relinquishing any assets. Andrew Bogut highlighted the buyout market last season, and Phoenix Suns center Greg Monroe is expected to be bought out this year, per Marks.
So, what should the C’s do?
While a deal for Evans or Williams is tempting, it must come at the right price. For all of its success to date, Boston still is a very young team positioned for even better results as soon as next season, when Hayward returns to the fold.
If Ainge can acquire either player in exchange for, say, the Celtics’ 2018 first-round pick, it’s probably worth it. But giving up a young player like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown or even Smart or Terry Rozier to land a short-term rental ultimately doesn’t make sense given the potential this roster (with Hayward added) has to compete for titles down the line.
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