The Boston Celtics are well-advised to be kicking the tires on an Andre Drummond trade, seeing at they’re one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference and have major shortcomings in the frontcourt.
But it’s hard to see the Celtics actually being able to finesse a trade for the star center.
The Celtics reportedly are one of three teams that have shown some interest in Drummond. The center position easily has been Boston’s worst positional group, with Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams (who currently is injured) seeing much of the action this season.
Bringing Drummond into the fold would make the Celtics a legitimate title contender.
The 26-year-old out of UConn has led the league in rebounding three of the last four seasons, and he’s atop the NBA in boards this season, as well. Since his rookie year, he’s never played fewer than 78 games, and in 33 contests this campaign, he’s averaging video game numbers: 17.6 points, 15.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.8 blocks.
A starting lineup that consists of Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, any two of Boston’s top wings and Drummond could compete with the league’s best. Like anything of this magnitude, it’s not a simple deal to get done.
Drummond is making a little over 27 million this season, and his salary would increase by eight percent if he came to the Celtics as a result of a trade kicker in his contract. He also has a player option this summer, so there’s a good chance he becomes a pure rental.
There are a couple of ways to swing a Drummond trade to the Celtics, but they come with not insignificant complications.
One option would be a deal centered around Gordon Hayward. The money could work by focusing the trade on those two players, then negotiating the rest as necessary with draft picks and players on cheap contracts. This probably would be the most agreeable situation for the Celtics, as wing is a position of depth for them, and they could survive without Hayward if it meant getting Drummond.
The problem with that scenario, though, is the Pistons likely are looking for more than just Hayward as the centerpiece. Hayward also has an opt-out in his contract following this season, so Detroit would be hosing itself if the big get in the trade is an injury-troubled player who is making more than Drummond and also could consider bolting (though Hayward likely isn’t going to get the same money as he is now by testing the market this summer).
Another approach would be to package multiple players to get the money to work.
After Hayward and Kemba Walker, both of whom make roughly $32 million a season, Marcus Smart is the next highest-paid Celtic. Spitballing here, but the Celtics likely would have to move Smart, either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown, and other small pieces to get the Pistons to agree. The obvious problem here is that it would gut the roster a bit, so at a certain point, they’d be turning strengths into weaknesses to improve the frontcourt.
Danny Ainge has tried to build a team that will be competitive for at least a few years. Trading multiple rotation players on multi-year deals to essentially go for it all this season and take chances in the following years isn’t really prudent.
Conversely, if they felt confident in getting Drummond to re-sign this offseason, then it might be more worth the gamble. Ainge thought he could get Kyrie Irving to re-sign and it blew up in his face, so one has to wonder if he’d be willing to take that chance again.
All told, the package the Celtics would have to unload seems like a lot for a player who might end up walking this offseason. It’s by no means impossible that the Celtics and Pistons could finagle a deal that works for both sides, but the cost, for Boston in particular, might be steep and, ultimately, a turn-off.
If the Pistons keep slipping in the standings, they might lose some of their leverage in a Drummond deal. But for now, the Celtics being able to pull off such a trade seems challenging, if not altogether unlikely.