Celtics Trade Target: Pros, Cons Of Potential Deal For Nikola Vucevic

Vucevic, 30, is an All-Star center


March 18, 2021

After underachieving in the first half of the 2020-21 season, must the Boston Celtics make a splash before the March 25 trade deadline to boost their NBA Finals prospects?

Rumors have linked a number of players in potential trades to Boston. We’ll examine a few possible Celtics trade targets and offer a verdict on whether the team should make the move. Next up: Nikola Vucevic.

Before we dive any further, it’s important to state the obvious: The Celtics, as you’ve probably heard by now, are sitting on a $28.5 million traded player exception (TPE) which they acquired when Gordon Hayward left Boston for the Charlotte Hornets.

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has gone on record explaining how the team could wait until the offseason to use the TPE. Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck also noted the financial constraints Boston is under, throwing further doubt on the idea it’ll be used by next Thursday.

Nevertheless, let’s examine the pros and cons of trading for Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic.


Age: 30
Position: Center
Height: 6-foot-11
Weight: 260 pounds
2020 stats: 25.0 PPG, 11.6 RPG, 3.7 APG, 49 FG%, 41.6 3FG%
Contract status: Vucevic is in the second year of a four-year, $100 million contract. He is signed through the 2022-23 season and will become an unrestricted free agent entering his age-32 campaign. He is owed base salaries of $26, $24 and $22 million over the next three seasons.

It’s pretty simple: If Boston traded for Vucevic, he would be the best center on the Celtics’ roster. He’s in the midst of an All-Star season — his second in the last three years — and has averaged a double-double in four of the last five seasons.

Vucevic is averaging a career-high 25 points per game this season. His arrival would give Boston a third NBA All-Star averaging 24 or more points per game, joining Jayson Tatum (25.1) and Jaylen Brown (24.3). The C’s then would have four players averaging 17 or more (Kemba Walker is averaging 17.9).

Additionally, Vucevic has proven he can do it against the top bigs in the league. He averaged 28 points and 11 rebounds per game in Orlando’s first-round playoff loss to the Milwaukee Bucks last season. He scored 35 against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. in a Game 1 win.

Does Vucevic push Boston over the top for a championship? That’s debatable. But he certainly would lift the C’s into a contending spot in the Eastern Conference, which features bigs like Joel Embiid and Antetokounmpo.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens previously has praised the team’s depth at center. Boston has three players all vying for minutes, with a mix of versatility and value (Daniel Theis), veteran leadership (Tristan Thompson) and up-and-coming potential (Robert Williams).

Boston went out and signed Thompson to a two-year, $19 million contract, probably not thinking Williams would burst onto the scene in a major way. Williams’ ability on both ends of the court, in addition to his increasing versatility where he can guard multiple positions on defense, could make it so it’s hard to take him off the floor down the stretch. Bringing in Vucevic would create even more of a logjam at the five spot.

Boston would have to give up a healthy price to land Vucevic, too. Obviously, it wouldn’t be the likes of Brown or Tatum. And since the Celtics can make the money work with the TPE, even Marcus Smart might not have to be included. Still, we’re talking multiple first-round picks and a young player or two (maybe even Williams?).

Of course, given that the Celtics have hoarded picks for years, giving up two first-rounders shouldn’t be viewed as a big deal. Shipping out Williams and, let’s say, rookie standout Payton Pritchard, however, would hinder the long-term. If Boston could include Thompson or even Theis (expiring contract) rather than Williams, well, that becomes a lot easier to digest. But what are the chances Orlando will go for that?

Do it for the right price. The center position isn’t where the Celtics need to be making their biggest improvements to begin with, but if Boston can land Vucevic for heavy draft capital and an unproven asset like Aaron Nesmith, it should make the splash. If nothing else, it shows Boston’s two young stars — Brown and Tatum — the team is committed to getting them help, even if the 30-year-old Vucevic probably wouldn’t be part of the long-term core.

Thumbnail photo via Sergio Estrada/USA TODAY Sports Images
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